Discerning God's Will - Part One - A God who Interacts with Us

This message began stirring in my head a couple weeks ago when a friend asked me for advice in figuring out God’s will. He came to me for advice on discerning God’s will in whether he should switch jobs to another job he had been offered. Then Lindsay and I were offered a house right where we want to live, but we only want to buy it if it is God’s will. So the thinking I was doing about knowing God’s will became much more relevant. Daily, as a pastor, I am faced with decisions about what our church should, and I meet with people wondering what God wants them to do with their lives. Most ministerial counseling stems from people not following God’s leading in some area of their life. The solution to their problems, whether they accept it or not, is typically to align themselves with God’s will. Our life is constantly filled with decisions, one after another. In every decision, God has a path.

Time magazine did a study asking people what they thought about God. The study showed that 40% of Americans believe in a God that does not interact with humanity. This is similar to our Founding Fathers. I know that there are many people out there who want to rewrite history and make our Founding Fathers Christian. The logic for them is that if the founders were Christians, then we have some legitimate claim to turn this nation back into a politically Christian nation, whatever that would look like. Some of the founders were Christian, but many of them were deists who believed that there was a Creator who created us with certain inalienable rights, but from that point on the Creator kept his distance.

This thought, of a distant, non-interacting God has even permeated the church, especially those of us in the Restoration Movement since we are a movement rooted in both Scripture and America. These Christians might not be deists in the sense that God stopped interacting with humanity after creation, but they are Bible deists in that they believe God stopped interacting with humanity after the writing of the New Testament. Albeit, a deist believes that God created a system in place for blessings if you live a life a certain way. In that deistic worldview, these blessings – they call it providence – are triggered by default actions and happen automatically, not by a loving God who actually interacts intimately with humanity and blesses them.

If we believe in a distant and aloof God, then it is no wonder that we would not seek His will for our life, for our community, and for our church. But that isn’t the type of God we believe in and have experienced. The Bible reveals to us that we serve a God who cares about us, guides us, and will honor us seeking His will in our lives. Too often our deistic nature wants us to view the Bible as a story of exceptions. What if instead of a book with exceptional stories, the Bible tells stories that are fairly normal of life with our exceptional God. The world will try to sell us false hope, but Jesus is the only one that can bring true change to our lives that will not disappoint. If we truly believe that, then we should live our lives surrendered to Him, seeking to bring about His will in the world. By doing that, we will live the best life possible.

It starts by us figuring out where God wants us to be and what God wants us to do; a question we do not need to wrestle with if we are some form of a deist. Discerning God’s will is easier said than done, so let me do the easy part the next few days and write about it.

Who will be our generation's Shadrachs, Meshachs, and Abednegos?

One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  They refused to compromise their worship of the one, true God despite the command of their earthly king Nebuchadnezzar. 

"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up”  Dan 3:16-18 (ESV).

And we know the end of this great story.  The furnace was heated to seven times hotter than normal.  Some of the men working on the furnace even died from exposure to the heat.  But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survived.

Nebuchadnezzar decreed:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.  Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.  Dan 3:28-30 (ESV)

From faithfulness to a miraculous, impossible answered prayer.  This story is
an eternal reminder that we serve a great and powerful God: A God who we have unfortunately confined to a powerless cell - a place we only visit when it is convenient and fits into our schedule.  What if we let him rule our whole life?

In the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God’s people were glorified along with God Himself.  When we are faithful, step out in faith, and bring about the will of God, we see glimpses of life in the presence of God.  When you are a servant of God and bring Him glory, it is the greatest thing that can happen.  We need to stand up for Jesus, never compromise, and pray and work to bring about His will. Being in His presence, being used by Him - nothing compares!

Survival Mode Ends in Destruction

Last night, I had a conversation with a friend from another church whose church is in a similar state to where the church I minister at was just a few years ago.  The poor state of finances at this friend's church has caused them to hire a part-time out-of-town pastor rather than a full-time pastor who will become part of the town.  This seems to be a growing trend in the poor rural communities around here.  The money is not there to fund a full-time minister, which causes churches to make a safe yet faulty decision that will insure their death.

The church I am at had a minister who was here for three years but never moved to town.  During this ministry, he commuted fifty minutes every day he came to the church.  The result was that the church crumbled.  After he was let go, the church then decided to not hire a minister and had competent people in the church rotate to do the preaching.  However, the church failed to have a vision cast and a shared direction to head in.  Growth disappeared, visitors never visited, and the impact on the community for the gospel vanished.  Pulpit rotation with a full-time minister might be good at maintaining the status quo, but I have never seen a church flourish under it. 

Then the leadership decided to step out on faith and hire me to do full-time ministry.  That was a bold move for a church in the situation they were in.  Now, we are growing, people are getting excited, visitors are showing up and coming back, and ministries are showing fruit.  This is because the church decided to stop dying in survival mode and chose to attempt to live.

Survival mode causes a church to not change things because it might offend people.  It encourages doing things the way they have always been done.  It creates an environment of inward focus rather than outward focus.  In survival mode, a church might get sermons preached, lessons taught, etc., but the fails to reach the community for the gospel.  It leads to focusing on not losing people rather than reaching people.  The church stops taking risks and starts to just go with the flow.  In the end, survival mode does not cause survival but dwindling as the church forages around the wrong well, the well of human desires and demands rather than the well of Jesus.

I tried to encourage my friend to spur his church on to taking risks.  Throw off the shredded survival clothes and risk it all to grow.  Because if they don't, the church will die anyway.  It is dangerous trying to really live rather than just survive.  But in the end, we serve a mighty God who wants His Church to flourish.  It takes valuing Him and His will more than anything.  Despite the near moments of implosion, the risk is worth it even if it fails because we are doing the work of the Lord. 

The same is true with our lives.  If we go in survival mode rather than continue on living, we will miss experiences that God has planned for us.  We need to live a life of risk, go wherever God leads, and do whatever God prompts us to do.  We will see that struggling to live was worth more than surviving because through struggling, we will learn how to truly live.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" Jesus in John 10:10 (ESV).

No Present Day Good Samaritan

The local paper reported an amazing story:  Store Refusing Cash - No Gag.

A store in the Ft. Wayne area was robbed and the female clerk was tied up.  That's not the shocking part.  Robberies happened.  What is tragic is what happened next.

Frank Gray from the Journal reports:  "To add insult to injury, shortly after the robber had fled, a woman walked into the shop and the clerk, sobbing, told her she had just been robbed and three times begged her to cut her free so she could call the police. Instead of helping, the woman announced she didn’t want to get involved and left, leaving the clerk tied up and giving the crook more time to get away."

Tragic.  No Good Samaritan that day.  The clerk eventually dialed the phone with her tongue and got the help she needed.

This really strikes at the heart of being a free society.  If we are not willing to help one another when we are in need, we just open ourselves up for more and more government intervention to fill that perceived need.  So when you see someone in need, take some time and help them out.  Especially in a clear cut case like this where the woman was definitely not trying to scam anyone.  All she wanted was someone to untie the binds that bound her.  Don't be afraid to get involved.  Strangers are not usually dangerous.

Rooted in Doctrine, Loving in Christ

The other week I posted:

There is a pendulum swing in Christianity. For so long, the church has focused solely on words. Following Jesus, in this paradigm, was a belief statement to be believed. If you believe that Jesus is Christ, the son of the living God, repent and are baptized, then you are saved. So evangelism naturally focused on getting people to believe the right things in their head. Salvation, in that world, comes through having the proper beliefs and doctrine combined with a few religious practices, not through having a transformed life of love. A good evangelist would present the gospel to people through sharing it and asking them if they accept it. It was about bringing them to a decision point. And if they accepted the belief statement proposed, we would baptize them. As a follower of Jesus, if you weren’t presenting it in such a way as to make the person come to a point of decision, then evangelism was not effective...
...Now, we are seeing a shift to not using words but just being loving. This is just as much of an error as the previous error. It’s the pendulum swinging back and forth. In this model, people just do loving actions with no intention of sharing the gospel because what people believe is fine for each person. We should not meddle in people’s beliefs.  

Since posting that, I have noticed a disturbing trend to grab theology from everywhere.  It might come from a movie that was watched, a song listened to, but I've noticed that it is not coming from Scripture.  I am not seeing people encounter God through the ancient, tried and true, method of Bible study and meditation on God's word.  God does work on us through every experience, but without a foundation of Scripture to filter those experiences through, we will come to any conclusion and go anywhere with our theology.  Scripture should be the filter we strain our experiences through to understand God.  

Paul warned, "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Ephesians 4:14-16 NIV).

Aria at the ocean.  I'm in the background with Lyla.
An infant is tossed every which way by the waves.  When we were at the ocean for vacaton, Aria, our four year old, and Lyla, our two year old, would just get knocked down by the waves.  That's what waves do to little children.  But we need to be different.  We need to speak the truth in love and grow in Christ.  That does not mean that the temptation to stray won't be there.  Even once in a while, a wave would come that would knock me off balance.  But it does mean that we will be more stable.  

For many, the Bible and proper doctrine is like a drug.  It becomes its own purpose rather than purpose it was designed for.  The great heresy of right doctrine only is dealt with right before this section.  Paul wrote: "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV).

The purpose of the ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, prophets, and teachers is to get us ready to serve, not to prepare us to beat people in a Bible trivia contest or knock them out in some verbal abusive evangelism.  When we are studying Scripture, we are being taught by a Master Craftsman how to be craftsmen ourselves, not to just sit around and talk about the tools of the trade; we are learning to continue the work of the craftsman.  We're in the service business.  That work is much more than just teaching doctrine, but it is also rooted in doctrine.  

Recognizing that God is speaking through us everywhere through every experience is great.  It keeps our eyes open to seeing His work around us and how we can get involved in it.  But if our day and our lives are not rooted in Scripture, then we can be manipulated and deceived by the many marketing sirens of this culture; sirens who do not have the same purpose as Jesus for our lives; sirens that will deceive, destroy, and lead us to emptiness.  They are trying to get us to buy into something else rather than God.  Let's not sell Him out so cheaply.  Let's not confuse a good movie or a good song with the voice of God.    

A Christian Approach to the New York City Mosque at Ground Zero

Polls and opinions are meaningless when it comes to whether a certain group receives freedom of religion. Even if all of America was against the Muslims building a mosque near ground zero, our freedom of religion should be upheld and they should be allowed to build. Let's stand up for all forms of freedom of religion, even if we disagree with the religion. It's one of the things that make America great.
They came first for the communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me (a Christian pastor)
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

- Martin Neimoller
I pray and hope that Christians will not be calling for a move that would limit freedom of religion in this nation. Our freedom of religion is like a giant snowball at the top of a hill.  So far, we have been holding that ball on the top.  Now, some are joining forces with those attempting to get the ball rolling.  We are close enough to having the ball pushed down that slope without our help. And once it starts rolling, it won't stop until its at the bottom, has grown, and destroyed everything in its way.

I understand the fear that this mosque, or another mosque, or even a church, will be used to teach hate that will turn into violence. It's definitely a difficult issue, but the gut response expressed by Newt Gingrich (who I typically appreciate) is completely wrong. Religion should be separate from government interference. If the people from a mosque or church start killing others, then they are guilty of murder. If these people were part of the terrorism from 9/11, they would already be arrested. If they violate the laws of the land, they will be arrested. But those laws cannot be specific to ostracizing one specific religion.

I would not like the government telling me where I can and cannot have a church, what I can or cannot say as a pastor, so I expect the same for other religions. Once we take away one group's rights, we risk losing the rights for the next group and the next group.

Freedom of religion is part of who we are as Americans. Loving Muslims, is part of who I am as a Christian. I should never try to silence or shut up people I disagree with by force; I should use the sword of the Spirit and love them. God could easily ban all religions that aren't His, but He does not. He uses the faithful like you and me to shape the world into His will. I will follow Jesus' example, and give of myself so that they can also know the grace and fullness of the Lord. It's easier said than done, but it is our calling to be humble, gentle, and bear with one another in love.

I can say that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and still love Muslims.  These are not contradictory positions. Actually, I would say that saying I am a follower of Jesus would mean that I need to love Muslims; however, that does not mean that I have to say that the Muslim religion is right.

Nothing our government can do will ever chop away at our faith unless we allow our government to dictate what we can and cannot do. That is not an argument for in your face preaching of doctrine to people who don't want to hear it, but an argument for loving our neighbor and sharing the truth in love no matter what the circumstance, even if the other person is trying to kill us and even if our government says it is wrong.

What's fair for one religion should be fair for all religions in this state.  And Christians should be known by their unity and love, not their fear and hatred.  May we be Christians who are loving even in the most difficult of situations.

Our Failed Witness - The Broken Church

We've been talking about Satan's tricks to divide us and ruin our witness this week.  The other trick Satan uses to dampen the church’s effectiveness is to influence us to badmouth other churches.

Paul wrote, "There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift [Eph 4:4-7 (ESV)].

Jesus has one Church that crosses all manmade divides.

Yet we have temporarily divided over the worst things.  Everything from gender, race, our nation, and for the past five hundred years, denominations.  Every denomination has a doctrine, usually a right teaching, that they just will not budge on.  For the brotherhood I am in, that has been adult believer baptism.  I have even heard people go so far as to rebaptize people because the right words were not uttered over them when they were baptized.  If Jesus wanted a specific phrase to be uttered, it would have been consistently and clearly presented throughout the Scriptures.  We serve a gracious God who honors the act of baptism, whether a person is doing it out of obedience or because they believe it is an act of salvation.  The heart is what matters.  A heart circumcised to the lord.

“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” Deut 30:6 (ESV)

Are we eager to maintain unity, are we trying to be tuned to God?  Or are we antagonistic, wanting to fight, looking for opportunities to divide?  If we are looking for unity, we will find things to unify over.  If we are looking for division, we will find things to divide over.  We see what we are looking.  Paul taught that we are to approach one another with humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love?  That's not too divisive, nor is it too American.  I have been raised from birth as an American to be bold, brave, and fight for my freedom and rights.  But as citizens in the kingdom of God, we’re called to be humble, gentle, patient, and bear with one another in love.
Is that how we live in our houses, in our workplaces, in our social activities? 

Even within our own churches, do we let people lead there ministries, encourage them to follow God and do their best, or do we tear them down?  We might be in the same church, but that does not guarantee that we are unified.  Two cats with their tails tied to each other and be hung over a clothesline; they might be together but that does not mean they are unified.

Dwight L. Moody taught, “There are two ways of being united -- one is by being frozen together, and the other is by being melted together. What Christians need is to be united in brotherly love, and then they may expect to have power.” (Moody’s Anecdotes, pg. 53)

May we be united together.  If you take a bunch of loose gold ore, melt it together, and let a master craftsman shape it, you will have beautiful gold jewelry for the world to see.  May people see us, united together and not help but recognize the Master Craftsman who has shaped us into who we are.  May people see Jesus when they see our love for one another.

Our Failed Witness - The Broken Local Church

Local churches are often tragically filled with power struggles, gossip, and tearing one another down.  Instead of living int his fallen state, we need to intentionally use every opportunity to build one another up rather than to tear each other down.  Nobody wants to go to a church where people attack one another, but they will want to go to a church where they are encouraged, challenged, and uplifted. 

What we do is contagious.    Love fosters more love; gossip fosters more gossip.  Have you ever noticed how you start being negative around a negative person?  Have you noticed how other people can bring out the best in you?

Studies have shown that yawning is contagious. 

But even more seriously, I have noticed that our sins are contagious.  I had a professor who was once the youth minister at a church where the pastor was arrested for molesting children.  It eventually was uncovered that four adults were molesting children.  What we do in secret has a tendency to be contagious whether we want it to be or not.  I can’t explain why, just like scientists can’t explain why yawns are contagious.

A bad group of people will tear one another down and prohibit one another from reaching their potential.  A good group of  people will build one another up helping each another achieve far more than they ever thought possible.  So in our families and in our churches, let’s focus on being people that build one another up.  We need to be a culture of truth and love, a culture where people can experience Jesus’ love.  A culture where our love is contagious.

But we have an enemy who does not want that.  This week someone started a fire at the Park Station, the future home of the Antwerp Community Youth Center.  Since I believe that there is an evil force in this world, I think that Satan is trying to stop our work.  He doesn’t want the youth center to go forward because it would change lives for the better.  But Satan’s attacks aren’t always as obvious as a fire.  They can come in the off-handed comment toward someone or the telling of a negative thing about someone behind their back; the more we give in to these negative attacks, the more vicious they become.  If Satan can divide us, the church will be ineffective.  So we need to be careful to not let him get a foothold.  Our mission here is too important to jeopardize through bad mouthing or gossiping about one another.

A.W. Tozer taught in The Pursuit of God, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”

We are unified with people, no matter what church they worship at, if we are tuned to the same Jesus.  Seeking unity does not make unity happen; unity happens when a group of people seek God and let Him shape them into what He wants them to be. When I go to church, I see many good people who give a lot of their time to help one another and make their community better.  With all that said, every church needs to keep Jesus as their focus.  Imagine what can be done if we would be the church that God wants us to be, loving the community the way God would have us, encouraging one another when we get together, and seeking out God’s better way for our lives through teaching and study of the word.  We will grow and be able to do more.  We will be contagious, in a good way.

Our Failed Witness - The Broken Family

A Jewish town had a shortage of men for wedding purposes, so they had to import men from other towns. One day a groom-to-be arrived on a train, and two mother-in-laws-to-be were waiting for him, each claiming ownership on him.

A rabbi was called to solve the problem. After a few minutes of thought, he said: "If this is the situation, you both want the groom, we'll cut him in half and give each one of you half of him."

To this replied one woman: "If that's the case, give him to the other woman."

The rabbi said: "Do that. The one willing to cut him in half, is the real mother-in-law!" (from Ahavat Israel)

Jesus taught:
“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.”  Matt 12:25 (ESV)

The original audience would have understood this passage much more vividly because they were the recipients of what became the model for dividing and conquering.  In the mid 50s BC, a Jew named Alexander led a nearly successful uprising in Judea.  This uprising was eventually stopped by Aulus Gabinius, a Roman general under Julius Caesar.  After stopping the uprising, he divided Judea into five sanhedrins where Jewish priests would rule each one.  By doing this, he prevented the Jews from being united.  As we could see at the time of Jesus, the Sadducees, Pharisses, Essenes, and Zealots were all fighting against one another; consequently, the Romans did not have to worry about them unify and fighting together against their oppressor.  Divide and conquer.  It’s been a successful strategy of oppressors for over 2000 years.

So when Jesus said that a kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, the original audience would know that the nation of Judea was nothing compared to its former glory.  It had been divided, and it had crumbled.

But that trick, divide and conquer, might have been first observed in recorded history in the 50s BC, but it is still a trick used today.  It appears to be one of Satan’s greatest tactics to prevent the church from being as effective as it can be.  Jesus, in his prayer in John 17, prayed that the church would be one.  
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me [John 17:20-23 (ESV)].
But we have divided over various issues over time.  In the next few days, I'll talk about the church, but before moving on to that I want to talk about the unfortunate witness of Christians because of our families. 

We see division in our families. 

Barna released a survey around the turn of the century.  It showed the following:

It is through dividing us, whether it is in criticizing our spouse, or going even further through losing our love for one another and cheating on one another that our family loses its effective witness.  Chances are that some reading this come from a family that is already divided.  It’s sad and tough, and it was not God's design.  As far as it is up to you, live at peace with everyone.  Bring Jesus and his love back into those broken and hurting relationships.  That division that is there might be able to be mended.  Things probably won’t go back to the way they were, but they could. 

As followers of Jesus, we need to be people of peace and reconciliation because division in the family causes so much hurt and undue strife.  It’s sad all of the pain people have to go through because we fail at unity.  We fail to deal with one another in humility, patience, gentleness, and love.  May we learn to be patient, humble, gentle, and loving to those we interact with the most for the sake of our happiness and the witness of Jesus. 

Stanley Hauerwas on A Christian Response to War

A challenging story from Stanley Hauerwas in Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony.
Sometime ago, when the United States bombed military and civilian targets in Libya, a debate raged concerning the morality of that act.  One of us witnessed an informal gathering of students who argued the morality of the bombing in Libya.  Some thought it was immoral, others thought it was moral.  At one point in the argument, one of the students turned and said, "Well, preacher, what do you thing?"

I said that, as a Christian, I could never support bombing, particularly bombing of civilians, as an ethical act.

"That's just what we expected you to say," said another.  "That's typical of you Christians.  Always on the high moral ground, aren't you?  You get so upset when a terrorist guns down a little girl in an airport, but when President Reagan tries to set things right, you get indignant when a few Libyans get hurt."

The assumption seems to be that there are only two political options:  Either conservative support of the administration, or liberal condemnation of the administration followed by efforts to let the U.N. handle it.

"You know, you have a point," I said.  "What would be a Christian response to this?"  Then I answered, roght off the top of my head, "A Christian response might be that tomorrow morning The United Methodist Church announces that it is sending a thousand missionaries to Libya.  We have discovered that it is fertile field for the gospel.  We know how to send missionaries.  Here is at least a traditional Christian response."

"You can't do that," said my adversary.

"Why?" I asked.  "You tell me why."

"Because it's illegal to travel in Libya.  President Reagan will not give you a visa to go there."

"No!  That's not right," I said.  "I'll admit that we can't go to Libya, but not because of President Reagan.  We can't go there because we no longer have a church that produces people who can do something this bold.  But we once did."

We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God's kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.

It's scary to ask for a Church like that, but I want a Church like that.  May my life echo that desire.

A Prayer From Kids, Part Two

I taught a homeschool class to boys on being men at the Hicksville homeschool co-op.  If you know me, I stayed away from manly man things, but we focused on connecting with God to be spiritual leaders.

One of the activities we did was construct a group prayer that they read at the closing large group session.  We based it on the elements of the Lord's Prayer. 

I transcribed the prayer for the group of boys because they were too small to write it themselves.  This is the prayer from the third through fifth graders.   T


God, you are powerful, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.  Great and merciful.

Thank you for loving us, dying on the cross for our sins, that you have been good to us all of our lives, letting us enjoy the whole world.

Thank you for our dogs, fruit and vegetables, flowers, food, water, trees, our moms and dads, brothers and sisters.

Help us to do good in school, be better and more like You, to be loving to others.  Help the economy and the people hurting from losing jobs.  Help us to choose the right path.

We are glad with everything you have given us.

In Jesus' name,

A Prayer From Kids

I taught a homeschool class to boys on being men at the Hicksville homeschool co-op.  If you know me, I stayed away from manly man things, but we focused on connecting with God to be spiritual leaders.

One of the activities we did was construct a group prayer that they read at the closing large group session.  We based it on the elements of the Lord's Prayer. 

I transcribed the prayer for the group of boys because they were too small to write it themselves.  This is the prayer from the first and second graders.


God, you are powerful and healing.
Thank you for dying on the cross for our sins.
Than you for answering prayers.

We are thankful for food, animals, water, candy, good weather, light, color, fishing, cups to drink from, fresh air, cats and dogs, shoes and socks, dirt, worms, flowers, church, and orange juice.

Thank you for our homes and parents.

Help us grow, not have nightmares, and have good friends.

Thank you for the whole world.

Learning to Teach Through our Living

What did you do last week to help someone?  Did you do something?  If not, you had a dead faith week.  It does not matter if you abstained from the big sins like murder, gossip, adultery, hate.  Abstaining does not make you God’s.  It does not matter if you did your morning devotions, prayed before meals, or attended church.  Those are just tools to help you know and experience God.  Bringing about God’s will makes you His.  Helping others is what makes you God’s.  Faith apart from works is dead.

Living the life God designed us to live does not happen without us dying to ourselves.  We have to push aside our dreams, our selfish ambitions, our desires, and take on the dreams, ambitions, and desires of Jesus.  We cannot follow our own will and follow His will.  The word Christian, literally means slave of Christ.  Are we really his slave bringing about his will?  Are we Christians?  Or are we slaves to our own will living for ourselves acting like Christians where we want or only when it is convenient?

The message of Jesus is best exhibited when we love; words are necessary but can be very empty without action in love.

The love of Jesus is not contagious if it is only taught.  He will not spread to others if we do not live His life and love out in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our houses, or anywhere we are.  If we just want to teach it, it will not spread.  We will not see lives changed, our church will not grow, nor will our lives be blessed in the way that God wants to bless us.  The love of Jesus is like the color blue.  It must be experienced to be understood.  And since Jesus no longer walks the earth any more.  It is up to us to let people experience His love through us as we let Him lead us by the Holy Spirit.

Committed to God more than to Ourselves

The author or Total Church shares a story of an incident at his church.

“Matt rang to ask what he should do.  His friend George has asked him to go street preaching.  Matt wasn’t interested but didn’t know how to respond.  So the three of us got together.  As the conversation began, it was clear that George thought we were selling out in some way.  But as we talked about sharing our lives with unbelievers, about evangelism that was 24/7, about opening our homes, George’s tone changed.  At the end of our conversation he admitted, “I’m not sure if I’m up for that kind of commitment.”

We would like an easy out.  Our fallen nature would like to be right with God by going to church every time the doors open, evangelize one night a week, and have the rest of our lives to ourselves.  But this just is not being a Christian.  There are reasons that we come to church and gather together – I think it is extremely important, but I think the most important places to worship God is at our workplaces and in our homes.  Our faith, if it stays in this building, is no faith at all.  And our faith, if it remains only words, is a mockery of the life Jesus intends for us to live. 
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.   James 1:22-27 (ESV)
There is a danger in talking about loving people in that we can talk about it so much that we deceive our hearts and believe that we are doing it.  God is not impressed with us if we just sit around and talk about loving others.  He enjoys us when we actually go out and do something.  It can be small like giving our neighbors a present, it can be significant like giving someone a car, it’s helping out and meeting people’s need however we can.

If we have money as Paul taught in Ephesians 4 when talking about the new self and old self, then we are to use that money - not to fulfill our own dreams of having our dream home, nicer cars, or something for ourselves - to help those in need.  Most churches do not have the resources to significantly help people because we are like the Israelites at the time of Haggai the prophet (Haggai 1).  We spend all of our resources on our homes and our own desires while the work of the church struggles on.  So we, as a church find small things to help people in, but we could do so much more if we were all committed financially to ministering through the church, committed more than we are to our homes, to our cars, our entertainment, or other indulgences of this world.  Are we living our live for things that will last or for things that will pass away?

The church is a great tool to help us be who God intends for us to be.  But if we just talk church, go to classes, listen to sermons, yet do not let Jesus’ life of love shine out from us, then we are guilty of a grave sin.  Pure and undefiled religion is to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  We see the pendulum swinging here, a struggle within the faith.  Some like to abstain from sin and think that makes them right with God.  Others like to do loving deeds and think that makes them right with God.  The truth is that it is a combination of the two that is pure and undefiled religion.

In the documentary, Lord Save us From Your Followers, Tony Campolo shares the following illustration:

When I was in high school there was this boy name Roger.  He was outed - a gay kid and his homosexual orientation became known.  West Philadelphia High was a huge and tough inner-city school.  You can imagine what we did fifty years ago when ignorance prevailed on this issue.  We humiliated this kid at every turn.

On Fridays, after phys-ed, when all of the other kids would go into the shower Roger wouldn’t go in with us; he was afraid to.  When he took his turn we waited for him with our wet towels, and when he would come out, we would whip him and sting his little body.

I wasn’t there the day that they took Roger and dragged him into that shower room
and shoved him into the corner.  While he yelled and screamed for mercy, five guys urinated all over him.  I wasn’t there when that happened.

He went home.  He went to bed at about ten o’clock.  They say it was about two o’clock in the morning when Roger went down into the basement of his house and he hung himself.  I knew I wasn’t a Christian because if I was a Christian, I would have been Roger’s friend.  You don’t have to legitimate somebody’s lifestyle in order to love that person, to be brother or sister to that person, and to stand up for that person.
A true faith, one that isn’t just about me being sinless and me getting to heaven, lives itself out through meeting other people’s needs.  It is about befriending the friendless, giving to those who are not able to give back, and loving those around us any opportunity that we get.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.  James 2:18-26 (ESV).

Sharing the Gospel is Surrendering our Life

There is a pendulum swing in Christianity. For so long, the church has focused solely on words. Following Jesus, in this paradigm, was a belief statement to be believed. If you believe that Jesus is Christ, the son of the living God, repent and are baptized, then you are saved. So evangelism naturally focused on getting people to believe the right things in their head. Salvation, in that world, comes through having the proper beliefs and doctrine combined with a few religious practices, not through having a transformed life of love. A good evangelist would present the gospel to people through sharing it and asking them if they accept it. It was about bringing them to a decision point. And if they accepted the belief statement proposed, we would baptize them. As a follower of Jesus, if you weren’t presenting it in such a way as to make the person come to a point of decision, then evangelism was not effective.

If you were with me at Hilsboro Family Camp this year, you would have seen the death throes of doctrine only. It seems like a session could not go by without one of the sermons being on us having correct doctrine as if correct doctrine alone mattered. If you were to preach a sermon on love and not mention proper doctrine, then you were doing a disservice to the gospel according to the preachers of doctrine only. But in that world, it is okay to preach a sermon on doctrine and not mention love. Oh, how they must hate the teachings of Jesus in the gospels. He preached on love many times without mentioning doctrine.

Now, we are seeing a shift to not using words but just being loving. This is just as much of an error as the previous error. It’s the pendulum swinging back and forth. In this model, people just do loving actions with no intention of sharing the gospel because what people believe is fine for each person. We should not meddle in people’s beliefs.

It’s like someone watch one too many Star Trek episodes and has taken the Prime Directive, “Nothing within these articles of Federation shall authorize the United Federation of Planets to intervene in matters which are essentially the domestic jurisdiction of any planetary social system, or shall require the members to submit such matters to settlement under these Articles of Federation; But this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII”, too seriously.

The happy, or should I say difficult, middle is where we need to be. We need to love people and also look for opportunities to share the verbal message of the gospel, but we realize that Jesus’ love, like the color blue, cannot be described through just words; it is best exhibited through our loving actions. This most often comes about through natural Christ-filled living among friends, co-workers, and family members. We need to broaden our natural sphere of relationships, whether through nurturing hobbies we do with other people or joining clubs or groups, in order to have more people we come into contact with.

And we need to create ministries within our churches that will allow us to show God’s love to people outside of our normal sphere of relationships. I think we are doing a good job, but we’re only beginning. Being a Christian is living with two, on the surface contradictory, beliefs. We understand that we are fallen sinners yet we realize the potential that God has designed us for. We live in grace when our fallen nature wins out, but we strive toward perfection.

Sharing the gospel is about surrendering our life, dying to our own will and desires, and living life the way Christ would have us live. It’s about letting Jesus live through us and reflecting Him for those around us to see. We need to live in such a way that when people see us, they really see Jesus.

Words are Necessary but very Empty Without Love

I just finished a great book by a man named Patrick Rothfuss entitled The Name of the Wind.  There is a scene in which a teacher [Elodin] explains to his student [Kvothe] that some things “cannot be described, only experienced and understood.”

“Can you describe all things you understand?” he [the teacher] looked sideways at me [the student].

“Of course.”

Elodin pointed down the street.  “What color is that boy’s shirt?”


“What do you mean by blue?  Describe it.”

The student then failed to describe the color blue. 

The teacher concluded, “Using words to talk of words is like using a pencil to draw a picture of itself, on itself.  Impossible.  Confusing.  Frustrating.”  He lifted his hands high above his head as if streatching for the sky.  “But there are other ways to understanding!” he shouted, laughing like a child.  He threw both arms to the cloudless arch of sky above us, still laughing.  “Look!” he shouted tilting his head back.  “Blue!  Blue!  Blue!” 

Matthew concluded his gospel with Jesus’ teaching:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt 28:16-20 (ESV)
The message of Jesus is best exhibited when we love; words are necessary but can be very empty without action in love.

Our mission as Christians is to go into the world, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to live the life Jesus has commanded us to live.  Teaching Jesus’ commandments, of which the foremost are loving God and loving our neighbors, is like teaching what the color blue is.  His love needs to be experienced to be fully understood, and we are the people who should be following his call to share His love with those around us.

Further Conversation Over My Post on Essentials

The first collection of replies:  The Facebook Conversation Over My Post on Essentials

The original post:  A Proposed Minimal Set of Essentials

Grady replied:
The people in the book of Acts that reieved the Holy Spirit pre baptism, what was the context of those incidents? Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on his disciples He sent out, was this before their baptism? Absolutly the Holy Spirit is the seal, and the judgement is not a judgement of comdenation (to hell), the judgement is the one that we make a decision aas to if a person has obeyed and become. The scripture is very clear on this. When people hear us say you have not become a Christian yet, they are very quick to assume we are making a judgement of comdemnation against them, and use it because of what the common thinking is concerning judgement (don't judge lest you be judged). Sp to our marching order's...if we are to make disciples (and we are) then what do we teach as to how that happen's...the truth of the matter, no matter what others may teach. We are to teach those who would to believe in the gosple, belive Jesus as God's Son, that He died for the sins of the world, and that when this is accepted, we teach that they need to turn from their sin, confess Christ and then to be baptized (first fruits!). Then when they have obeyed we teach them of the promises of the Spirit, and then comes the how to walk.

In the initial post you asked about "In essentials, unity. In opinions, liberty. In all things, love." And said you had never heard anyone give explanation of this. That is what I was addressing.

You may have forgot what Paul said to always interact with one another in a spirit of humility, gentleness, patience, and love. Without that, our message is lost, this is true, he also said to preach the truth.

You can feel free to teach something different as to the essentials of the truth, but I will not. I teach the scripture, not my opinion. It is our JOB to teach them first to become before we teach them how to be, once we have done this then to be is the true course. If wew don't teach them the path of conversion, it is not I who will do any judgement of condemnation (thankfully not my job to do so).

Hey got to run to my people, God bless your day, may He convince you of His truth in all things. Love you! 
 Regan replied:
Ultimately, we just disagree about how one can receive the Holy Spirit through our understandings of the teaching of Scripture, especially the book of Acts. I feel that the Holy Spirit only comes at baptism crowd has "contextualized" away every difficult passage that disagrees with them. Maybe you also do that. Maybe that is the right approach. I am not comfortable with that approach. Those exceptions are there to show us that there are exceptions. Until either I state that baptism is the only place you can get the Holy Spirit or you acknowledge that those exceptions were given to show that there can still be exceptions, we will just be running around in circles if we continue. That is the crux of our disagreement.

We also disagree on separating what we teach from what are the essentials. I will teach that a person should be baptized after giving their life over to Jesus. Baptism is the normative place for people to receive the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean that I will exclude people who show fruit and acknowledge Jesus as Lord from fellowship. Our movement started with open fellowship and open communion. On the frontier, circuit riders could only make it once a month or once a quarter. People were not allowed to take of the Lord's Supper until the circuit rider came into town. What happened was people started gathering for communion without the clergy. They started baptizing people without the clergy. But they joined together as people who wanted to study the word and living under Jesus' lordship.

Over time, we, who started as a unity through Scripture movement, just became as divisive as the denominations we were trying to bring together. Instead of ending sectarianism, we just added another sect to the fray. Over 150 years later, the denominations have stopped being divisive, non-denominational (locally led) churches are flourishing, and nearly everyone is baptized as adult believers except for in a few mainline denominations. We are fighting battles that were fought for us over 150 years ago. We're like Civil War reenactors remembering the battle, but instead of it just being a hobby, it's really damaging to the Kingdom of God.

The men who started the Restoration Movement, from which the modern Church of Christ/Christian Church come, both took this stance.

Alexander Campbell said:
Should I find one [baptized as an infant] more intelligent in the Christian Scriptures, more spiritually-minded and more devoted to the Lord than…one immersed on a profession of the ancient faith, I could not hesitate a moment in giving the preference of my heart to him that loveth most. Did I act otherwise, I would be a pure sectarian, a Pharisee among Christians.

Barton Stone said:
None of us are disposed to make our notions of baptism, however well founded, a bar of christian fellowship. We acknowledge all to be brethren, who believe and obey the Saviour, and, who walking in the Spirit, bear his holy image; yet, in the meekness of Christ, we labor to convince such of their duty in submitting to every ordinance of the Lord.

My list of essentials came from the same vein that the Church of Chirst/Christian Church was founded on. We teach baptism, yet we do not make it a test of fellowship. Who am I to say that a person who is not baptized but is more faithful and fruitful is saved? God knows their heart. Paul wrote, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God." I will teach them the Scriptural teachings on baptism, but God knows their heart and their lives show evidence of the Spirit.

I believe I teach Scripture. You can call it my opinion; it is. So is what you teach. Each one of us teach our opinion of what Scripture teaches. Some day we will know fully as is taught in 1 Corinthians 13:12. Until then, everyone filters Scripture, hopefully in tune with the Spirit, through their own brains, experiences, etc. So we always teach what we believe is the truth, but we must always do it as Paul taught, with humility, gentleness, patience, and love.

Do you really believe that every person not immersed as an adult believer does not have the Holy Spirit? How do you reconcile those verses that I mentioned on how Jesus and Paul taught us how to know who are Jesus' followers?
Regan replied to Dan's previous reply: 
It is a biblical explanation of why we can work with people who are not from our particular background on furthering God's work and accept them as brothers and sisters in Jesus where they are, but in a way it also deals with who is saved and who is not. But it does not deal with what I would teach to someone who wants to be saved. I have no qualms saying that the ministers I consider my friends from other denominations are my brothers in Jesus. They don't have to be brothers in Jesus to be my friends, but I see the love of Christ in their lives, the fruit of the Spirit growing in them, and they share my proclamation that Jesus is Lord. It does not mean that we just leave things rest and don't dialogue with one another on our differences. It's just that I think that dialogue should happen in the context of accepting one another as a brother and sister in Christ. I think they have as much to teach me as I do them, as long as we keep the Bible as the center of those discussions.

As for the rest of what you wrote, I agree wholeheartedly. "The church is probably in the state it is in because we love judging outsiders and refuse to collectively judge those inside the church. We have completely backwards maybe because we have not challenged each other's motives." I agree that we have the whole judging people backward. Those outside of Jesus, I do not judge. Those inside, I judge, but in a gentle, patient, and loving way to help them be who God wants them to be. They should do the same to me. Together, we spur one another on to reach the prize.
 Laura's response:
Yeesh, I tried to read all those, but I'm getting sleepy. I'll leave the scholarly talks to you guys...I just felt from the heart that forcing a list isn't what's needed. God could have made the Bible much clearer, shorter, more compact. He... could have used lists and numbers or used only a few writers to keep us from "discussing" what THAT writer intended. He didn't. It requires us to rely heavily on the Holy Spirit to interpret it and over time and seasons and experiences, we see things we'd never seen before. Is this because we were just wrong before and now we are right, or because God gives us these things in His time? I just don't think a list is necessary. I think we can deal with things as they come and have the answer at that time. If I come upon someone and I want to decide if they are a brother or not, I can look at a list. That sounds convenient. But I could also decide in that moment what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell me-through the Bible, through other believers, through experience, and always with love. Or decide over a period of time, etc...

I'm not automatically against lists or creeds or church goals, etc... but sometimes I wonder why we need to put things in OUR (by "our" I mean mine and whoever agrees with me) own words apart from scripture. Call me floppy, but I don't have hard and fast rules about certain things (or most things, for that matter), and I don't think you're wrong for wanting to clarify, for the sake of unity, the essentials. But I don't know that it's best either. I've used catch phrases of the church and have found them helpful to me and to others, but I don't think they were necessary.
 Regan's reply to Laura:
My list was a list of Scriptures and not my opinions. But I understand your hesitancy because it was my opinion that chose which Scriptures to include. How does one decide what Scriptures would be used as a test of fellowship? Do we use all... of Scripture, and they have to agree with us on everything? Do we use more than what I used or less? You would say that it is up to the Holy Spirit. That's what I think I was saying in a more structured way. If they have the Spirit, I can discern that, and they claim Jesus is Lord and follow the greatest commandment, then they are brothers and sisters. The problem is that those who refuse to have a list like this often are the most divisive and sectarian. I'm not saying you are, but I have experienced that. They typically have lists, that if written out would be longer than any denominational handbook.

Would you accept someone as a brother who said that Jesus is not Lord, showed absolutely no fruit of the Spirit in their life, did not strive to live a life of loving God and loving God or loving their neighbor? I am pretty sure I wouldn't. Even in the moment. But the list was focused more on us being able to have fellowship with people in the community who might not go to a church with the same name on the sign as our church or all of the same beliefs as our church.

The four Scriptures I chose were selected to help my local church pull back from all of the divisiveness and sectarianism that our movement in this geographic area struggles with, focus on the essentials, and move forward to minister to our community from there.

Also, in the local context, we are involved in starting a community youth center with other churches. A few struggle with whether that should be done because they were once taught that people in those other churches are not Christians. We make this judgment call whether we want to or not. I laid this out to show what the essentials are and how we are to evaluate whether a person is a Christian or not. I could ignore there frustrations and just say that I think they are a Christian and that should be good enough, but it's my job to teach. So these essentials were more of an explanation of why we can be involved with other churches in a youth center. Not a list to exclude people. I don't think this list would exclude anyone who wanted to be considered a Christian. It's a minimal list of essentials. It's frustrating to some because it includes too many people, not enough essentials. The discussion centers around whether it should be broader, not narrower.

And I understand where they are coming from; we should just teach the Bible. But unfortunately, the issue of who to accept as a brother or sister is an issue that our church was struggling with. So I attempted to teach on that through Scripture. It was a list because I tried to deal with the passages that talked about who to accept and what are the greatest teachings. I could have called it something other than a list, but it was a list nonetheless, whether I called it by another name or not.

How would you teach someone who was saying people are not Christians that those people are in fact Christians? Or how would you teach someone who thought certain people were Christians who you thought were not? Unfortunately, just leaving it alone would not have helped the church move forward, so that really wasn't an option.

Legalism's Attack on Unity - A Discussion on Essentials (Part Four)

The more legalistic we get, the more divided we become.  Look at the remnants of the Restoration Movement, that’s the movement our churches were birthed out of in the 1800s.  We started as a unity movement trying to be like the early church.  It was our goal to restore that church we see in the New Testament, something we still have a lot of room to work on.  Our movement allowed anyone from any denomination to join around the Lord’s table as brothers and sisters for the Lord’s Supper.  We accepted anyone, no matter what denomination they were part of, as brothers or sisters in Christ if they claimed to be His follower and showed fruit, and we did not expect them to leave the denomination they were part of but to remain part of that group and to help the churches they were involved in to put an emphasis on studying Scripture.

Now, we, a mockery of unity, have three major strands, the Disciples, us as the independent Churches of Christ/Christian Church, and the non-instrumental Church of Christ, as well as many minor strands.  As legalism over certain pet doctrines solidified over the years, sectarianism crept in, and people refused to accept one another as brothers and sisters in Christ over issues such as musical instruments, baptism, supporting missionaries more centrally, local autonomy, drinking, and the list goes on and on to the shame of us and the disgrace of Jesus.  Gandhi as an outside observer of Christianity had it right, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” 

In the more legalistic settings, people seem to fake that they believe certain things or hide their “inappropriate” behaviors because they want to be accepted by the legalistic leader or group.  Once we create an environment where people have to fake and hide things, which a broad list of essentials inevitably fosters, then we cannot have true fellowship with one another.  I once went to a church where the official stance of the church was that people in their church should not drink.  What happened?  Most of the people hid that they drank.  This unscriptural teaching on drinking led to falsehood.  Fellowship - real, authentic community in Christ - becomes impossible in an environment where people are fake, secretive, and deceptive. 

When we stray from being people of love into people of legalism - I’ve seen this with most legalistic churches - we stop loving people, we stop meeting their needs, and we just worry about the truth.  But a truth that does not spur us toward love is not the truth of Jesus.  And legalism causes us to refuse to love others with people who are different than us.  We should never refuse to do loving actions with someone because they believe differently than us.  If we are loving others, then we should look at the opportunity to show God’s love no matter how that opportunity presents itself.  For so long, the church would not love unless the love was done in a way that directly presented a verbal gospel rather than just loving people.  If the reason we are loving others is to get them to believe what we believe, then our love is not sincere and it is just a form of manipulation.  Our heart must be as pure as we can get it to be in order for our love to be genuine, as Scripture states our love should be (Romans 12:9, 2 Corinthians 6:6)

James wrote, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” [James 1:26-27 (ESV)].

I know “religion” has become a dirty word in today’s world.  But if this is religion – visiting orphans and helping orphans while being in the word yet remaining unstained from it, then I want to be religious.  Pure and undefiled religion.  It’s the type of church we need to be.  If we are not people who take care of orphans and widows and remain unstained from the world – if we think that talking about Jesus is enough, then we are deceiving ourselves like James warned and are far from being the people God wants us to be. 

If we believe in a minimal set of essentials in order to foster unity and freedom in Christ, then let us refuse the ensnarement of legalism, the desire to broaden the essentials to exclude others, and our tendency to look down on others to puff ourselves up.  Instead, may we be servants like Jesus was.  May we focus on the essentials of loving God, loving neighbors, loving one another, developing the fruit of the Spirit in our life, and continue to proclaim that Jesus is Lord.  In that we will find unity and freedom in Christ.

The Facebook Conversation Over My Post on Essentials

Facebook seems to be the breeding ground for comments rather than the blog, so I thought I would copy and paste the comments on here for posterity's sake.

The original post:  A Proposed Minimal Set of Essentials

Grady posted:

‎? should not the death, burial, and resurection be a part of those essential beliefs? How about forgiveness of sin, the how that happens as proclaimed from the scriptures? How about living a life after Christs example? Should not these all be a part of the "essentials"? Just questions not debate, have the answers they are in the scripture, just trying to decern your thinking on these matters.

By the way, I continue to pray for you and your family, be blessed in this day, love you!
 Regan replied:
I like to focus more on what it means to be a Christian rather than how we get there. The church is littered with debate and division over the latter. We get hung up on it and miss the former.

And when teaching what it means to be a follower totally surrendered to Christ, the basics of conversion are covered. They just don't remain the focus. I know people who are just baptized and never become disciples; same with people who say the sinner's prayer. But if you love God, love your neighbors, love one another, show the fruit of the Spirit (which would imply you have the Spirit, the seal of Salvation), and declare that Jesus is Lord, then you are Jesus'. It's about the maximum Christian life of total surrender rather than the minimal ritual life of baptism and church.

And this list is more of a "who can we accepts as brothers and sisters in Christ." What are the "essentials" to accept someone as a brother or sister? The "essentials" we will allow ourselves to be unified in. The Spirit of God is the sign of a follower. And that Spirit doesn't just come at baptism, or I would have had that in my essentials.  How People Received the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts?

I did not address doctrinal essentials in this post, but I will. Although, we still need a minimal list. That Jesus rose from the dead and was God in the flesh would be on that list. 
 Dan wrote:
When you say "what it means to be a Christian" are you only talking about the actions of the Christian? Are you including the why some one does these things?

One clarification: you say "Jesus said that He did not come to judge (John 12:47).  If Jesus did not come to judge and condemn in regards to eternal life, then we to avoid our natural tendency to judge others in that light." While I agree with judging eternal salvation of some is dangerous, aren't there are some the church is supposed to judge? Also, in using this verse, does that mean we need to save since in that same verse he says he came to save the world? What about the next verse(s) where he does point to the Judge (presumable himself as seen in these places: http://bit.ly/d8tB81)?
 Laura wrote:
I'm not reading all this, but I propose not making a list of essentials.

Regan replied:
@Laura - That way we can have it change and be whatever we want depending on the mood we are in? Because whether we have thought it out enough to write it out, we do have a list.

@Dan - Besides me missing the word "need", here is responses.

Oh, yes in regards to judging. We are supposed to judge people to teach them, to help them out of sin, etc. But judging about eternal salvation is not something we can do because we do not know their heart. And as for saving, we do play a role in passing Jesus' salvation to the world. Through us being Jesus, we can show people Jesus and be part of the process of salvation. Although, we do not save by ourselves, we play a role in the salvation of the world. 

I am not including the why. We, in the position of accepting someone as a brother or sister, cannot know someone's motives.

Obviously, we are incapable of being a judge when it comes to eternal salvation at this point, whether or not Jesus does that judging. Although, I think he was clear that is not the reason he came. He came to save. And when we deal with the world that does not know Jesus, we are not judge. We are to be used in sharing Jesus' love which will hopefully lead to their salvation.

Unless, of course, we narrow salvation down to a prayer or baptism. If we do that, we can judge. But I think salvation is much more that that.

I tried to deal with all of your questions. If I missed one, feel free to ask again. I'm not trying to avoid any.
Grady replied:
How can you focus on what it means to be a Christian before you get there, it is ok for those of us who have become a christian according to the scripture , but leaves those who haven't hanging out to dry trying all on there own with out the spirit of God providing for the walk of a Christian. Hey the whole book of Acts addresses this, why would you "like to focus on something other then what the scripture focus's on???? It is the Church's responsibility to focus on the "HOW", it is our marching orders. We are going to not have unity with the world, and if some one wants to come and accept the grace God has given then they would be free to do so and become united with the church. And when that happens they recieve all the bennifits associated with being in Christ or apart of the ones called out. What does it take by the way to BECOME a CHRISTIAN?
 Regan replied:
@Grady - I actually shared a link with you of a Bible study of the book of Acts that showed people receiving the Holy Spirit at different points. People did receive the Holy Spirit outside of baptism. And the Holy Spirit is the seal of s...alvation. If God gave us examples in Acts of people receiving the seal of salvation outside of baptism, who am I to say that it could not happen again?

Does that mean that we no longer teach baptism? Of course not. But it does show that we cannot be as legalistic as we would like on the subject of baptism. The Holy Spirit is the seal of salvation. Jesus and Paul did not tell us to check to see if people were baptized to know that they are Jesus' followers. They told us to examine their fruit and to see if they claim that Jesus is Lord.

Our marching orders are to make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them follow Jesus' commandments. I don't think we disagree on that. The issue I was addressing here was not about our mission. It's about our judgmental attitude about other people's salvation; it's about how we discern who to accept as brothers and sisters in Christ. Our judgmental attitude has made many of the churches in this area ineffective at going about that mission. We often behave in such a way that nobody is tranformed by Jesus' love lived out in our lives. We have forgotten the major, love, and focused on the minor, baptism. In the end, we have created a lot of fruitless baptized people who think they are saved because they participated in the "salvation" ritual.

We have forgotten Paul's teaching to always interact with one another in a spirit of humility, gentleness, patience, and love. Without that, our message is lost.

What I will teach is a different topic than what are the essentials to accept someone as a brother or sister. I realize that everything that I believe Scripture teaches is not an essential. My understanding of all of Scripture is not completely accurate, although I currently believe it to be. I will teach Scripture unabashedly but in a spirit of humility, understanding that my interpretation could be wrong.

When it comes to who I will accept as a brother or sister in Jesus, I will stick to the passages I cited in my post on how Paul and Jesus taught we could tell if someone is a follower of Jesus.

This post was not a conversion message focused on how to be a Christian. If it was, I would first encourage people to surrender their heart to Jesus and become His disciple. Then, the next step is repentance and baptism, followed by living a life of total surrender to Jesus and His will. All of it is meaningless if their heart is not given to God.

Will I judge people to hell for not following the path of conversion I understand Scripture to teach? Jesus' taught that we will know His followers by their fruit. Paul's taught that they will claim Jesus is Lord. God will judge people's hearts. I will accept people based on Jesus' and Paul's criteria. And I will teach my understanding of Scripture to the best of my ability. In the end, God will be the judge; for now, I will teach the conversion message of Scripture and accept people as brothers and sisters based on the criteria of Paul and Jesus.
Dan replied:
I hope I wasn't coming across divisive. I just wanted to see how you clarified some things that I didn't think you meant. The big point is how we reach across walls of denomination right and not quite who is saved or not right?

But one thing... I would caution is one of the roles/fruits of the Holy Spirit is to Glorify the Son and the Father as the reason for we do what we do. Because of our identity, we do what we do. We don't do X to become Y. We are Y so we do X.

If we do not attribute glory to him as the why behind the what we could be practicing a form a works righteousness that is no difference than the elevation of baptism seen in Christian Church circles and may not have the Gospel. WE should call each other to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith if we see this going on no matter what (which is something we take for granted). Obeying out of Love and obeying out of fear of Going to Hell are two very different why but can produce very similar whats to an untrained eye. Jesus treated those people differently than the "pagan sinner" who may not have known better. The church is probably in the state it is in because we love judging outsiders and refuse to collectively judge those inside the church. We have completely backwards maybe because we have not challenged each other's motives. Is that enough to disfollowship with someone? Not at first but over time maybe not.

But at the same time we are slaves to Christ and one another so that means we don't give up on people but bear together a fuller understanding of the Gospel.
 More of the conversation can be found here.

A Proposed Minimal Set of Essentials - A Discussion on Essentials (Part Three)

In the previous two posts, we have talked about essentials and division in the church.  In this post, I would like to propose four passages of Scripture that should be the cornerstone of what we believe is essential:  Love God, love our neighbors, love one another, accept people as brothers and sisters in Christ who show fruit and claim that Jesus is Lord.  That’s it.  Once we start broadening beyond that, we start alienating people and continually add to our essentials creating a list that will keep growing and never stop.

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “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 first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  [Matt 22:34-40 (ESV)].
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  [John 13:34-35 (ESV)].
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. [Matt 7:15-20 (ESV)].
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. [1 Cor 12:1-3 (ESV)].

So where does teaching come in?  When we say that we will accept people who show the fruit of the Spirit, what do we do with right doctrine?  When it comes to what Scripture teaches, we keep teaching what we believe is right, but if you are like me, you need to be humble in doing it.  Over the years, things that I once thought were solid as a rock have shifted and thinks I thought did not matter, have gained in importance.  Humility is the key when it comes to being a teacher.

Jesus said that He did not come to judge (John 12:47).  If Jesus did not come to judge and condemn in regards to eternal life, then we to avoid our natural tendency to judge others in that light.  Let us be studious of the Scriptures, sensitive to the Spirit, and full of love.

We don’t even have to agree with others on everything that we think are clear teachings of Scripture.  Riverside Christian Church has a list of core convictions.  One is that “We believe in a minimal set of essentials in order to foster unity and freedom in Christ.”  If we make every teaching that we believe Scripture teaches an essential, then we will soon be dividing amongst ourselves because there are not two of us that probably agree on everything.  Somewhere we must draw a line, and the best way to do that is with a minimal set of essentials.

More Tomorrow.

For further reading:
Being a Church Involved in the Community - A Discussion on Essentials (Part One)

Christ is not Divided - A Discussion on Essentials (Part Two)