Teaching Them

"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." Matthew 28:19-20

I'm sitting in church again, I guess church just inspires me. That's a good thing. 

I am thinking a lot lately about what really matters when it comes to making disciples of Christ. Things like how much do you need to know before you can be called a disciple? How fast do you have to learn all the required information? Does it need to come in a specific order? 

The scripture reading this morning was the great commission to make disciples and one word in particular jumped out at me. That word is "teaching". My wife is working on her masters in education right now so maybe I'm unusually sensitive to the concept of teaching but the following idea just hit me when that word was read.

Teaching is a process. That is evidenced by the fact that you have to go to school for 16 years or more before society will consider you “educated”. When you finish first grade you don't know enough to stop learning. Maybe by eighth grade you know enough to finish your education in the school of hard knocks and come out alright.  Some people need college, some people don't. My point is not how much education it takes to be educated, the point is that it takes more then first grade. 

Education is a process, it begins small and expands. Every new lesson builds on the previous. So when we are teaching people to be disciples we need to keep a couple things in mind. First, people are going to learn at different speeds, the school of Christ is a Montessori school. Second, and most important, it is a process, a process of change. Entering into The Way is a decision to submit oneself to the will of God, it is a journey it has a beginning but truly never ends. 

Discipleship is not something that begins after your join the church, it is something that should begin as soon as a person hears that still small voice for the first time calling them to learn of Christ. The way we teach someone to be a disciple needs to not only allow for the process of change but emphasis that they are going to go through a process, it is going to take time and at times it may not be easy, but it will be worth it.


What People Don't Know

I was sitting in a meeting today in a pretty large conference room and around the table were a number of people only one of which was actually employed in a capacity that facilitated their involvement in the conversation. Everyone else was a volunteer.

We're talking about how we could improve the situations of the homeless population in Allentown. It occurred to me as we were talking about the challenges and possible solutions that most if not all of the people for whom we labor probably don't think about the incredible amount of time and energy that the people around the table as well as many others around the city expend on a weekly basis working for them.

At one point for about 6 weeks one of my friends was working 12 - 14 hours a day seven days a week for a group of about 20 homeless folks as a volunteer!  I know that many of them see the results in small ways when we find them housing or clothes or some other tangible event but I don't see how anyone could comprehend the amount of time behind the scenes it requires to affect even the smallest change in some ones life.

Then it hit me. I take for granted the amount of time behind the scenes that it takes for God working on my behalf to affect even the smallest change in me. Any of us for that matter. But he does it, day in and day out God is striving with and for humanity. Trying desperately to improve our standing in life and eternity. Most of the time we go about our day completely ignorant of it, probably missing some of the smaller things God does for us, self absorbed in the life problem of the moment. And yet he labored on. Just as my friends and I labor on, to hopefully provide some small improvement to the lives of the homeless.


Less bidding, more doing, thats the power of Christ's method.

I haven't said it here, yet, but I will be saying it often. As a church we have a serious problem that is affecting our ability to be what God has intended us to be. That problem is that we don't cultivate a approach to those out of Christ that values relationships. If we can't teach someone theology we just don't seem to know what to do. We don't understand how to visit someone's home and connect with them on anything other the doctrine. 

Think about it. When was the last time you had some one do a training on how to just befriend someone? Or how to connect with someone in their home around something other then a Bible study? I know that there are exceptions, but I am talking the exceptions I'm talking about the rule. I have been just as guilty as anyone with propagating this idea in the past that we need to find people to study the Bible and if they aren't interested then we need to keep moving because anything less is just a "devils rabbit". How could I have been so blind? 

As time goes on I will be exploring some of the reasons why I think this culture has been cultivated in our church for so long. But right now I want to give you some hope, hope  that there is a better way. There is a way where we can visit individuals at their homes, show concern for them, gain their trust and open the door for them to meet Christ. 

Simplicity operates under the philosophy that Christ's method is to meet people, find out what their needs are and strive to meet that need for the sake of meeting that need in the name of Christ. We don't help people to try to get a study, we don't help people so they will come to church. We help people because that was the model Christ left for us. The promise is that if we meet the needs, show concern, in our actions show that we desire only good for all people. Then, after people know that this is not just what you are doing but who you are, you invite them to join you in "The Way".

A quick confession. I am writing this during church, don't judge me! 

When I arrived at church today my friend Al who by the way is getting baptized, today, came up to share a story with me and the team. Al has been going out into the community with the team for several weeks now. About two weeks ago he met a gentleman at the door and struck up a conversation with him and in the course of that conversation found out that this older gentleman was in need of an air conditioner. Al took it upon himself to find him a window unit and went to drop it off. This week he dropped by for a visit, the man greeted him warmly but wanted to know why last Saturday when he was out visiting his neighbors he didn't stop by to say hello. Al apologized and they began to talk, the man asked Al if he could bring him some literature about Jesus and told him that he is planning to visit the church in the near future.

In the past while doing bible work I have worked long and hard to present reasonable biblical arguments, ultimately, so that someone would come to church with me. Let me just say that this story is not an exception it is rapidly becoming the rule of ministry here in the city. "Christ's method alone will bring TRUE success in reaching the people." 


The Christmas Message

This is the transcript of the Sermon I am about to preach on Christmas eve. There are more then a few spelling and formating errors you will have to forgive me for those I will fix them later. I hope it will be a blessing to you.

What is the Christmas Message?

So often we just dwell on the fact that when Jesus was born that he was coming to die for us. But when Jesus came to this earth the first time He was coming not just to die for us but also to correct some misconceptions about who God was and the relationship He desired to have with us.

The people view of God had become distorted by the time of Jesus. The viewed God as an exacting God. One who demanded obiediance and anything short of that was unacceptable. They were looking for a Messiah not to come and be among them but one to come and rule over them.

The Circumsatances surrounding the birth of Christ give us a wonderful picture of who God really is and the type of relationship he desires to have with us. It is a picture that we need to see today as Christians and it is also a picture that the world needs to see.

Today like in time past people misunderstand and doubt who God is because of misconceptions propigated by Christians who also misunderstand the mission of Jesus and how God desires to relate to those who follow him.

In Luke 2:8-20 we find the story of the angels declaring the birth of Jesus to the shepards. in the middle of this passage the angels grandly declare to the shepards "Glory to God in the Highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men." When you contrast the angels reactions to Gethsemene and Clavary with their reaction to Jesus's birth it makes me wonder if the angels even really understood what Jesus was coming to earth to do. Never the less the message was brought to those shepards and as much as they couls they tried to bring that message to others they came in contact with.

"Glory to God in the highest." I don't want to dwell on this statement to much because it is so broad. And I think it is pretty self explainitory. The angels live to glorify God it is the ever present desire of their heart. As it should and will be for us some day. But on this day their was much to glorify God with, The plan of salvation was about to explicitly unfolded before the world..

Today however I want to dwell on the "on earth" part. "peace and good will towards men." Where men often run astray in their understanding of God is forgeting these 4 words "peace goodwill toward men" even as Christians when God is in the process of molding us into his image, fitting us to live in heaven we are quick to doubt when the process gets hard and starts to hurt a little bit. We need to always remember that God has plan of peace, to prosper us and not to harm us, to provide us a future and a hope.

There are 3 things that stand out to me in the story of Christ's birth that help us to gain a clear understanding of the peace and goodwill that God has towards us and how wishes to relate to us everyday and reveal to us why he chose to save us in the way that he did.

In Matthew 1:23 we find a reference to a prophecy from Isaiah. His name shall be Immanuel which is translated "God with us". Here we find the first thing that should help us understand Gods good will for us. God has always desired to be with us. From the very beginning he sought us out for this purpose, in fact I would go so far as to say that we were created for this purpose. God wants to be with you! Ultimately that is why you are here, to be with God. Every child that is born is born becaus eGod wants to know and be known by that child.

After the garden as man has perpetually wandered farther and farther from God he has likewise pursued us more and more. Throughout the Bible we see this theme. Perhaps the most discriptive story is the story of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. God instructed them to build the tabernacle and while it served many purposes there is one statement from God that reveals His main motive behind that building. He said "Build me a tabernacle that I may dwell among you"

So far from the deists assertions that God created us and has deserted us the bible shows through out and the story of Christmas specifically tell us of a God who desires nothing more then to be with us. To dwell among us. To be our God and for us to be his people.

When we recognize this it should give us a clearer picture of our relationship to God. He is desiring to be with us even when we are not desiring to be with him. Even after 4000 or so years of rejection God was still willing to risk everything to come and be with us. Which leads me to my next point.

God literally risked everything in coming to this planet. in John1:1-5 The apostle draws our attention to Jesus in a way that the other 3 gospels do not. John emphasises from the very beginning that Jesus is God and our creator. That he made all things and that without him nothing was made. if we take one other verse and stick it with this passage from John we get an amazing picture of what was at stake for everything and everyone by God's plan of redemption. Colossians 1:16-17, HE created all things and in Him all things consist. Consist means to exist or to be capable of existing. So in Christ everything finds it's ability to exist. You cannot exist with out Christ, I cannot exist with out Christ, the universe cannot exist with out Christ. In fact the only things that can exist with out Christ is the Father and the Holy Spirit. Christs mission was a desperate one. And the risk that was taken was unfathomably great.

Men today accuse God of being unfair, of not allowing free will, of being unjust because the Bible teaches us to live contrary to the desires of our sinful flesh. But what is not understood by many is that this world as it exists is a cancer on the rest of the universe. That sin is a plauge on all of creation. No one goes to the Doctor with cancer and determines to leave it in cause that cancer shold be allowed to continue to exist as it wants. We understand that Cancer in its very nature is contrary to us that it will destroy us and so if possible we have it removed or killed.

Is it really wrong of God to want to remove this cancer from the universe he created? Absolutly not. And when we consider the risk God took to earn the right to expunge this cancer. And make no mistake he condesnded to earn the right to detroy sin and recreate this earth, by risking the existance of everything. This shows us a God who prizes you and me, There are no words to describe this love He has for you and for me.

MAny people wander this earth in despair because they feel that they have no value. That no one loves them, no one cares for them. If they could only be shown and led to believe the truth that has been stolen form them by the atheists and deists, by the pagans and the secularists. That God risked the entire universe to have the oppertunity to be their Immanuel. They would find that their value is greater then they have every dreamed. The value of an item is determined by the price that someone is willing to pay for it. Not by the price someone else places on it. And God came so that if only one could be redeemed it would be possible so His estimation of just one persons value is everything he has ever created. Thats what he was willing to risk to save just one.

The story of Christmas is the beginning of 33 years of peril for the universe because for there to be true success there must be the possibility of true failure. Which makes this final point so amazing to me.
In Luke 1:26-37 Gabriel apears to Mary to inform her that she is about to be a mom. "Do not be afraid Mary you have found favor with God!" If there was someone somewhere taking bets on whether this plan would work the odds just tilted strongly in favor of the house. Jesus set aside his diety to become a human after 4000 years of degredation and he is going to start life as a baby and be raised by a sinful erring human family? It seems to me that God being God could have started jesus off an adult and just kind of programed him with knowledge and character and still been able to justly serve as our sacrifice. But God chose to place the destiny of the universe in the hands of Mary and Joeseph.

Many movies and stories these days paint a picture of a supreme being who thinks little of humanity, that doesn't believe that humans are capable of great things. They often look upon humans condecindingly and the humans in turn try to accomplish great feats to show that they can be indipendant of this controling being. But the Christmas message is that God looked down on earth, on humans and decided that Mary and Joseph were quite capable of playing a major role in His plan to save this world. I would say possibly the most important role. The values and principles they instilled in Jesus as a child are what made him the man capable of layign down his life for a people that were torturing and killing him.

God has faith in humanity. He believes that we can become more then we are that we can accomplish great things for Him. He still believes today as He did back then that Humans can raise their children to honor God and to be a witness in this world of the great and mighty things that God has done for us. That is our charge to occupy this place until our savior returns. God could have used angels to tell the world of the love of God towards them but He still chooses humans to bear that responsibility.

So much time is spent preaching about how the life of Christ or the death of Christ should impact our lives and often it feels that at Christmas time we talk about his birth almost as obligitory but the Christmas message is an important piece of the life that saved the world. It is a story that shows us in a unique way the character of God and reveals to us the special place we have in the heart of God.

The Christmas message is that God was willing to risk everything to be with us.
Are we willing to risk everything to be with Him?


Where from here?

I’m not one to get home sick, never have been really. But today I am desperately homesick for a place I have never been. I am having trouble focusing at work because my thoughts are raptured to a place beyond this world. With every email that dings my inbox with useless questions about useless work I want to storm out of this office and never return. But our command is to occupy until He returns and for the moment anyway I am constrained by the harsh reality that it is for me to occupy this office.

Never the less my mind is not in this work, it is stolen away with the question, “Why are we still here?” Each passing day the detractors and skeptics become more resolved in their denial of God and the faith of another believer fails. Why does God wait?

The fact is that we are here because we fail to live the life we talk so much about. I’m guilty and so are you! I have been meditating on the message to Laodicea the last week or so. Particularly the early part of the message. So much time is spent focusing on the end of the message about faith and righteousness and the Holy Spirit that I think we often forget why that conversation is necessary. It is because when God looks at those who profess to believe in him in the world today it makes him want to vomit. That’s pretty powerful imagery. It is easy to excuse yourself from this group but the reality is that you can’t and neither can I. We make God sick.

So here I am feeling sick cause I want to go to heaven, faced with the reality that I am making God sick because I am not there. Not only am I not there but for all my heart ache I’m must not even be acting like I want to be there. At least that is the conviction that is on my heart right now. So now that feeling in my gut that was homesickness is becoming something else because I have been at this place before and the path I took pursuing perfection last time left me wanting. If that way didn’t get me where I needed to go then I am just a little frightened to discover what God’s estimation a remnant believer really is.

But for now I have to return to reality because the phone is ringing and the emails are piling up.


Emphasis - Sleeping At Last

Emphasis by Sleeping At Last by sleepingatlast

I have really been digging this song, I found it about a week ago. The whole song is deep but the  chorus really resonates with my soul. "The smartest thing I ever learned is I dont have all the answers just a little light to call my own... A speckle that can reunite the sun and swallow darkness whole."

All we have is what is between us and God. That light that is just for you even if it seems small in comparison to someone else or the light given to the body of the church is the only thing that will see us through the trials of life. Sometimes instead of dwelling on all the things we dont understand, we need to abide in that precious gift that is the light God has given each one of us as individuals.


It Could Be Worse

If you have ever spent any time around a baby you have probably noticed that most of them cry about everything. At the least little discomfort they cry and scream. As they get older they get a little better however if a baby who just started crawling slips and their face hits the floor they will start screaming but give them a few weeks and a few more slips and they just get right up and keep going. Same happens when a toddler falls for the first time, or a young kid takes their first fall off their bike. But with time the response to each type of incident lessens.