(originally delivered to WDA campus ministry at the University of Georgia)

“Lucky mud?” Is that all we are? Many of you, as college student, have likely encountered the innumerable unbiblical opinions expressed concerning who we are and what we are doing here. Richard Pratt, in his book Designed for Dignity tells the true story of a young woman who had left her husband and two children for another lover. The lover had recently thrown her out of his place, so alone in a hotel room, despairing the events that had led her to where she now was, she shot herself in the head with a .38 caliber pistol. The note she left on the nightstand simply stated, “Don’t cry for me – I’m not even human anymore. Ironically, just two floors down in that very hotel was a New Age convention. The gunshot couldn’t even be heard above the din of the crowd, who were all chanting, “I am God! …I am God! …I am God!

Sometimes we hear such rhetoric from the very same individual, such as when a non-Christian professor pokes fun of traditional religion and proclaims us masters of our own fate, yet at the same time believes that we are no more than the product of chance and law, so called “lucky mud.”

Even as Christians many of us have accepted the subtle lies of the culture around us, rather than the words of the very God who created us. We believe that we are entirely sovereign over our own destiny. We believe that work is merely a chore to be put up with and is only for the sake of sustenance. We believe that sensuality is the end all of everything, and that a marriage relationship that doesn’t bring us happiness is one to be abandoned, for surely our own happiness is God’s highest priority. In some cases, Christians even believe that we can abandon the Biblical story of Adam and Eve altogether, the very story that serves as a corrective of the many things we tempted to believe concerning who we are and what we are here for, and on which Christ’s very work as our redeemer, the second Adam, stands. Read the rest of this entry »

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So far we have looked at four character traits of the ‘Mature’ believer, according to the Word; becoming a ‘self-feeder’, growing to be ‘skilled in the Word’, growing in ‘discernment’, and growing ‘beyond’ the basics. Now we’ll shift over to look at the ‘attitudes’ of a mature believer, or rather, how we are to think about some important Biblical issues.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”

Philippians 3:7-16

Philippians 3 holds another key to Christian maturity, which I will call “attitude”, or rather the way we think about spiritual things. Earlier on in the book of Philippians Paul has already called us to put on the “mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:5). Part of becoming more like Jesus and growing in maturity involves humbly learning from Him, and learning from others, like Paul, as they learn from him (1 Corinthians 11:1). Here we are hearing from Paul some of the thoughts and attitudes that Christ would have us to learn. As Paul clearly states, Let those of us who are mature think THIS way.” Read the rest of this entry »

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:12-6:3

Lastly, from this passage, the mature should be beyond the following: 1.) dead works (trying to earn one’s salvation through works rather than by faith), 2.) instruction about washings (the mature should already be baptized and have a clear understanding of the nature of baptism, both physical and spiritual), 3.) laying on of hands (the mature should understand the transference of gifts and authority within the church), 4.) resurrection (Jesus was raised bodily, and we will be too), and 5.) eternal life. Basically, these should no longer be stumbling blocks or issues for the mature – they should be beyond these 5 issues, and if they are not, they should be addressed now, so they may move on to more important matters of discipling and laying these foundational truths and practices in other’s lives. We should, as believers seeking to ‘grow up’ in Christ, solidify what we believe on these matters – seeking the Scriptures, and Godly counsel – in order to move beyond these basics, so we don’t feel the need to continually ‘debate’ or ‘discuss’ them again. These are simple teachings – things that are foundational to the Christian life, according the Bible. Read the rest of this entry »

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:12-6:3

The mature practice discernment. Notice; they don’t merely HAVE it – they put it into practice, and this discernment is sharpened by being continually put to good use. The discernment spoken of here is no spiritual gift, but simply something every mature believer, by encountering and knowing and growing up into Christ-like-ness, should have. And what does discernment in practice look like? Godly wisdom – nothing less. What is Godly wisdom? Applying the truth that we discover by “rightly handling the Word”.

It’s easy to let other’s consciences guide us, as seems to be the practice for far too many Evangelical Christians, which results in us, when trying to be ‘Biblical’ on secondary matters, teaching as truth – as law – things that the Scriptures are not actually clear on. Though many think they’re doing other believers a service, too often this acts as an ‘adding to the Gospel’, and usually results in ultimately enslaving genuine believers to the law – emphasizing law over grace, a grave error for believers, which ultimately leads to death, rather than eternal life.

We need to each approach the Word to discern for ourselves how God wants us to apply His Word, and be careful to not bind other believer’s by our own consciences on secondary matters. As each of us matures, we will discern how God is leading.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:12-6:3

Since the one still needing milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, the mature believer should be the opposite. What does it mean to be “skilled in the word”? As 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” To “rightly handle” the word is to be “skilled in the word”: treating God’s revealed Word with reverence, and respect, and interpreting and applying to one’s life (AND the life of others) with care and even fear, given how important it is to apply and understand them correctly (see 2 Peter 3:16). One does this by knowing and understanding the Word in context – historical & literary – so we truly understand what the original authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, intended to say. In ‘big words’, we call this “exegesis” – in day to day language it simply means, we should be willing to understand what God is actually saying in His Word, and careful not to read our own ideas into it. As we mature in Christ, this should become more and more natural to us.

So, it turns out the rumor is true. One of the world’s greatest communicators of the Gospel (if you have any doubts, just watch this dvd some day) and the most successful (ie – his songs are more widely sung than any one else living) contemporary worship singer/songwriter planting a church together. It seems, having read about Austin Stone Community Church, that they are looking at this as an opportunity for them to refocus as a church, as having Chris Tomlin as their worship pastor, who helped to plant the church years before, may have been a distraction at times (I personally have a hard time imagining having such a high profile staff-person), given the immense success he’s undergone in the past few years. Though I haven’t yet read any comments yet, I imagine that North Point Community Church is blessing this step by Giglio, as well, given their emphasis on planting new churches and campuses around the country, and his long-term friendship with Andy Stanley, North Point’s pastor.

How odd to think of planting a church that would be immediately ‘successful’, at least as far as numbers are concerned (let’s just say that the first tithe should cover the pastors salary, which is unusual in church planting). It seems like a blessing, in some sense, but in another would have immense drawbacks. For instance, most of the folks who would flood to a church plant such as this would be primarily coming from either name recognition and the sheer ‘talent’ of those planting the church – that does not assure a very ‘spiritually mature’ core congregation, and discipleship may be a chore. There will probably be a good deal of ‘flux’ for a while – people who come, must like we experienced the first couple weeks that our new building was open, just to see what’s up – to experience the ‘new thing’.

God knows I love both Louie & Chris, their gifts, and how God has used them. I think we all need to be in prayer for them, their former churches, and all this move will affect – that God blesses all involved, that the Gospel will be center, that God will be glorified, and even more people will meet Jesus as a result of this move.

So be it. Amen…

Confession: this will be no surprise to most of you, but I – though a card-holding Bible-believing Evangelical Christian – have a few contentions with the American church at large, at least as the Christian faith is often imagined/understood/expressed here (I can’t speak as clearly to European Christianity as I not only don’t find myself in that scene, but haven’t even yet visited – it is possible that my contention may be even more universal in nature, I suppose). That’s not to say that I necessarily believe that Christians who disagree with me are ‘lost’ – only that, at this point, I think they’re mistaken. Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday was one of those ‘highlights’ for me – a day where, from morning till sundown, I felt as though my every step was perfect.

In the morning I went to church and led the Rush Hour (Jr. High Youth Group) band, including a brand new guitarist who had never played with us before (apart from a rehearsal), and it was GREAT. Not only was the worship time intimate – the youth in the room seemed engaged, and during the quiet moments I could hear voices from every corner of the room, but the band sounded great, especially the new guitarist. I love leading worship, but even more-so, I love seeing young musicians ‘get it’, both spiritually and musically. It just lights me up to see a kid step up and DO IT, and do it well, even! It was a good morning.

After church, I spent the afternoon in the studio with my wife singing background vocals for my brother-n-law’s forthcoming c.d. (for whom my wife is the booking agent, so if you’d like him to play somewhere LET ME KNOW). He’s working under the name McKendree Augustas, and the new tunes are sweet. I’m excited to hear the final product, which should be mixed later this week.

Finally, in the evening, I got to open for David Herndon at his c.d. release party. Given the nature of the songs he was playing that night, I decided to be ‘Set on Edge‘ for the evening, instead of ‘Saint Lewis‘. I usually rely upon a group of excellent musicians, but instead focused on spicing up my acoustic parts a bit and did it solo. I not only felt very good about the performance (there was a great audience there – I’d guess 300+ showed), got many compliments, and sold a few cds, but also got in a number of great conversations, and for me those conversations/relationships is what good music really comes down to: a conversation between me, the listener, and God.

Yesterday was one more day that makes me consider doing some really crazy things to enable every day to be like that. The thought of one day leading others in worship, training musicians and worship leaders and seeing them step into their own, writing songs that move people’s hearts and the heart of God, playing live, and recording – well, that just sounds like Heaven on Earth to me and leaves my head spinning.

Yesterday was a good day. 😉

I’ve always enjoyed conferences. I come away from them rested (even apart from getting no sleep, oft-times!), encouraged, challenged, and just plain excited, with a fresh of vision of what I can do and how things can be. Wouldn’t it be nice to take your whole team to a conference? Unfortunately, that’s just plain not feasible, given the complexities of people’s schedules, and financial issues. So a few years back I began putting on my own ‘mini-conferences’ for my youth group musicians, and those interested in one day being on the team, which I call ‘Youth Worship Workshops’. They’ve done well for us, not only in giving the youth a new vision for our team and a new passion for worshiping God, but also as essentially ‘try-outs’ to discover and invest in future talent which will slowly be integrated into, and one day replace, the current team. If you’re a worship leader an interested in doing one at your church, here’s the basics of what we do: Read the rest of this entry »

            After moving from one Athens to another – Ohio to Georgia – in ’96 it took me some time to find my spiritual bearings.  I backslid right out of college, discovering that I was nowhere near as spiritually mature as I should’ve been after nearly 5 years of being mentored (and at least a year of being a small group leader myself).  What was missing?  Read the rest of this entry »

“But not all small groups experience that life-giving power. Many groups lack the life-changing spiritual and relational growth members hunger for. As a result, members lose interest, and the small group ministry does not grow and does not achieve the vision with which it began. This does not have to happen. Leaders can learn skills and biblical processes that make small groups more effective.”

– Cloud & Townsend, from Making Small Groups Work

Back in the early 70’s Carl Wilson, the founder of a discipleship ministry called WDA, did a detailed study of the life and discipleship style of Jesus using a Harmony of the Gospels, which was later published under the name With Christ in the School of Disciple Building. It’s dense, academic, and hard-to-read, but a worthwhile study, if you’ve the patience. While studying a harmony of the Gospels Carl Wilson recognized a number of patterns in Jesus’ training of the 12, the 70, and the 120. Similar subjects were touched upon, and similar challenges made, in a recognizable order.

The first visible pattern is what WDA calls the five phases. Read the rest of this entry »

I chose to follow Jesus as an upcoming freshman at Ohio University in ’91.  Within my first year I grew steadily more involved with a large campus ministry, and plugged into one of their Bible studies, eventually becoming a student leader myself.  I was involved with those men – some cycled in and some out – for more than four years: some of them are my friends to this day – two of them were in my wedding, and I was in theirs.  Of that college small group only four of the ten men that passed through our group are still walking strong with the Lord today.  Read the rest of this entry »

Discipleship (part 1)

December 10, 2007

Having read Chris Moncus‘ excellent blog on Volunteers Reproducing Themselves, I was inspired to post an edited version of an essay I wrote in 2005 on Small Group Ministry and Discipleship, as I think it captures the heart of what Chris was talking about. May this continue to happen at our church!

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“Three men digging a ditch on a scorching summer afternoon were approached by a friend who asked, ‘What are you guys doing?’ The first, already weary from exertion, responded impatiently, ‘What does it look like? We’re digging a hole!’

The second, sensing that the question was not meant to be rhetorical, added, ‘We’re laying a foundation pad. It’s going to be filled with concrete.’

The third man, who had been whistling happily while he labored, laid his shovel aside, wiped his forehead, and began to describe in great detail how this particular hole was strategic for the placement of one of the massive ‘flying buttresses’ that would support an entire wall of stained glass windows for a new cathedral. After describing in great detail the plans and procedures for completion Christmas Eve five years from now, my family and I will worship together at the altar where that rubbish pile is now located.’”

– from Bob DukesA Model for Strategic Disciple Building

Discipleship is the most important ministry in the church – in fact, it IS the ministry of the Church It’s a radical thing to say, but I stand behind it. I’m convinced of it from both Scripture and experience. In the Old Testament, according to God himself in Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Discipleship was teaching the faith, practicing the faith, relationships of faith, and day-to-day walking it out in faith – all were to take place. Who would know better than God the best environments and models for discipleship? Then Jesus, in Mark 13:13-15, called the disciples out, challenged them, raised them up, and even appointed them to positions of authority, ultimately sending them out to do likewise. Discipleship is the primary purpose of the Church, and the problem is not that we don’t try to do it – the problem is that we try, but do not have a vision as to what end we do it, and how to get there. This is where our ditch-digger comes in. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been reading What Jesus demands of the World by John Piper off and on this year, which has brought to mind the late James Montgomerly Boice’s EXCELLENT book Christ’s Call to Discipleship, and the fact that – Biblically – being a Christian is NOT about THINKING of Jesus as God – though that’s all fine and dandy – but about following and trusting Jesus as LORD, which means King, Owner, Master or Boss. Proclaiming Jesus as Lord, while actually MEANING IT, is far more than just accenting to a verbally stated truth: that God is revealed in the human person of Jesus. Instead it is an actual acceptance of the mastery of Jesus over us, and living that out – THIS IS KINGDOM LIVING: submitting to Jesus’ lordship. And THIS is Worship.

Now, you can go on with your day, living like Jesus owns you.