The past couple weeks we have discussed reaching out to people in our lives who don’t know Christ. Really what we are discussing is a matter of discipleship. It is part of your discipleship as you are faithful to God’s call to make disciples. Furthermore, as you enter into conversations with people about things of faith, you are really taking them into the first steps of discipleship for themselves.
It is important that we keep in mind that sharing our faith, whatever the means, is only the beginning of discipleship. We have to remember that the Great Commission is not a call to make converts or church attenders, rather it is a call to make disciples and teach them to obey everything that Christ has commanded.
I want for a moment though to offer a word of encouragement in the midst of this emphasis of evangelism. As we enter into conversations with people we can easily become discouraged, people can be unreceptive at best and downright mean at worst. At times the fear of this receptivity can be so paralyzing that we never begin the conversation in the first place.
Furthermore, when we do have success in the conversation, and our loved ones are receptive, discouragement can still be lurking around the corner. It is a difficult thing to pour time, energy, and love into people as you disciple them, only to watch them walk away knowing the truth. This too can become paralyzing.
As you begin these conversations, remember that you are being conformed into the Image of Christ. These failures are not unknown to Him and His ministry. Countless people heard His message only to walk away because it was too difficult, others actively plotted to murder Him. Then within the twelve themselves, men who walked away from everything to follow Him, there was even failure. Peter. Judas. The ten who were nowhere to be found during His trials.
We must realize, that if the perfect Creator—Savior God in the Flesh didn’t have a 100% success rate chances are we won’t either. Take heart, you are in good company. Be encouraged, sometimes, like Peter, the prodigals return. Be comforted, you can only control yourself, you are only accountable for your actions and words, while you can encourage and try to guide you cannot make the choice for others.
The question left, will you be obedient to the call to go and make disciples or will you be disobedient and choose not to, leaving it for others?
Recently I have been reading Who Moved My Pulpit, by Thom Rainer. I have been chewing on the following excerpt for a while now.
It's a true story. A first-time guest came to the church at the request of the pastor. She was to observe carefully, then write a brief report.
Wow! "I would not come back." I can't help but wonder how many people have visited Sterling, a place that reminds us to Love People, and walked away feeling out of place and alone.
How many visitors did you greet Sunday?
May we go out of our way to make people know that we love them before they walk back out our doors. May we be a place that is welcoming.
It’s no secret that Spiritual Formation is a passion of mine; I desire it for myself, and I desire it for others—for you. As a reminder here is the big all-inclusive Trinitarian definition of Spiritual Formation: “God the Holy Spirit takes the initiative, through various means, in cooperation with our response, changes us to look like God the Son, in order to serve others, to the glory of God the Father.” (J.K. Jones).
What that says is that God the Holy Spirit initiates the process of Spiritual Formation in us. Furthermore, He uses various means (good things, tragedies, life experiences, etc.) to change us to look like Jesus Christ (God the Son), in order to serve others, all to glorify God the Father.
However, there was one piece in my explanation that I left out; “in cooperation with our response.” You see, God the Father wants us to reflect Jesus in our lives, He wants us to be conformed to the image of Christ. If Christ lives in you and your life really is hidden in Christ, then it suffices to say that when people look at you they should see Christ. The problem is that we must cooperate. The Holy Spirit cannot make us look like Jesus if we refuse to cooperate and participate in that formation.
Think of it this way for a moment. Imagine there is a skill that you want your child to become great at (football, band, baking, NASCAR, etc.); in your desire for them to be the best you are willing to do whatever it takes to help them be the best. You hire the most skilled people in that field to train your child. You buy them books. You take them to seminars. You dedicate your life to helping your child become the best. But…you see that your child ignores everything the professionals say, they refuse to read the books, they play on their phones in the seminars, they have caused you to spend your life in vain. If your child is to be the best, they must cooperate and participate in the opportunities provided to become the best.
It is the same with being conformed to the image of Christ. We are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), we have the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we participate with the Body of Christ (Hebrew 10:23-25). Yet, if we ignore the Spirit’s work and prompting in us, if we neglect the Scriptures, and are half-hearted in our commitment to The Church, we are not going to progress in our conformity to the image of Christ.
If I can be honest for a moment, I must admit that what I said to start is a bit misleading. I said that I desire Spiritual Formation for myself, which isn’t completely true. On my good days I want to be conformed to the image of Christ, but then there are other days, the not so good days, the days in which I am pretty apathetic, the days when I am content to conform to the image of me.
These apathetic days are what I want to address. Even on these days there is hope. I want to share something I read recently on a solo retreat. The author was discussing Romans 8:34 and that Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for you and me. Additionally, Paul also explains that the Holy Spirit also intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26).
This is what James Bryan Smith encourages us with, “[Jesus] is praying that you and I would be completely new people…He will not stop until he has made us all new people.” (Hidden in Christ, 33-34).
I find this encouraging, because it means that even on my apathetic days Jesus doesn’t give up. On the days where I couldn’t care less both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are interceding on my behalf to the Father for me.
May you and I find hope in the fact that God doesn’t give up on us. May we find encouragement knowing that when we are apathetic, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are praying for us. May we cooperate with God in conforming to the image of Christ.
In my last blog post I discussed that when we sin it is a choice, and that one of the tools to help us choose not to sin is Scripture memory. I want to take this a step further and discuss another tool.
However, I feel that I must acknowledge that I understand for many this will be a difficult discussion. Many will read this and say something like, “That’s a little too catholic for me.” All I ask is that you hear me out.
In addition to Scripture memory, another discipline that can help us choose righteousness over sin is the discipline of confession. When I say confession, I am talking the discipline of sitting down with another Christian(s) you trust (of the same gender) and confessing your sins to them. I know, you are ready to walk away right now, we aren’t catholic, you don’t need a priest, you don’t need to confess your sins to anyone but God. Please hear me out.
You are correct, Scripture does promise that if we confess our sins “…He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” (1 John 1:9 ESV). It is assumed that John is referring to confessing our sins to God. But this isn’t the only place that Scripture discusses confession of sins.
Take a minute, grab your Bible, and read James 5:13-20 (James is toward the back of your Bible between Hebrews and 1 Peter). Go a head, read it, I’ll still be here when your done.
Did you notice verse 16. Go read it again.
To whom does James say to confess our sins?
Why does he say to do confess them to this person?
You see, there is a Biblical precedence for confessing our sins to each other.
I think confession is incredibly powerful for overcoming the tendency to give into temptations to sin. John Ortberg discusses part of why confession is helpful; in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Ortberg writes:
“To confess means to own up to the fact that our behavior wasn’t just the result of bad parenting, poor genes, jealous siblings, or a chemical imbalance from too many Twinkies. Any or all of those factors may be involved. Human behavior is a complex thing. But confession means saying that somewhere in the mix was a choice, and the choice was made by us, and it does not need to be excused, explained, or even understood. The choice needs to be forgiven. The slate has to be wiped clean.”
We’ve been praying for revival. Our nation desperately needs revival. The Church desperately needs revival. I think its safe to say, our congregation longs for revival. We must recognize that a revival won’t begin outside, revival begins when we begin to live with an awareness of God’s presence in our lives. Revival begins when we start choosing righteousness over sin.
Will you commit with me to find someone to whom you can confess your sins? To whom you can acknowledge your choice to sin? From whom you can here the grace of God spoken as your are reminded that God is faithful, even when we are unfaithful?
Let’s decide together to do whatever it takes to become slaves to righteousness, instead of living as slaves to sin
In 2011 I was talking with a friend who had registered for the Illinois Marathon half-marathon race. As we talked I thought, “I should do this.” Keep in mind that this conversation was in January, the half was to take place in April, a half is 13.1 miles, and I hadn’t run since I left ISU in 2004. Naturally I did the only reasonable thing there is to do, I went home got online and registered for the race, I also talked another friend into joining me in my insanity.
Even since this entry into the running world, I have learned several things about which I could spend a great deal of time writing or talking about. I have inevitably learned a lot about running, but I also have learned, through observation and conversation, much about spiritual life. I learned that while on a 6+ mile run with people it provides a lot of time (especially when you are as slow as me) to talk. There have been times when the run was pretty much a full on Bible study, other times it was a discussion of the value on our marriages and how we can continue to honor those marriages and set an example for others.
However, these are not the things I want to address presently, rather I want to talk about one of my favorite aspects of running. I absolutely love the running community. Through running I have seen community that transcends race, religion (several of the runs, I mentioned, where we talked faith and Scripture it was a protestant, a Catholic, a Mormon, and an atheist), gender, lifestyle, politics, etc. These things fade to the back as we all gather around a common interest, running.
Ever since I began my journey running I have started, stopped, and restarted several times over. It is frustrating to begin from square one again, but that’s been my pattern. A couple years ago I was a few months into running again, I was scheduled for 6 miles that day, but by mile .5 I wasn’t feeling it and began to mentally talk myself into simply running 2 miles and being done for the day. As the group began pulling away, because I just couldn’t keep pace with them, one guy stayed with me and I decided I would go until he took off then I’d turn around. That day I ended up getting in my full 6 miles, because he stayed with me the whole time. The crazy thing about it is that his pace then was easily 4 minutes a mile less than mine, yet he ran slow in order to encourage me and keep me going. I recognized a while later that I probably would have quit after that day had he not stayed with me.
Additionally, “races” are incredible venues for community. The last run I did was a 6.5 mile trail run, it was also an out and back, which meant not only were people running in the same direction but we were also meeting people coming at us. The entire 6.5 miles was filled with encouragement, warning of obstacles, and motivation from others. As I listened to people speaking words of encouragement and motivation between breaths I couldn’t help but think about the example that it sets for the Church.
This is why the author of Hebrews writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (10:24-25 ESV).
The very thing I have experienced within the running community is what we should be practicing and experiencing in the faith community. We need to begin to look for those people who are struggling, thinking about quitting and run with them. We need to be warning each other of temptations that may be headed at us. We need to tell each other “Good Job.” “Keep it up.” “Press on.” “You’re almost there.” “It’ll totally be worth it when you cross the finish line.”
Who do you need to encourage? Who has God placed in your life that you can come alongside and help them press on?
It is time for the Church to begin setting the example for the rest of the world.
Blog posts from the Sterling staff, and maybe even the occasional guest blogger.