So You Want To Be A Superstar

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to do something great. I wanted to be known for my accomplishments, to be sought after for my significance, to be well known, even famous.

There is no denying the pride, greed, envy, and jealousy that is inherent in such ambitious thoughts. And I am guilty of all of these. But lately, I have tried to come to terms with this particular character trait of mine. I have worked to determine if God has placed some of this desire in me for a purpose or if this is just a thorn in my side that I will struggle with for a lifetime.

Before I begin to rationalize a dangerous character flaw, it might be good if I studied the life of Jesus and looked to see what he had to say about ambition, quest for greatness, and significance. I came across a story where two of his disciples, along with their mother, ask Jesus for special places of power when his kingdom is fully realized.

Jesus first ask if these disciples are willing to follow Jesus into hardship and difficulty?Then he tells them that in order to be great you must be a servant. You must not seek to be served but to serve. He even mentions himself, and his mission on Earth to serve.

I don’t know what you think about when you read this story but what hit me is that there is nothing wrong with the ambition to be great as long as I am working to be great within the Kingdom of God and not the world. Also, am I willing to follow Jesus into suffering if that is required? Finally, am I willing to be a servant?

For the two disciples, James and John, that Jesus spoke to in the story, each one received significance and are considered great in the history of Christianity. But their greatness came about through their focus on Christ, through their suffering, and their quest to serve. Two thousand years later, we are still talking about them.

As for me, part of my quest for significance is partly a quest for a calling from God. But once I find that calling, and I think I might have, I better be willing to suffer and to serve others or my efforts are little more than selfish fulfillment seeking.

 

Reality Bites: What We Can Count On

In Wichita, James Bryan Smith talked about reality. He said that reality is “what you can count on.” He also referenced Dallas Willard’s definition of reality as “what you find out when you find out that you are wrong.”

Are there things that we can count on that are constantly hiding behind our wrong assumptions? I think there are.

In this life, I can count on getting angry. I can count on desiring something that I don’t have. I can count on being disappointed with another person. I can count on making mistakes. I can count on feeling helpless at times. I can count on not having all the answers. I can count on needing help from another person.

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photo by: Ricardo Romano

I don’t think anyone can dispute that this is reality for every person who walks the face of the earth. We are limited, frail, and needy people, no matter what we try to tell ourselves.

When Jesus comes along and says that he is the way, the truth, and the life, we have to take notice, right? Because in our our way of doing life there is no comparison to the reality of the things above. Our truth will barely reach higher than the rims of our glasses. Our life will likely hurt those around us at some point and at best provide only glimpses of joy and peace.

We need Jesus’ way of life, his truth, and his life sustaining us.

In my 30 years of being a follower of Christ, I have learned to count on Jesus answering prayers. I have learned to count on his teachings being the wisest and most beneficial words in human history. I have learned to count on love never failing. I have learned to count on Christ moving in profound but mysterious ways. This is my reality with Christ.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Not Just A Slogan, Part 1: What Is Christ-Centered?

I went with my daughter to visit two colleges this weekend. It was interesting to hear the words, ideas, and terms that these individual cultures presented. The sloganeering that happens in places like a college campus works well on brochures and billboards but do these people even know what they are really saying and do those that are listening even understand what these terms mean?

Where I work, the term Christ-centered gets thrown around a lot. It is a great sentiment but what does it really mean? I went to scripture and found some insight on what Christ-centered truly means.

Like-minded

“having the same love, being one in spirit, and in mind”

Christ centered institutions have a unique unity. How does this occur? First, individual Christians begin to Grow Up and be changed and begin to resemble more of Christ. This means we possess more of the mind of Christ and heart of Christ. So, if I possess more of Christ and you possess more of Christ then the more we mature the more we are reaching a common plane of mind, heart, and spirit because Christ is working in both of us.

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Avoid selfish ambition

“not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others”

Christ centered people and institutions will be marked by a measure of humility. I was talking with a prominent coach on our campus, and he talked about the biggest surprise he has had with building character among his players is their increase in humility. This growth hasn’t made them soft, instead it has increased the unity and bond as a team because they are valuing others above themselves.

Read part 2 on Wednesday.

 

The Church Has Neglected This Most Important Goal

Yesterday in my own church, a visiting retired missionary told the story of a missionary he knew that was hampered in his own efforts to disciple believers because he said that he was never discipled himself.

Discipleship is simply learning to do the things that Jesus said to do.

American church culture has created a world where discipleship is an add on. Not a bad thing to practice and work on but not essential to the life of the believer or the good of the church. So efforts at Growing Up get pushed to niche times and places and become largely ignored by the majority of the church faithful.

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How have we gotten to this state?

“What you present as the gospel, will determine what you present as discipleship.” This quote by Dallas Willard has much to say about the modern church and why there is a significant lack of discipleship.

The 3,000 people that first joined the infant church at Pentecost were presented a Gospel that was Jesus focused. Peter, in his talk that day, stressed the arrival of Jesus, the work of his ministry, his death on the cross, and his resurrection. The Gospel story was Christ centered and began with Jesus, not with us. If our Gospel starts with us, then we are in trouble. Jesus gets reduced to an instrument for our personal use rather than a King destined to rule the Earth for all of eternity and transform us into Children of God.

The baby believers at Pentecost were not making a transaction that required little of them, they were entering a new existence that quickly began to be evident as a peculiar community sprung up around them. They shared their life together (including some of their possessions), they shared meals together, they had glad and sincere hearts, and they praised God as one. Everything changed because of the Gospel.

Ruth Haley Barton says that churches oversell and under-deliver two things, transformation and community. Could it be that the gospel we are presenting is contributing to our inability to create true disciples who are radically changed and urgently busy at the work of God’s kingdom?

Start with Jesus and his story of life, death, resurrection, and future return and see if that doesn’t produce a different result. This was the gospel of Acts and this good news started a global spiritual revolution.

You Are A Student, Start Acting Like One

One of the things mentioned last week was that our primary orientation as a follower of Christ is as a student.

 

Some form of the word disciple, learner, student, or apprentice is used 264 times in the New Testament while the term Christian is only used three times. Scripture tells us that the people in Antioch were the first to call believers Christians but many people think this was a derogatory label as it meant “little Christ.” As in “look at those “little Christ” thinking they are something special.”

Think about the thousands following Jesus through the Galilean countryside. Time and time again, Jesus took the opportunity to teach them and they listened. You hear some of their questions and comments in scripture because they were learning and letting Jesus teach them.

Don’t you think there will be a learning curve when we reach heaven? Paul says that right now we know in part and we prophesy in part. There is still so much for us to learn about life, God, love, and the Kingdom of God. We might as well start now.

Do you need an exercise to help kickstart your studies in the School of Christ? Take the disciples cue when they point blank asked Jesus to “teach us to pray.” Look at Luke 11:1-13 and begin your lesson on prayer. You are an apprentice of Christ, start learning from him now.

photo credit: public domain

The Costly Results of Forgetting Jesus

Monday, I mentioned the importance of remembering the good news of Jesus. Today, I would like to tell you the dangerous ramifications of forgetting Jesus.

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  1. You have no power except your own. Many years ago, I was the sole breadwinner for a young family of three. I was trying to finish a graduate degree and my job kept me away from home many nights. I wasn’t taking care of myself spiritually and emotionally and began to fall into a depression. I was breaking down. Why? Because I had forgotten Jesus and was trying to manage my life without the help of Christ. I was still at the center of my own life and hadn’t made Christ, with all of his power, the King over all of my existence. I was powerless to accomplish anything  because I was relying on my own power.
  2. You can be easily deceived. By forgetting Jesus and the good news of his life, death, and resurrection, you become susceptible to anybody with a sense of authority in spiritual matters, to tell you what you, as a Christian, need to be doing, even if it runs counter to the message of Christ. If your mind and heart aren’t focused on Christ and all that scripture tells you about him, then you lack the clarity to recognize the difference between what is truly important and was is secondary or even false. This can affect you on a personal level as you pursue paths that have potential for disaster. But it can also affect you on a larger social or political level as the risky marriage of politics and faith turns to manipulation, exploitation, and the inability to see your faith expressed in more creative and life-giving ways.

The only way to avoid these pitfalls is to return to Jesus. Take in his very presence, learn from him how to live your life, understand what he stands for and why he died, and revel in the power of his resurrection. Remember Jesus and live a life of power and truth.

photo credit: jijis

The Peculiarly Good Life

In one of the readings for the Apprentice Experience, James Bryan Smith quotes St. Augustine and this fascinating concept, “good things peculiar to the good.” Basically, there is a treasure of goodness found in God and with God that Christians experience that those outside of this faith know nothing about. The idea being that nonbelievers and even those practicing evil may experience some good things but will never experience the kind of good that comes from a life with God through Christ.

I have thought about this phrase many times over the weeks since I read it. I have begun to think about the peculiar good that I have experienced since Christ started working in my life in a more powerful way 16 years ago.

  • patience in the face of career uncertainty
  • creativity and ingenuity in the midst of challenges
  • daily encounters with God
  • hearing God’s voice
  • finding God in the bleakest of circumstances
  • compassion for others
  • plans and purposes in unusual circumstances
  • tolerance of my own shortcomings
  • joy in simple blessings
  • walking in God’s will
  • seeing miracles first hand
  • deeper understanding of Scripture
  • trust
  • encouraging others in Christ’s name

I am sure I could go on but you get the idea. Sure, there are times when the items above are not my present reality and I have to relearn what I have already learned, but that is just a part of Growing Up.

If Christ is helping you Grow Up, then you have a similar list or one that is peculiar to you. Take a moment and reflect on the good that is peculiar to the good in your life. Then step back and recognize how rich that goodness is and how it can only come from a “good and beautiful God.”

If You Do These Two Things, You Are On Your Way To Growing Up

Growing Up doesn’t have to be hard. If you take yourself off the throne of your own life and place Christ there and then you seek the guidance and teaching of Christ inside you, then you are on your way. Those two things will take care of 70 percent of your growth and seem relatively easy.

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When I did this, I became hungry for God and that made reading the Bible less of a chore. I wanted to change, so I was eager to try out spiritual disciplines that may have intimidated me before such as fasting, meditation, and lectio divina. I knew the great example of service that Christ showed on earth and I wanted to follow his example. These changes were all a part of my transformation. All of this was relatively easy and progress was attainable.

Sure, you will still have a ways to go and some big spiritual hurdles to cross. I am still struggling with some of the same sins and same hang ups that have haunted me for 30 years but God has brought me so far and most of that growth has been 90 percent God and just a little of myself.

Have you been hesitant to Grow Up because you thought it would be too much work? Are you fearful that you couldn’t change? Does some of what is required seem foreign to you?

I am here to tell you that there is attainable growth when you focus on Christ, quit trying to be King of your own life, and by surrendering to his Lordship and transformation.

We will discuss the hard parts later. Right now, let’s revel in the abundant growth that is already available to us.

 

photo credit: Jan Tik

 

The Stories We Tell Ourselves About God

Over the past few weeks, we have discussed each aspect of the Triangle of Transformation except for one – Adopting the Narratives of Jesus.

James Bryan Smith has brilliantly determined the best way to understand the nature of God is to let his son tell us. Jesus even tells us as much when he says that if you have seen me you have seen the Father.

Why use the term narrative? Because most of us don’t think in scholarly bullet points and doctrinal distinctives. Most of us, have a running story in our mind as to the nature of God and his interaction with us personally. This is where our spiritual life grows out of – our own, often false, narratives about God.

Smith points out that stories are the “central function of the human mind.” Think about it, we dream in narrative and even day-dream in narrative. Stories aren’t just our minds default but they are running our lives.

When Jesus cries out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, but then has the trust to tell God, “not my will but thine,” he is operating from a narrative of trust in his heavenly father. This trust comes from an intimate relationship between Christ and God.

We might not have the spiritual power of Christ but we can learn from him how to think and view the Father. This is part of having the mind of Christ.

So, as you read the Gospels, notice how Jesus discusses and teaches about his Abba Father. He didn’t just present God in a certain way for his followers benefit. No, his portrayal of his Father was his narrative, his thinking that he lived his life out of us. We can adopt these narratives as well.


Each week, I will be providing a glimpse into the discipleship training program that I have just started. This is a way for me to show you what I am learning and also allow you to progress along with me. For more information, I encourage you to read this. Also, if you like what you are reading, will you consider donating so I can continue with the program and be able to provide more helpful content so we can all reach true Christian maturity.

The Life I Now Live

One of the things I had to learn after I made Christ the center of my life, was that my transformation and growth was not up to me. If I was to Grow Up, it would be through Christ working inside of me to accomplish what I can’t accomplish on my own.

Scripture says, “I am crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

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Though you never hear it translated this way, most Bibles will provide a footnote after the section in the verse above that says “by faith in the Son of God”. The note will say “or can be translated ‘the faith of the Son of God.'” If this is the more accurate translation, then my life, if indwelled by Christ, is empowered by the faith OF Christ.

Jesus had full confidence in his Father, that is the faith we now possess. Jesus loved his Father deeply, that is the faith we now possess. Jesus loved others deeply, that is the faith we now possess. Jesus served others sacrificially, that is the faith we now possess.

This isn’t just the faith we possess but the faith we now live by.

If you desire to Grow Up and you have made Christ Lord of your life, then everything is different. You aren’t even living under the same power. Christ lives in you and is working out his faith through you.

We all know that Growing Up takes time, but aren’t you glad the responsibility for your maturity isn’t just up to you.

photo credit: ckaroli