#Nexus2015 – Cross Shaped Ministry – Reflections Part 2

(The recent Nexus2015 Conference “A cross shaped ministry” thought through the implications the cross has on how we think about gospel work in our churches. These are some of my personal reflections.)

3. The cross sets the terms of gospel ministry

The cross was divine judgement for sin, and Jesus’ resurrection brings the Spiritual renewal and transformation from sin. This lead to one of the most practical comments on the day… we must beware a common shift in our churches where “sin” only refers to “personal brokenness”, where “growth” only refers to “self-improvement” and where “sacrifice” only refers to “the personal circumstances I’m in at the moment”.

No. Sin is the rebellion against God, the defiant disobedience of His commands in heart and actions. Growth is the miraculous spiritual transforming power that allows Christians to say no to sin and obey God in the midst of pain. Sacrifice is giving up things for a better heavenly reality – it hurts and we need to stop fooling ourselves that we’re doing it.

4. The cross shows us the the pattern of gospel ministry

Since we follow a master who was beaten, ridiculed, persecuted… we should expect the same things, and we should call others to follow.

This is similar to the 1st point about our personal motivations, but it must go further. When we call on others to follow and serve in our churches, we must be wary we are not suggesting they do it for their own glory, or in their own strength, or for us – the under-shepherd! Rather the “recruiting conversation” should be a call to serve their master and his plans.

Next post… “Nexus2015 – What was missing…”

The gospel dares us to ignore our feelings…

The gospel of the Lord Jesus is unemotional… it is simply a truth. Jesus; the God-Man died and rose to life for sinners; to absorb their guilt, punishment and death, and to make them righteous, holy and alive as His adopted brothers in eternity to display the glory of His Father.

But the gospel does cause emotions. The gospel causes many many different types of emotions! Christians can rightly feel things all the way from shame to joy, from insignificance to glorious-pride (in a good way).

But what happens when you feel one aspect of the gospel more than another? What about those times when you feel the guilt and shame of your sin; when you feel the weight of your personal rebellion against God… when you feel how small and insignificant you are and how you have nothing… absolutely nothing to offer… just sin; wrath-worthy sin.
What about those times when your feelings of guilt are so strong you just can’t believe that God would want you, let along love you and want good things for you?

See, it’s not that you don’t understand the gospel… you “know” that Jesus’ blood can atone. You “know” that God can forgive through the cross. You “know” what God says, but you just don’t feel it – you feel like it can’t be true… “God could never love me, not now, not after what I’ve done.”

That’s when you need to ignore your feelings. They’re lying to you. In fact, it’s Satan lying to you. So please, don’t act out of your feelings! Don’t act in line with your emotions! Choose, nay, DARE to ignore your feelings and act according to the gospel.

Imagine for a moment… if God really loved you and wanted good things for you, what could you pray for? What would you feel comfortable praying for if you truly felt God was your great and powerful daddy? Anything, right!?! Trivial things, right?! Little nothing things, right?!

So dare to do that! Boldly approach the throne of grace and ask for the type of things that you shouldn’t be able to ask for! Take the plunge! Do it!

Trust God’s unemotional gospel in the midst of your emotional turmoil.

 

Jesus doesn’t want to ‘take the wheel’, he wants…

He wants you to learn how to drive properly.

We need to keep explaining to Christians what it means for Jesus to be their Lord. Having Jesus as our Lord does mean he needs to rule over every aspect of our lives. Jesus does want all our lives, not just the scraps or even most of it… he wants to rule all of us.

But that doesn’t mean Jesus wants to take over driving your life. It might feel like you’re letting go… but really you’re just choosing to drive the way he tells you to.

 

 

Have you exhausted your discipline muscle?

Making decisions takes effort. Making hard decisions takes more effort. Making decisions to be godly in the face of temptation takes enormous effort (and spiritual power!).

A good word for this is discipline. And I reckon we’re all built with a certain amount of discipline… A certain amount we can handle each day. Just like our other muscles (which are powered by God’s strength), our discipline muscle can grow stronger and can get exhausted.

If that’s the case, it seems wise to…

  • Consider your day; if you’re going to be going out with mates and possibly having a beer, you’ll want to have heaps of disciple energy in reserve…
  • Consider your nights; if you’re not getting enough sleep, that’s going to severely deplete your discipline reserve.
  • Consider the times you’ve sinned; have they been at certain times of the week? Possibly after big draining events (like exams, deadlines, late-shifts, arguments)?

This whole thinking about discipline is why it’s better to setup scheduled direct transfer giving. You decide on your donation when you’re in the best frame of mind, and you follow through on your intentions even when you wouldn’t have the discipline to do it.

What other areas of your Christian life can you do like that?

How the “grace of God” teaches us

Paul writes is Titus chapter 2,

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…

People often approach this passage with a particular sin in mind… they have that behaviour they try and hate, they try to stop, but they really love and they keep on doing… and they come to this passage and feel even worse because it seems to imply that the reason they keep doing it is because they don’t understand “the grace of God”. They think to themselves, “Why hasn’t the grace of God taught ME to say ‘no’ to this sin?! Why hasn’t it taught me to be ‘self-controlled’?!? Maybe I’m not even part of God’s grace!?”

That’s Satan talking, twisting God’s word – again.

God grace “is teaching”. Continually and presently. It hasn’t finished teaching. Just think, if it had, you would NEVER sin, in ANY way.

So how IS the grace of God teaching us? Well, what does the grace of God actually do – or allow us to do?

Grace allows us to boldly approach the throne of grace (Heb 4:16). Where sin increased, grace increased all the more (Rom 5:20). See, every time we sin and repent to God, (i.e. asking him for grace again), we are again trusting him at his word that he will graciously forgive again. We are being schooled by His grace every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our sins”. Responding to God’s grace reminds us and teaches us what is unrighteous (our sin) and what is righteousness (God’s grace through Jesus’ life, sacrifice and death for others).

Grace will only be our teacher if we continually go to his lessons.

Rather than “repent”, should we say “trade up”?

What does it mean to repent of sin? It’s more than just feeling remorse for sin. It often entails taking definitive action… saying sorry, giving the item back, making amends. But it’s more than performing certain actions too. We’ve all seen the child who gives-in and reluctantly returns the toy to their sibling.

Christian repentance must have something to do with Jesus. And the best way I can think of this is like trading-up.

Repentance is when you admit to Jesus that you were wrong, that you wanted the wrong thing – even if you didn’t DO it, you still deserve punishment… and admitting that you’d like to trade it in.

“Jesus, my heart wanted something you hate. I even acted on that desire. I rightly deserve wrath. But if you’re willing, I’d like to take up your offer to trade-in my wrong for your forgiveness and righteousness? That’s an amazing deal I don’t deserve.”

See, repentance is the action of giving our wrong desire to Jesus, and asking him to take it away from us so we don;t do it any more… and asking him to replace that wrong with his righteousness.

We’re a people who keep trading-up, day after day!

The difference between accusing and rebuking is…

Intended outcome. The difference between accusing and rebuking is the desired outcome.
A rebuke is a form of love. It’s really an appeal. It’s an appeal to stop, repent and renew ones commitment. Sometimes it’s an appeal to have a soft heart and admit wrong-doing in the first place. But in all those scenarios, a rebuke is aimed at a certain outcome, by the grace of God.
As such, a rebuke doesn’t carry a condemnation in itself. It may outline a future consequence (“if this doesn’t stop we will need to take these steps”). Rather, it is an appeal to see and change one’s sin with an offer of forgiveness.
On the other hand, an accusation is what satan does. An accusation is not an appeal to someone to change, but a verdict that change is not enough, and forgiveness is out of reach. It doesn’t look to a renewed commitment, but looks to incite guilt and self-loathing. An accusation is a declaration of condemnation.
However, because the difference is a “desired outcome”, that means someone who is unwilling to repent as desired will only hear a loving rebuke as an accusation. They can’t get past the first part of the rebuke… The idea they did something that needs to change.

Like unkept lawn, our hearts just keep producing weeds

Older and wiser pastors used to say to me, “Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to human sin.”
I always thought that was a defeatist view, but it’s not, it’s just realistic. Sin is, by nature, deceitful. It is, in itself, appealing lies, that speak directly to our hearts in a way that advertisers would pay millions to be able to do.
The person who stops tending his heart, who stops rending his heart and weeding his heart and sewing God’s word in his heart… That man will grow weeds in his heart.
We don’t do Christian things because some law says to, we do Christian things because they are God’s gifts to help us keep weeding our hearts.

Don’t let people buy Satan’s lie… Keep reminding them they have no rights.

One of the growing ideas in our society is the concept that “I have rights”. I have a right to free speech, I have a right to equal treatment, I even have rights when I’ve been arrested (to remain silent) and I have rights when I’m convicted of a horrendous crime (food, shelter, etc.)!

But these are rights that human authorities have established for how humans should treat each other (and I’m glad they have). But the trouble is when this pattern of thinking get’s applied to God and how God treats us. Most people live under the vague assumption that they have rights when it comes to God. They (unconsciously) expect that God should treat them according to some set of eternal bill of rights that stands between divine beings and humans. Satan really has done an amazing job!

The reality is that you have no rights before God. You have no rights before your creator. This is true not only because he’s your creator and sustainer, but also because you’ve rejected him and his ways. You’ve abandoned the God of the universe and hated him in your heart and actions. We’ve all relinquished any chance of having rights before God in our sin.

“I haven’t started giving because…”

It’s worth being aware of the many reasons we Christians (myself included) come up with to justify being all “I love JESUS!” with our mouths, but all “I can’t give money”. You’ve probably heard the line, “the last part of a man to be converted is his wallet”.

Here’s some reasons that might going on in people’s hearts…

  • “I don’t feel led to give at the moment”
    might mean…
    = being obedient to Jesus isn’t enough for me, I want him to make me feel good about it too, OR
    = I’m not a christian, OR
    = My church hasn’t worked hard enough to prove to me why I should give them my money, OR
    = I think my money is mine, not God’s.
  • “I don’t have much money to give at the moment”
    might mean…
    = Jesus won’t be pleased with me unless I can give lots, OR
    = I won’t be pleased with myself unless I can give lots, OR
    = I’m waiting for God to give me more money, because he wouldn’t want me to part with any of this, OR
    = I’m actually starving, I have no money, and I don’t know where I’m going to get money from in the next month.
  • “I give to other things, rather than my church”
    might mean…
    = I want to disassociate myself from this group of people; I’ll attend, but that’s all, OR
    = I don’t see why my church needs my money, I think it’s operating fine without mine, OR
    = Other people can give to my church, and no-one will know I don’t, OR
    = Other churches/ministries need it more than my church, even though the bible says I should give to my church (i.e. I disagree with God).

Reblog: An assumed strength is a double weakness

Beware the sin you don’t think you’re capable of. Beware the error you scoff at and think that you don’t need to worry about. Those presumed strengths are usually the very reason the proud fall.
So what’s your (our) “assumed strength” that you don’t need to be wary of?
“I’m able to take criticism well, I’m humble like that.”
“I’ve seen what adultery does to families, it won’t happen to me.”
“I’ve read the bible, I know what it says.”
“I’ve been to bible college and done my thinking”
“I’ve served heaps in the past, so I know I’m servant hearted”
“My church teaches the bible.”
“The spirit in me means I must have had good intentions”
If you (I) resonate with any of these, it should warn us that it is in fact a double weakness waiting to be exposed by the evil one.

Their response to sin = their grasp of the gospel

How do you know when someone’s really “got” the gospel? It’s an important question because we spend all this time and energy working hard at helping people get the gospel and keep hold of it. What does that look like?

It might be a growth in godliness – that would be nice. But, doing nice things doesn’t mean someone’s grasped the gospel. Loads of people who don’t get the gospel do really nice things!

It’s how they respond to their sin. People only every respond to their sin in 2 ways…

  1. Withdrawal from God (through trying to repay the sin, minimising the sin, denying the sin, or embracing the sin)
  2. Drawing towards God (through acknowledging the sin, repenting from the sin, asking forgiveness for the sin, acting to stop the sin)

Notice that all the first group of actions are movements away from relating to God – even trying to repay the sin is a movement away from God because it’s trying to replace the relationship with an offering (and a pretty poor one at that). But all the actions in group two are in fact movements towards a relationship with God – even the act of stopping the sin is something done while holding God’s hand.

In the end it all comes back to prayer. When they sin… how do they pray? How do you pray?

Don’t forget to preach repentance “of sins”

Sometimes when we preach the gospel, our tribe can preach salvation through faith, but conveniently forget to preach repentance. Now, yes, understood correctly, they are two sides of the same coin… The question is not whether you understand them correctly, but whether you’re helping others to understand them correctly.
So when, in your evangelism, do you tell people to turn from their sin? Not just the sin of “not trusting Jesus”, but actual “sins” – lying, stealing, adultery?
Are you “forgetting” to include that?

How to avoid thought-sin (i.e. thinking things you shouldn’t think)…

We mostly think of sins as actions; speaking lies, stealing, adultery, etc. We sometimes think of sins as attitudes; hate, rebellion, lust, ungratefulness, etc.
But those attitudes don’t need physical actions to become sin. Our minds dwell on them, dream about them, reflect on them, etc. That is, there is a type of thought-action we do… We sin by thinking things we ought not to think.
So, how does one stop coveting, lusting, how angry they are, how someone hurt them?
“Don’t think about it” is as good a technique as “don’t do it” heh?
One suggestion is to come up with a list (during a moment of strength) of things you enjoy thinking about that are sin thought-sin. It could be tennis, make-up, fairies, volcanoes, theory of relativity, anything.
And when you start thinking things which you ought not think about, pull open that list in your mind, and give yourself something else to think about – something that you’ve already worked out is going to grab your mental attention, and make it easier to stop thought-sin.

There’s only 4 conversation types

If you’re going to sit someone down and chat about their sin, there’s only a few conversations there…

  1. Do you think you’ve sinned?
  2. Are to going to stop doing this sin?
  3. How are you going TO stop doing this sin?
  4. How are you going AT stopping this sin?

And here’s the key… You need to have them in that order.
Asking someone if they’re going to stop doing something which they DON’T believe is sin… That’s not a good conversation. Or even asking them if they intend to stop… If they haven’t verbalised that they’ve sinned… Ouch!
If we understand that sin is aggressive and it manipulates our thinking and feelings in ways we don’t even know, then we shouldn’t be surprised when we find people who can’t see their sin, don’t want to change, don’t make plans to change, and even after all that, don’t execute those plans.
The should be easy questions, but I guarantee these are the conversations you’ll come back to.

The proximity element of Christian love (or “love the one you’re with”)

The parable of the Good Samaritan might better be titled the parable of the unloving Jews. For that’s what is highlighted as three wannabe “righteous” Jews come into proximity with a man who needs help, and they avoid him.

But realise, had they not been travelling that road that day, or even at that time, they would not be condemned for their failure to act. That is, it was their proximity to this fallen man that brought upon them the opportunity to do good, to love. And in the same way, it was their proximity to this man that brought upon them the sin of failing to do as a loving neighbour ought.

Love thy neighbour, at the very least, means love the one you’re with.

I think this has massive implications for church families and growth groups. These are people you are with – whether you choose to be with them or you were placed with them, they are your neighbours, they are the ones you are with – both in proximity and in regularity.

This doesn’t mean we ignore loving at a distance, there’s heaps in the bible to show Christians do that, but we mustn’t fall into the trap of the Pharisees who ignored their real and present opportunities to love.
Who has God put in your path to love?

Challenge people about specific sins, not vague ones

Asking people about sin in their life is hard. Its awkward, beat-around-the-bush, so-how-you-going-in-that-area, vague conversation.

But that’s very rarely helpful or loving for people.

Because Jesus didn’t die for vague “areas” of sin. Jesus died for each and every specific sin we do (as well as our entire attitude of rebellion). In prayer, we don’t just repent for vague sins, we repent of specific time-and-date sins.

So, out of love for your brothers and sisters, press through the awkwardness (that satan creates), and move from vague areas of sin to specifics. “When was the last time you…?” “How long has it been since…?” “What did you actually say to her?” “Exactly how many drinks did you have?”

For some people (most by experience) they haven’t thought about these details them-self, and its only as they put words to their own actions that they begin to realise the depth of sin they’re caught in.

Love them by asking hard specific questions, but also be careful you don’t become their preist!!