Making Jesus Known

Yesterday I had the privilege to preach at The Branch again. View the sermon here. I will have a few more opportunities before the end of the year. We continued our series “Jesus is_______.” The idea from the series comes from Judah Smith’s book Jesus Is______. However, the burden for the series arises out of the mission of The Branch Church. Many people in the Pacific Northwest are uninformed, misinformed, or under-informed about who Jesus is. Therefore, the Branch has a singular mission which affects everything it does. Dave and Lori Vigna have done a wonderful job of keeping this mission front and center.

Know Jesus. Make Him Known.

We need to have an accurate depiction of Jesus. The Jesus we imagine will be the Jesus we follow. The type of Jesus we imagine or characterize a lot about how we feel and then subsequently act in light of our belief about who Jesus is.

How do you picture Jesus? Jesus uses various titles to describe himself in the Gospels, one of the most referred to titles is the “Son of Man.” It is a way in which Jesus testifies that He is the long-awaited Messiah. How would you complete the following sentence: ‘The Son of Man came…’?

There are three ways that the New Testament completes that sentence; while the first two are well known (and might have come to your mind), the third is usually surprising:

  • The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
  • The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
  • The Son of Man came eating and drinking (Luke 7:34).

While the first two oft-quoted verses tell us about Jesus’ purpose in coming–to serve, to give his life as a ransom, to seek and save the lost–the third describes his method. If you flipped through the pages of the Bible and made some basic observations, there are a couple things I think you will notice about Jesus: 1) He is always being invited to parties. 2) He is always at a feast or eating a meal with someone. 3) Complete strangers are coming up to him, both to make audacious requests and to simply be near him.  4) Jesus was always with people. 5) He was always celebrating—at parties, at festivals, at holidays even with the cross coming at the end of his life.

Unknown-1I am convinced some of us have a false view of Jesus. We think of Jesus as some stern old guy looking at everyone in disapproval.  We think Jesus and fun are fundamentally opposed, that God is a cosmic party pooper. Nothing could be further from the truth. That is a better picture of the Pharisees. Those far from God hated the Pharisees, but they absolutely loved Jesus. God invented happiness. He came up with the concept of humor. He created our ability to have fun. He built a beautiful world and gave us five senses to enjoy it.

Jesus is Happy. Jesus smiles. Jesus laughed. Jesus made jokes. Even think about your own experiences. You enjoy a good party. You enjoy friends and laughter. A defining theological principle throughout Scripture is that people are made in the image of God. Therefore, I think God has the best sense of humor and ultimately Jesus was one of the happiest people in the purest sense.

In talking about Jesus, Hebrews 1:9 says, “he was anointed with the oil of gladness above his companions.”

Jesus Is Happy.

That may be a controversial statement for some. Before I go too much farther, let me make another statement. I believe God wants us to be happy.

But here is the thing, being happy, or better, happiness is a fickle thing. In our culture today, happiness has been co-opted in a myriad of ways. Happiness is not an absence of conflict, nor of ultimate comfort. Happiness is not found, rather it is grown.

The pursuit of happiness is like trying to grab smoke. Happiness is like a mirage that we think we see as real, but as soon as we get close it disappears. People attempt to find happiness in status, individual satisfaction, security, and even in the search for self. Happiness makes a great emotion but a terrible master.

The outward display of happiness comes and goes like seasons. I liken the emotion of happiness to a plant. Let’s face it, sometimes we just do not feel happy, nor should we be. God has given us plenty of other valid emotions. Happiness is the fruit or flower of a plant, while internal joy is the root. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, which comes and goes with the circumstances of our life. Joy is rooted internally planted by the seed of salvation.

Therefore, if we want the genuine outward display of happiness to be Christ-like, then we have to cultivate the deep roots of joy. We should not chase after happiness. We should chase after Jesus.

I love how excited Jesus gets when the 72 return in Luke 10:17-24, even though Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem, knowing he is heading there to die. I think it is one of Jesus’s happiest moments.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you (I think Jesus is making fun of Satan). However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Joy is rooted in eternity. Happiness is a natural result of knowing God and of experiencing his love. We are created by God and for God and we are restless wanderers until we find ourselves in God. Which means, we are happiest when we are joining God in what He is doing.

Trevin Wax in This is Our Time addresses the idea of happiness in light of following Jesus. Many movies allure us into thinking happiness is found when we follow our hearts.

Following Jesus in an era when everyone is following their hearts is difficult, partly because we think we must choose between two options: be authentic and true to yourself, or conform to society’s constraints.

Christianity says, “No thanks” to both. In response to people who believe we should be “authentic” above all else. we say: You don’t know yourself well enough to grasp your deepest desires, and even if you did, your desires are often wrong. We need deliverance from many of our deepest instincts, not the celebration of them.

In response to people who believe we should keep the rules and conform, we say: Salvation does not come through a checklist of rules, as if by willpower we can manage our sin. The gospel frees us from the burden of the law.

Christianity says something different altogether, combining authenticity and conformity in a most creative way.

To be authentic, as a Christian, means I am to be true to the person Christ has named me, not the person I think I am inside. I am to live according to what God says I am–His redeemed child, a person remade in the image of Christ–and I now act in line with that identity. As a Christian, saved by grace through faith, I am not authentic when I sin. I’m sinning against my newfound identity. I am being inauthentic when I choose to disobey God, when I give in to temptation. I’m rejecting the identity God has spoken over me. Tru authenticity is not accepting my own self-expression but accepting the self-expression of God through Jesus Christ.

To be a conformist, as a Christian, means we are seeking to have our minds renewed and our lives transformed. We want to be conformed into the image of Christ. But this conformity means we look like rebels to the rest of the world. The true rebellion is in the heart of the Christian who follows Jesus by swimming upstream against the currents of the world. That means, when everyone else is following their hearts, we will follow Jesus.

The disciples joined Jesus on the journey of eternity. When our story is shaped by God’s story as believers we are to be marked with joy and exude happiness. We should be people of celebration, who really love life! Christians should be the most fun people to be around. We get to live forever!

Eternal life does not start at death; eternal life starts the moment of your conversion. People should look at the church and say “I don’t know if I believe what they believe, but man, they have a good time!”

Jesus was happy and we should be too.

 

To The Scaregrounds

Western culture has become very compartmentalized. We divide our lives into work time, leisure time, family time, church time, and mission or outreach time. In many ways, we seek the ever elusive balance which so many books, blogs, and teachers prescribe. Those of us who have sought balance have found it like trying to catch fog. Right when you think to can latch on to balance, it slips through your fingers.

I have come under the conviction that we only have one present life to live. We should live our present life in light of our eternal life. The attempt to maintain the false divide between life, work, family, and play brings exhaustion and anxiety all for the sake of balance. The divide and discontinuity have filtered into the church. People want a form of evangelism they can stick in their schedule, switch off, and leave behind when they go home. Jesus calls us to a lifestyle of love.

The realm of our spiritual community is divorced from our daily routine. Now, before I go any further, what I am not advocating for is a life where you should go to a “church event” every day. Rather, as the body of Christ, we bring the church into the world.

For many years the growing myth in evangelicalism that there is a difference between one’s spiritual life and one’s personal life. Many wonder why Millenials and Generation Z are charting a new course. They want a faith which affects all of life and not just a segment of it. In particular, this is why social justice issues have been thrust to the forefront of evangelical discussion (rightly so). They are willing to leave a faith or seek a new course charted through a worldview which deals systematically and totally. I think one of the main reasons is the awakening to the futility of the divided life and the freedom of a single-minded one.

Living one life in light of eternity has very real implications for seeing more people come to faith in Christ. Evangelism must regain prominence in our vocabulary and posture.

One challenge the divided, or even balanced life leads to: We want to spend more time in evangelism, but because this can happen only at the expense of something else. The result: it never happens. Church, evangelism, and even discipleship are seen as something additional that needs to be tacked on to life.

15 Pay careful attention, then, to how you live—not as unwise people but as wise— 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:15-16

We want to build relationships with unbelievers, but often our lives are so fragmented there is little crossover between worlds.

The non-Christians in our lives need to be introduced to the network of relationships that make up that believing community so they can see Christian community in action. The Christian relationships in our lives need to be introduced to the relationships with non-Christians we have so that they can begin to awaken to the idea of life as mission–where life is lived from the overflow of what God is doing in your life.

Here’s a series of simple questions to measure your engagement with others:

  • How many meals did you eat last week?
  • How many meals did you eat with a non-Christian?
  • How many meals did you eat with Christians?

34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ – Luke 7:34

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We need to be communities of love where honest friendship and kindness reign. We need to be seen as communities of love by those who do not subscribe to a Christian worldview. The lines need to be blurred so that regular people see how faith impacts all of life. People need to encounter the church as a network of relationships rather than a meeting you attend or a place you enter. Mission–the idea of partnering with God in what He is doing in the world–must involve not only contact between unbelievers and individual Christians but between unbelievers and the Christian community. I am convinced conversion will flow from communion with others in community.

Last Friday, I went with a few students and adults to the Clark County Scaregrounds. While it may not be profound or world-changing, it was one small step to allow faith lived out with Christian and non-Christian students.

3 Positives from Evangelism and Discipleship

downloadThis week I wrap up another eight-week class at Midwestern Seminary. “Evangelism and Discipleship” has been a great class overall. Honestly, it has been one of the best practical ministry classes I have taken in all my years of school. While I had various takeaways from other courses, “Evangelism and Discipleship” had a unique blend of spiritual formation, practical exercises, and communal discovery. There are three reasons I greatly appreciated the course blend and the uniqueness.

1. Required Evangelism

Many classes on evangelism or discipleship share different models. They require you read about evangelism, potentially even define it. The class may even expose you to ways of presenting the gospel, share different tracks, and give biblical percent. Sometimes evangelism is also disconnected from discipleship. As I have written about here, evangelism and discipleship are really two wings of an airplane. My class included all of these elements. However, it also required we practice evangelism. Over the course of the eight weeks, I was required to go share the gospel a minimum of four times. After each encounter, I had to write up how the conversation happened and what the results were. I learned so much over the course of eight weeks. First, I am not very skilled at sharing the gospel at a restaurant with a waiter or waitress. Second, many of my opportunities came because I intentionally set aside time to be amongst non-Christians. Third, my most effective encounters came when I shared the gospel in a few sentences or less and connected it to something earlier in the conversation. Overall, I was thankful for the discipline the course instilled in me to intentionally seek out opportunities to share what God is doing in me, in the world, and through the gospel.

2. Holistic Practice

The course dealt with evangelism, follow-up, and discipleship on many layers as I alluded to in my previous reason. The goal, primarily, was to cultivate skills and awareness in me personally by crushing some of my personal preferences. For example, in evangelism, a prior relationship is not always possible and sometimes you just have to share the gospel cold turkey. Therefore, sharing the gospel is not always convenient or on your own terms. Ironically, this idea seems obvious, but how often do we really prepare our hearts and minds for the unexpected opportunity to share the gospel, invite someone over for dinner, or to church events? Another layer was how my personal ability and passion would be reflected in how the ministry I lead would perform in such activity. For example, if I am unwilling to verbally share the gospel with people then should I expect members in my small group, students, or other adults to share the gospel. If I am unwilling to set aside time to meet non-Christians, why would I expect other Christians to look for such opportunities?

Repeatedly, the course reinforced the idea: disciple to conversion, rather than from conversion. Disciple-making involves the reproduction of a life through relational evangelism, intentional follow-up, and directional development.

Where the course unexpectedly addressed was my personal walk with God. Vance Pittman says, “a person’s first call is to intimacy [with God] not ministry.” He has also said, “What God wants to do through me, he must first do in me.” If I do not exercise the spiritual disciplines, such as journaling, bible reading, and prayer, then my ability to minister will be greatly handicapped.

3. Well-Rounded Textbooks

The Soul Winner by Charles Spurgeon: I had never read a full book by Spurgeon before. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with him, C.H. Spurgeon is known as the “Prince of Preachers.” He preached at Metropolitan Tabernacle (seated 5000 and standing room for another 1000) for 38 years in London during the mid-to-late 1800s.  Throughout the book, Spurgeon masterfully weaved biblical conviction with persuasive illustration. Spurgeon thought through the many perspectives which needed addressing as it pertains to soul winning.

The Evangelism Handbook by Alvin Reid: At first glance, I thought this book would be weak and unhelpful. Never judge a book by its cover. Reid presents evangelism from a holistic perspective. My favorite section of the book was Part 3 of the book where Reid unpacked the intentional nature of evangelism. SOme of the most convicting moments came when reading these chapters. Primarily, if church leaders are not leading out in personal evangelism, then why would we expect our congregations to share the gospel. Further, are we actually equipping the believer to share Monday through Saturday, or are we expecting them to invite to church and person the “invitation” on Sunday?

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney: I am thankful this book was included in this course. Whitney addresses the elephant in the room when it comes to disciple-making. The basis for the book was is 1 Timothy 4:7 (NASB) “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness…” He exhorts the reader to remember how discipline without direction is drudgery. There must be joyful discipline in the life of the believer. Every believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit and therefore our purpose is godliness–making us more like Him. God uses spiritual disciplines to transform believers from the inside out. Whitney works through seven key disciplines which God uses to shape and mold the believer. What I appreciated throughout the book was that the disciplines do nothing in of themselves, except for when God works through them as the believer keeps eternity in view.

How to Stay in the Conversation (Step 1)

If you do a quick Google search on the definition of the word “saturate” chances are the first definition that pops up is:

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In order to understand why “saturate” is such a critical word, you have to understand the context in which it is coming from. I posted a recent blog on the idea of resilient communication. As a follower of Christ, I desire both my character and priorities to be like His. Therefore, I must be able to stay in tough conversations even when it is not convenient nor pleasant to do so. However, we will not be able to do this on our own.

Left to our own devices, we will default into pointing fingers and heaping blame. In the midst of chaos and pain, there is only one who will see us through. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is a refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

The first action step in resilient communication is consistently presenting the same message verbally and non-verbally over and over again. The only way in which Christians can stay in tough conversations and then act accordingly is when we remember that God is a refuge and strength. Remembering how God is our refuge and strength enables us to weather the storm of criticism, pain, suffering, and yet remain unmoved in mission and motive. As the refuge, God ultimately takes the brunt of the attack for us (Ps 57:1).

I asked a few others to help articulate the idea of saturating communication.

“Saturation in Jesus’s model is seen as much in rhythm as it is in my message. Regularly drawing away from the crowd for prayer; regularly explaining his message to the disciples; regularly spending time with both sinners and then religious; regularly proclaiming and sending others out to proclaim the kingdom; regularly refining his followers understanding of who he is and why he was sent to earth. Saturation is much more than a message and encompasses all of life presenting the same God-centered message. Jesus did not just say “seek first the kingdom of God” he himself sought first the kingdom of God. Saturation came through the message and the embodiment of the message.” – Andrew

Saturation is consistently presenting the same posture both in word and in deed until there is no room for any other discernable motive of my actions by the other people than that of genuine love. In communicating with others, a Christian’s posture should be so soaked in humility and grace that it overflows into the lives of others no matter the conversation. Basically, the person whom I am first listening to, and second speaking with, should see and hear a systematic kingdom worldview being expressed–because I am shaped by Christ I value you.

Please do not misunderstand valuing someone for agreement with someone. Valuing them is setting aside your response to what they may be saying in pursuit of giving what they are expressing your full attention and staying curious about it.

We have all been on the wrong end of mixed messages. It is not fun. Mixed messages usually cause conflict, harm, and prolong the underlying issues. Mixed messages do long-term damage because one side usually gets fed-up with the inconsistencies of the other. Frankly, mixed messages deteriorate the trust between people.

Christians are people shaped by the Gospel–the implications of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ.

When we are prideful enough to prescribe a solution to a problem when the person whom we are prescribing the solution to does not feel valued and loved, we are sending a mixed message. In fact, in our arrogance we are undermining the Gospel. Pride is the antithesis of humility. A display of pride does not saturate the conversation and instead absorbs all the equity between participants.

In essence, humility is laying down your rights for another’s (Phil. 2:3-4).

Regardless of the context, Jesus consistently presented a message about the kingdom  (the way) of God. The way of God which Jesus presented was both consistent with the Law and the Prophets as well as His own actions. Jesus did not just talk about the kingdom; Jesus lived the kingdom. He did so with expressed humility as Paul articulates in Philippians 2.

Jesus’s life was a life of giving–giving away what the Father had given him (John 15:15; 17:4, 8, 14). Jesus gave himself to those about him so that they might come to know through his life a similar commitment to the mission for which he had come into the world. In everything, it was made abundantly clear that the word which had been written in the Scriptures and the word spoken by Christ were not contradictory, but rather complementary to each other; Jesus’s actions clarified the motive behind the mission. Here’s the thing, consistency is key because people will not always get the message you try to communicate.

My friend Spencer rightly articulates that “Saturation is when the message finally sinks in.” Spencer continued, “When I think of this in Jesus’s life, the first thing which comes to mind is how Jesus repeatedly told his disciples he must die and after three days rise; and, their repeated failure to understand why.”

However, it was only in experiencing the implications of the Gospel when Jesus’s message and model finally sunk in. In experiencing the consistency of Jesus, people responded with self-judgment because they realized how inconsistent they were. Jesus did not ask anyone to do or be anything which first he had not demonstrated in his own life. The first-century audience could not stay in the conversation because their lives were not willing to lay down their conceptions in exchange for the kingdom posture embodied in Jesus.

The message we want to saturate our world with is one of God’s grace and love for us, our gratitude and humility toward him, and our hope in the middle of chaos and pain.

Let that message saturate your worldview so that your model of that message begins to saturate the world.