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Spiritual Maturity Is a Pathway We Walk Together

PathwayGod created you to be like His Son, Jesus Christ, and He has a pathway for you to walk on the way to spiritual maturity. Nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus formed a community of people who could walk this pathway together and He called it a church.

Today, spotting the globe are hundreds of thousands of churches walking the pathway to spiritual maturity together. Why? Because God never intended you to walk the pathway to being like Jesus alone.

Far too many people consider Christianity a mere ticket to heaven, a sort of eternal life insurance policy. But Jesus wasn’t just a teacher, figure, or religious leader. He came to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life – the one and only pathway to the Father (John 14:6).

So what does it look like to walk toward spiritual maturity, a process we call discipleship? People disagree over the specifics of what discipleship includes and how it needs to be done, but we’ve thought about discipleship a lot within the leadership of Grace Hills. One of our core values focuses on it:

We walk with people through the next step on their journey to be just like Jesus, and we keep the pathway clear.

We don’t use the word discipleship but walking with people on their journey to be like Jesus is the very essence of discipleship. As we understand it and define it, here is what discipleship is to us and why it’s vital to our very existence…

  • Discipleship IS the mission of the church. It’s not either evangelism or discipleship, and it’s not about which is more important. They are one and the same. The mission of making disciples is the primary reason we planted Grace Hills.
  • Discipleship happens in the context of a community called the church. It’s not a process anyone was meant to go through alone.
  • Discipleship is a broken, crooked, twisted pathway that includes far more than church attendance and Bible reading. It includes suffering, repentance, persecution, sacrifice, and self-denial.
  • Discipleship is incremental. That is, there is always a next step for every disciple (follower) of Jesus.
  • Discipleship is a life-long process. None of us have arrived until the final, grand conclusion of all of history. If you’re alive, you’re still a work in progress, just like the rest of us.
  • Discipleship is intentional. It doesn’t happen automatically. Real spiritual maturity is not merely the default result of attending church. It takes an investment of our intellect, emotions, and will.
  • Discipleship is not something accomplished in a classroom. You can’t lecture disciples into existence. Granted, a deeper knowledge of God and His word are essential, but they are merely the foundation that must be built upon with life experience in the trenches.
  • Discipleship includes, by its nature, multiplication. Part of following Jesus is fishing for others. Disciples go find others, else they are stunted in their growth.

The reason we worded our seventh core value the way we did was to communicate a couple of commitments. One is that we will work, as a church, to be a community of guides for the pathway to spiritual maturity. That means we’ll create kicking-off points such as our Life Matters classes as well as ongoing opportunities to study the Bible with a small community of other believers (and non-believers are welcome too) through our Grace Groups.

Our second commitment is to keeping the pathway clear. This stems from our church’s DNA as a purpose driven church that de-emphasizes programs and crazy event-filled schedules and instead focuses on a process for growing people. In other words, we don’t want anyone to feel that in order to become spiritually mature, they need to attend three worship services, two Bible studies, a committee meeting, and a potluck each week. Instead, gather on the weekend in our weekend service, scatter during the week with your small group, and spend the rest of your time living out the values of a disciple, serving the world for Jesus’ sake, and taking Jesus to a world desperately in need.

Spiritual maturity is God’s goal for you, and He has a pathway for you to walk to get there, and He never meant for you to walk it alone. If you’re not a believer in Jesus yet, God wants you in His family! And if you’re a believer who is going it alone, you’re being robbed of a community that can help, and you’re robbing others of the contribution you can make into their lives.

So let’s walk this pathway together.

Photo by noahg.

My Church Planting Model Is Better Than Yours

HarvestNot really. Or at least I’m not sure. Church planting is a hot topic right now in western Christianity, and it needs to be with the spiritual condition of North America and western Europe. And when anything is a hot topic, it creates tension.

Tension can be good.

Out of tension flows a creative discussion and differences of opinion that force us to re-evaluate our viewpoints and emphases to ensure that we’re thinking biblically and effectively.

Right now, the tension in church planting discussion surrounds models. Should we launch large and fast? Should we take our time and build a strong core group? Should we start having church to make disciples? Should we make disciples and allow a church to form out of the discipleship? Should we be attractional? Missional? Uni-laterally bi-directionally intentional? And so we have megachurches, house churches, traditional churches, organic churches, plus a lot of dead and dying churches (unfortunately).

As we plant Grace Hills Church, here are three words that stay at the forefront of my mind, as well as the biblical phrases that these words reflect.

We Need to be Attractional (The “Come and See” of the Gospel)

The attractional approach gets a bad wrap for a couple of reasons. First, some churches know how to attract people to a production, but have no depth past Sunday morning. Second, we sometimes think the sound, the lights, and the technology are the attractive part.

By the way, have you "liked" Grace Hills Church on Facebook yet?

We need to be attractional by living distinctively redeemed lives, keeping our integrity and trust with the surrounding world, leading people in genuine God-directed worship, serving in tangible and visible ways, and teaching a life-changing, absolute truth from the Word that acts like a sword, piercing to the depths of the human heart.

We Need to be Transformational (The “Come and Die” of the Gospel)

Jesus invited four fisherman to follow him one day. By the end of the gospels, they are ready to die for Him. In fact, three of them do indeed become martyrs for the faith and John suffered nearly to the point of death for the gospel. That is transformation. That is life-change. And that needs to be celebrated from the very birth of a new church.

We Need to be Missional (The “Go and Tell” of the Gospel)

God’s intention was never for us to isolate ourselves from the world or to imitate our surrounding culture. Rather He wants us to infiltrate the culture around us and demonstrate His love to the least, the lost, and the last of humanity so that the nations of the world can be brought into the enjoyment of the glory of God.

If attraction is all about gathering a church, then mission is more about scattering the church into the community, and into every possible mission field on the planet.

Perhaps we should stop arguing over models. We have plenty to learn from people who are successfully bringing new people to Jesus through this church planting movement, but ultimately, I think what we see in how Jesus trained the twelve and then how the twelve turned the world upside down one community at a time is probably a great place to start.

Photo by Jason Ewert

The Lost Tomb of Jesus

It has taken me several days to sit and write my conclusions about the Discovery Channel documentary on The Lost Tomb of Jesus. I find it ironic how dramatic the title seems when the tomb is neither lost (they’ve found it), nor does it contain Jesus (“He is not here; He is risen…”). Kind of like those “lost books of the Bible” which are also not lost, nor are they in the Bible. Overall, this film is intriguing drama at best. It’s very entertaining and gives a glimpse into the world of modern biblical archaeology.

The makers of the film, particularly the Director Simcha Jacobovici, seem to begin with some very unfounded assumptions. In the first few minutes, the entire debate is framed by the rather strong suggestion that the disciples must have stolen the body of Jesus and relocated it to a family tomb. Not only does Matthew, an eyewitness of the risen Christ, deny this charge in his gospel, but it seems rather hard to accept in light of the military protection of the tomb during the days following Christ’s crucifixion.

Names are slowly collected from the various ossuaries excavated from the tomb in 1980. A mathemetician then determines the statistical probability of these names not belonging to the family of Jesus. He eliminates one name because of a lack of connection to Jesus’ family, rather than allowing the unexplained name to contradict the theory. He then divides his odds by four (a randomly and arbitrarily chosen number) to account for possible bias (in the “facts”??). He concludes that there is only a one in six hundred chance that the tomb does not belong to Jesus.

A genetics labratory in Canada examines DNA from the dusty remains of “Jesus” and some from the remains of “Mariamne” and determines that they were not brother and sister. Jacobovici then brazenly asserts that they must have been husband and wife. The geneticist later explained that there could have been many other possible relationships such as being paternal cousins. Jacobovici adds to the assumptions that Mariamne must have been Mary Magdalene, who must have been an early apostolic missionary. Further, they must have had a son, referenced by John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This tall tale is given no credible evidence whatsoever.

Needless to say, the film proved nothing. It was well-presented, but what it presented was loosely pieced together conspiracy and cover-up theories concerning the resurrection, supposed marriage, lineage, and burial site of Jesus. In the end, Jacobovici, with little understanding of biblical Christianity, asserts that his findings pose no threat to the theology of Easter at all. Rather, he asserts, we simply need to see the ascension as a spiritual one as opposed to a bodily one.

The bodily resurrection of Jesus has been attacked before. Thus far, no credible evidence has ever been offered that has contradicted this central tenet of Christianity. Nonetheless, what bothers me most about films such as these is that they present romanticized pictures of the obscure possibilities of “what might have been.” Armchair theologians everywhere will utilize the information in negative ways, often questioning whether there are any important issues at stake or not.

The film? Well done. The theories supported by the film? Hogwash. The effects of the film? Unpredictable given our current biblically illiterate, culturally desensitized Christianity. We are well past the time to “study up” and prepare for the lies that will be circulated more and more concerning the Lord Jesus Christ as we approach the soon coming of Jesus.

The Lord Who Heals and the People Who Worship

I must confess, as a Baptist, it took me a rather long time to come to understand the healing nature of God. We Baptists, as Adrian Rogers put it, “believe in miracles, but trust in Jesus.” I still believe this is best. But I also freely admit that in our reaction to the extremism of “healing evangelists” like Binny Hinn and other obvious hucksters and false prophets, that we have a tendency to write off all supposed healings as a mere charade.

Scripture, however, clearly teaches that the Great Physician, through His miraculous touch, heals the bodies of many people. Such was the case for the entire camp of Israelites in the wilderness when they reached the bitter waters of Marah. I’m inclined to believe that these poisonous waters made many of the people quite ill. So God steps into the picture, sweetens the waters, and heals the people. So He reveals to them another title for Himself – Jehovah who heals you.

Fast-forward about fifteen hundred years to Matthew, chapter fifteen. A Gentile woman comes to Jesus and His disciples, begging for a demon to be cast out of her daughter. I am especially moved by her form of worship. First, the text declares that she “cried out to Him, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is demon-possessed.'” Amazingly, “He answered her not a word.” She chases God and He delights in the pursuit. She was apparently persistent for the disciples asked Jesus to dismiss her, saying, “for she cries out after us.”

Jesus continues to stonewall her by explaining that He was sent with Israel as His first priority, so why should He perform miracles for a Gentile woman? His remaining just beyond her reach is really an attempt to lead her on in her pursuit of the Almighty, and of course it works. “Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!'”

Instead of responding to her cry, Jesus argues that He really shouldn’t be casting such great miracles before the dogs of the Gentiles. She wisely continues her pursuit, presenting a responding argument that as a dog, she’ll gladly take the crumbs that fall to her. What a great lesson she teaches us. Our worship must always have a heartfelt ring of “Whatever, whenever, however God, just bless me!” to it. So He gives in and heals her, thrilled at her great and faith-filled pursuit. Oh, for such demanding hunger that argues with God for His blessings!

In the next paragraph, Matthew records for us that multitudes came to Him and were healed, “so the multitude marveled when they say the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.”

Jesus is the Great Physician, the mighty Healer of the children of men. I find it sad how we overlook the miraculous nature of God. We like to bring Him down to our level. “Well, you know I just think that in modern times, He heals through modern medicine…” Yes, He invented all of it and yes, He uses it, but let us never forget to look for the miraculous and to ask, to beg, to plead for His blessing.

I had a conversation a couple of years ago with a good friend who used to sit under my preaching every week, but who had moved to another town, gotten married, and attended a church of a different denomination. He related to me the story of a funeral that he attended. As he watched the mourners pass the casket to pay their last respects, his heart cried out within him, “Why did nobody ask God even once to heal her?”

Our answer, as good traditional Baptists, might be, “Well, it was just her time, it just wasn’t God’s will to heal her.” Though my friend and I may not agree on all things, I support his question. Why do we no think to ask, to beg, to plead with a worshipful heart to the Almighty Healer to perform miracles. I don’t believe He will always heal, for people do get sick and die, but shouldn’t we at least ask Him?

The theological argument that has arisen from this issue relates to the atonement, and whether or not physical healing for all of God’s people was purchased at the cross or not. I think it’s a moot point either way. The cross proves He heals in the ultimate way, spiritually and eternally. Healing didn’t necessarily have to be purchased, in the sense of a financial transaction, by His atoning death. He was already able to heal, but His atoning death was the ultimate picture of the great work of an Almighty Physician to heal the diseases of the spirit, the soul, and the body.

I think we have naturalized God and have forgotten that He’s a God of tremendous power, who is overwhelmed with compassion, and who desires to give unspeakable peace and joy to His children. He is just as alive and well today as He was in the days of Moses and Jesus. As the old song puts it, “He is able to deliver thee!” So ask, pray, beg, be an intercessor, anoint with oil, believe that He will work miracles, but ultimately trust His decisions no matter what.

Life… In All Its Complexity

The blog has been put on hold for a couple of weeks now, primarily because of all that my wife and I have been experiencing in our personal lives. Here’s a recounting of it…

On Monday evening, October 30, Angie left her ladies’ Connection Cafe meeting feeling well, but by the time we drove from the church to our house (just a couple of minutes) she was in terrible pain. We decided to go to the emergency room. Our beloved friends, Cory and Lachelle McCaig, came to sit from about 10:00 pm until 4:30 Tuesday morning while Angie was subjected to numerous tests, which found essentially nothing wrong.

On Tuesday morning, October 31, we went for a follow-up visit at her physician’s office and he became concerned about some possible internal bleeding. He decided to admit her to St. Mary’s hospital where he would perform a laproscopic procedure simply to explore any potential problems. He, like the emergency room physician, sought to rule out the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy. One he began the procedure, he discovered the worst scenario, an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, which can be deadly.

The short, one-hour procedure turned into a two and one half hour operation with a large incision. I was so moved as I waited in the surgery waiting room as about two dozen members of our church surrounded me, waiting to hear that Angie had come through the surgery okay. We were delighted to hear that she would be just fine. The physician explained that she had sustained heavy internal bleeding and that her risk of possible death had been higher than he had anticipated.

Angie’s Dad brought her Mom down from St. Louis to help take care of her for a few days but her stay was interrupted by yet another family emergency. On Thursday, Angie’s grandmother suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care in Washington, Missouri. The family had hoped that she was improving, but in the middle of Thursday night, a call came alerting us that she had taken a turn for the worse. Angie’s Mom borrowed my car and drove through the night to be at her mother’s side. Ella Briggs (our daughter’s namesake) went home to heaven on Friday, November 3.

Later that afternoon, Angie and I loaded up our van and began the trip to St. Clair to attend the funeral, but wisdom along with some forceful but loving input from our family, prompted us to turn back and stay at home. Angie was recovering a little each day, but it may be a total of six weeks recovery time before she is completely healthy again. We’ve taken a much needed one night sabbatical to a nearby vacation spot and have attempted to settle back into a routine, with Angie returning to work on this past Monday, November 13.

The Sunday before all of this began, my text included Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose.” That Monday night, Angie testified at Connection Cafe that she had (at least we thought at the time) a miscarriage, but that God was faithfully teaching us to trust Him. It isn’t merely a cliche that “everything happens for a reason.” When you’re a believer, nothing is left to chance anymore. You realize that God has a sovereign plan that allows His children to endure some very difficult crises in life in order that we might enjoy “the fellowship of (Christ’s) sufferings.”

Since we learn how to be disciples through the tough stuff, what have I learned from all of this?

First, I’ve learned the importance of God’s timing. Had Angie not been persisent with her physician in his office, he would have sent her home where she may have bled to death. We’ve heard numerous testimonies from others who experienced the same trauma and were in grave danger. God rescued Angie just in time. On a similar note, I’ve learned the mysterious nature of God’s timing. Why would Angie’s grandmother pass away just after Angie’s surgery when her mother would have to make a midnight dash for Missouri and when Angie could not attend the funeral? All I can conlcude us that God is ultimately wise.

Second, I’ve learned the value of a loving church family, a fellowship of believers. I was surrounded in a waiting room by numerous friends and members of our spiritual family. Once home, people provided meals as well as company with their visits. We’ve experienced an outpouring of love and compassion for which we will be forever grateful. I’ve often heard others say, “I don’t see how people make it through things without a church family.” That statement was exemplified in our tragedy.

Third, I’ve learned what a beautiful and courageous woman I married! I sat in the surgery waiting room virtually helpless. I could do nothing to ensure her safety except to pray. I could do nothing to help her recover except play nurse and fetch water. Yet I watched as Angie handled the situation like a champ. Note that champions have weak moments, moments of curiosity about the activity of God and moments of emotional break-down. Tears rarely come from cowards. I’ve learned a new respect for her. While it was our baby that died so prematurely in a pregancy complication, it was her body that experienced such drastic trauma. I wish I could be half as strong as her!

More than anything, we’ve learned “in all things (to) give thanks unto God, for this is the will of God for (us) in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) At our former church, we used to have a responsive chant: “God is good… all the time… and all the time… God is good.” God really is good. We don’t always get what we expect or want, but God never ceases to be holy or loving. God has been glorified in our lives in so many ways in the last few weeks, all we can do is humbly give Him praise, cry our tears, and go on in faith that God will always be good!