Tag Archives: gospel

7 Reasons Why You Need a Pathway for Discipleship

Although some churches do a wonderful job of discipling, I continue to be amazed at the number of churches that have no pathway for growth for their members to follow. Yet, we all know that spiritual growth is essential! And while we know that growth is a work of the Spirit, it is also healthy to have a plan to follow as you let Him do His work in you. I’ll share another time on how you can set this up, but for now, here are 7 reasons why you need a pathway for discipleship, both individually and collectively as a church:

  1. You are tempted to sin. Sin has been here for a long time, and temptation is not going to stop.
  2. You need a far off view. A big picture view is an important part of objectively tracking areas where you are growing and where you need to grow in.
  3. You are tempted to be passive. There are more tools for spiritual development than ever before, but there is a great irony that biblical illiteracy is so high. It is very easy for you to sit back and not get intentional with your spiritual growth.
  4. Accountability is needed. The rugged individualism of the American culture tends to shy away from accountability, but there are many passages in Scripture that call us to submitting to each other in Christ.
  5. You can avoid an unbalanced diet. Having a strategy for study will help you develop a healthy, balanced diet for discipleship and avoid doctrinal “hobby horses.”
  6. You’ll study topics and books that you might not normally study. It’s natural that we tend to avoid the areas we are unfamiliar with, but a properly implemented pathway will stretch you a bit.
  7. You can be humbled and challenged. You might see growth in some areas and a lack of growth in other areas of your life. This is a great opportunity for you to be further challenged!

Hope this helps. Next time, I will write on the “how” of creating a discipleship pathway.

Fran

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The Dark Side of Facebook: How to Redeem It

Facebook, as we all know, has a dark side. In fact, it’s interesting to see how destructive it can be. We can all cite multiple examples of over dramatic, overindulgent attention seekers who want nothing more than to get “likes” or even “loves” to their postings.

FB cross outPersonally, I’ve seen people create fake realities on Facebook that in no way resembled their reality. I’ve counseled married couples in which one or the other engaged in an adulterous affair with an old flame that they became friends with on social media. I’ve seen countless debates over the issues of the day, multiple shares of “fake” news (the Babylon Bee is NOT a real news site, people), and drama, drama, and more drama over situations so they could try their case in the court of Facebook opinion. Selfies rule the day, and for some, selfies brutally altered by filters are, well pathetic. And, yes, whether it’s the snarkiness of Twitter or the drama of Facebook or anything else pertaining to social media, it’s ugly, it’s awful, and it’s, well, just not really social.

Yet I can’t help but want to dig deeper to find out the reason for this continuous move to the dark side by so many on social media platforms. And when you look at it, the true root cause, the core issue, is because we naturally desire to be fulfilled in something other than God. We are idolaters, fallen and depraved, lost without Christ. All of our self-righteousness, justification, name changes, and even new filtered images of ourselves will not change anything about us in our nature and our corrupt desire tries to replace God with a god. What we find, however, is that nothing will satisfy us, ever, except what we can get in our satisfaction in Christ.

This is why anything we touch, we have the potential to destroy it. That’s what sin does, it corrupts, and we need to remember that without Christ we are “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3) rather than God. Our nature comes back from time to time and fools us, wrecking our lives. This is why we can “play church,” or act as if everything is “fine” when it isn’t, because phony is easier to deal with than our harsh reality of our depravity. Our brokenness, then causes us to put on masks wherever we are, whether on social media or in front of others in real life. And the only way to mend this broken state is through a true, deep, growing, commitment to the truths of the gospel. We must have a committed relationship with the Savior of our souls.

And the gospel is where it begins. The life-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ will transform your thinking and your desires. You desire the things of Christ, not the things of the earth. This is how I believe that social media can be redeemed, not for the sake of being known, but so Christ can be made known in you. To be real on social media is refreshing, to be patient and kind in an anonymous environment is, well, unexpected these days. Jesus told us in Luke 9:23, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Maybe it’s time to kill that temptation for fakeness and honor Christ even in this environment instead.

Fran

Dad, here’s your legacy…

Years ago, my dad had a deeply life changing experience. He was at a small church in a new community that he had just moved to. There to see my sister get baptized, he heard the gospel, responded to the invitation, and received Christ. He was baptized that same day, along with my mom and sister.

I thought he was crazy. I knew it wouldn’t last. I figured he’d be back at his usual routine, shopping the flea markets on Sundays. I was wrong. Dad loved Jesus, and Jesus was clearly his center point of his life for the rest of his life. He was being changed daily before my eyes.

As time went on, the prayers and the faithful witness from my mom and him had an effect on my wife and me. Though I had learned religious things as a child, still, I knew of Jesus but didn’t know Jesus. Teresa received Christ before me, but I was so hardened and stubborn, I just could not see how Jesus wanted a relationship with me, not for me to merely change my religious traditions. Again, I was wrong.

God got a hold of me at that same small church in that new community in Central Florida. The gospel spoke to me and I was forever changed. My wife and I were babes in Christ, and over time, God grew us. Long story short, our entire family was changed, forever changed because of the gospel. And yes, though we’re not perfect by any means and flawed in every way, we see that we are loved by the Creator and forgiven through His Son. My kids know this and I pray that my grandkids see this as well.

Dad, this is your legacy. Your first faith steps to respond to the gospel change this. You showed me and other men that when a man follows Jesus, his family sees his example and can be changed as well. We’re not perfect, we’re flawed, yet we show them that we’re loved by the Creator and forgiven by His Son.

Happy Father’s Day in heaven, dad. You are missed but your legacy of faith in Christ lives on.

Fran

What Does God Even Want??

As I have enjoyed moving from winter to spring, I have been thinking a whole lot lately about the way that God has revealed Himself to us over the time line from His Creation to His New Heaven and New Earth. One question comes to mind: as we know God, what does He want from us? Let me explain…

He began with His general revelation, that is, the heavens and the earth. He spoke to and through the patriarchs, gave the Torah to Moses, and corrected the people of God through the Prophets. Finally, God spoke through Himself incarnate in the person of Jesus, followed by His Spirit-breathed Words from the Apostles and the early church. And what is remarkable is that every time He spoke, He spoke of the gospel, that grace from Him that is available to us all. The world and the Word reveals the glory of God! What a wonderful thought!

So what does this mean for you and me? Again, what does God want? Well, it means this:

  • Even though we cannot see Him fully, God desires our obedience.
  • Even though we may not understand Him fully, God desires our obedience.
  • Even though we are unable to live life Christ fully, God desires our obedience.

Get the picture? The key is that God wants us to operate on what we know. Jesus said,

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected” (Luke 12:48).

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We grow, and we obey even more with that in mind. We grow more, and we are expected to do more. It’s called sanctification, and this is an important part of being a follower of Jesus.

So grow. Grow in the Word, in prayer, in serving, and in sharing your faith in a real way.  And remember, as you go into worship this weekend, take what you hear and see and follow Him even more. Let His light shine from you to others as a sweet sacrifice of praise to Him. And as you do that, He will get all the glory!

Have a great Sunday!

Fran

 

Want to be Close to God?

Let me start by saying that we have rebellious hearts that make closeness with the Creator of the Universe just flat out hard to do. Oh sure, I know that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, that we’re not coming to the Father except through the Son. Our prayers mean nothing until we know Him. I get that, and if you don’t know Christ in a personal relationship, you need to.

The closeness I am wanting to discuss is the way that a Christian interacts with the Father on a constant basis. I mean, is your intimacy with God a consistent, growing walk, or is it at an arms length, cold almost as, say a Facebook friend or work acquaintance? God did not intend for you to say “yes” to Him yet wave at Him from afar. To use some biblical metaphors, God wants the seedling faith He gave you to grow to be a tree planted by the water, with roots deep in the ground and fruit being produced.

And this happens through an intentional, intimate relationship with Him. So how? How can this be done?

To start, get close to Him through His Word and prayer. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. In fact, you can stop what you are doing (like reading this) and take a moment and pray. It’s okay, this blog post will still be here. 🙂

Let me also mention this: Prayer is to be based on the Truth, the knowledge of Christ. We cannot have intimacy with the Father if we are not in His Word. Our prayers would be based on ignorant ramblings of a sinful, fallen heart rather than focused petitions of the Spirit. Therefore, start reading the Bible. Again, nothing fancy- read a Psalm a day as a start, then work up to a chapter or two of a gospel, or a reading plan available online. Start small, work to more intake and prayer.

Let me encourage you: Know Him, love Him, talk to Him, and interact with Him. Fruit will come of that. Your mind, heart, and spirit will be changed in Him daily and the wisdom of God will convict and change you. I am with Paul in the encouragement that you are strengthened in Him:

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation about Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God to advance the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles —  to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ — to him be the glory forever! Amen. Rom 16:25‭-‬27 CSB

Even not knowing who would read this, I prayed for you before I posted this. My prayer was simply that you will be closer to God today than you were yesterday. Let’s start there and see what He can do. To God be the glory!

Fran

The Harvest

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2, NIV).

harvestJesus saw what we are now seeing- that the fields are ripe for harvest. Millions of people are coming to faith in Christ annually and the mission fields of places like central Africa are now fully reached with the gospel. In fact, estimates show that almost half of all Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa by the year 2060. Needless to say, the gospel is exploding around the world!

What does this mean for you? First, you can see your life differently. What you are doing can be a part of the Kingdom work! Whether you are a shoemaker or a carpenter or a doctor or a manager of a sales team, it doesn’t matter. What matters is your willingness to claim it for the gospel.

Second, get involved through your local church. Your Kingdom work should be done through the Bride of Christ. Pray for your pastor and for more workers. Be active in your church, serve others, and look to do things not for your own benefit, but for the benefit of His gospel.

My friend, you can be a part of the harvest. You are a part of the work of Christ. Now, take ownership of that and use whatever you do, for the glory of God.

Fran

3 Principles Learned from Nehemiah Today

I love the book of Nehemiah, not just for the leadership applications, but also for the chance to see how transforming God is in almost impossible situations.

During one of my devotions, I came across Nehemiah chapters 9 and 10 and saw some really spectacular things. In it, the people of God had been convicted about the fact that they had not walked according to the Word of God. They repented, and in so doing they emphatically proclaimed a change of heart:

“Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners, and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their places, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day and spent another fourth of the day in confession and worship of the Lord their God” (Neh 9:2-3).

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Basically put, their repentance was passionate, persistent, and on point. So what did Nehemiah have them do next? He made them write it down. They solidified their heart with their head and hands here. Here are some of the things that they agreed to:

  • Not to marry outside of Israel.
  • Not to do business on the Sabbath, even with outsiders.
  • Support the Levites.
  • Support the Temple sacrifices.
  • Give to the work of the Lord.

This is some amazing steps! Of course, we know that the people miss the mark on keeping their obligations, and some eventually get to the point of avid legalism. However, this is without a doubt a turning point for Israel.

So what can we learn from this? I see three things that we don’t want to miss:

  1. In God, your past has passed. While there is often the temptation to dwell in the past and stay focused on the sins which entangled you, the truth is that God is a forgiving, compassionate God. When you truly come to repentance, He has promised to forgive and cleanse, and never to leave nor forsake you.
  2. In God, your present can be a time of worship. Every moment with God is a moment that you can spend in worship to Him. Your new life in Him needs to start and end with an intimacy because of who He is as the amazing, wonderful Savior. Don’t forget that He is with you, even now.
  3. In God, your future is written. He has always known your tendencies, your motives, and your heart. God is the God of second chances, and He is the God who has planned your future. Be in prayer to see how He has impressed your heart, follow His leading, and enjoy a life in Him.

Israel spent generation after generation in disobedience to God’s commands and call to holiness. Yet, when they came to Him, He forgave and healed. It doesn’t matter how long you have rebelled and how bad it was, He can forgive you too! Take some time to seek Him as you commit to live a new life in Christ!

Fran

What God Loves…

I’ve been in ministry for over 23 years now, and I can say that I have never been more encouraged to see God’s work than ever before. I have seen first hand several churches explode in worship attendance, in their disciple-making, and in ministry to the world around them. And there is a clear pattern: regardless of style, flavor, or culture, the churches which have a high view of the Word, challenge one another to holiness, and focus on discipling others in the Word are the ones that are healthy, stable, and growing. It’s amazing that I see very few exceptions to this rule. Yet these thriving churches exist all around as the light of Christ to the Midwest. This is so encouraging because it is clearly what God loves!

Of course, I also see the opposite, and yes, when I see this, I do grieve. Obviously, God doesn’t want unhealthy and declining churches. And unfortunately, just like I see a pattern in healthy, growing churches, I also see a pattern for unhealthy ones. In these churches, there are misguided people who focus not on the Word but on procedures, legalism, and even politicking. They place unceasing attention to the crisis of the day. They draw attention to the negatives and create divisions. They stir up trouble in the shadows of the hallways. And disciple making is reduced to an afterthought. The Gospel is secondary. The Word becomes a manipulative tool to attack others versus a revelation from God to live by.

And as we see in this text from Proverbs, God despises this practice:

“The Lord hates six things; in fact, seven are detestable to him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness who gives false testimony, and one who stirs up trouble among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16‭-‬19 CSB

These are tough words,yet this is a truth we need to be sober about: God doesn’t want discord or strife from within. He doesn’t want His Bride disgraced, destroyed, and disgusted. He doesn’t want the Family of God to be distracted, from the Great Commission and the work of making disciples. He doesn’t want hateful strife and stressful hate. He wants none of that. For those in the church that practice this, it’s kind of hard to differentiate them from those outside the church. And this certainly grieves God the Holy Spirit as it should grieve His godly saints. And if it isn’t grieving you right now, then, well then that’s just messed up. Sorry, but that’s true.

The good news is that there’s always a better way, a much better way. That way is a way of grace, truth, and love. Since the Bride of Christ is not to be a place that is focused on power, a focus should be on Christ, because, after all, power should be completely in the hands of the Lord who we worship.

And we as members of one another should do what is opposite of our fleshly inclination: a practice of full and complete submission in love. This means to follow the biblical pattern to lift up one another, to love one another, to believe the best in one another, and to build up one another. That is a way of grace. That is the way of Christ.

Want to see others come to Christ, grow in Christ, serve Christ, and share Christ in a way like never before? Then repent, get out of His way, submit to His leading, live for Him and help others to do the same as an act of worship. Love, and love some more. And then love again. Yes, even those who are hard to love. No ands, ifs, or buts.

Because that, my friend, is what God loves.

Fran

The God of the Possible

The fruit and potential of the land was amazing:

When they came to the Valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes, which was carried on a pole by two men. They also took some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshcol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut there.” Numbers 13:23‭-‬24 CSB

Now think about it: The vine of grapes was so big, two men had to carry it! The land was beautiful, rich, and flowing. The Lord had promised it, and He came through big! All they had to do was follow God and do His will. No enemy, no inhabitant would stop God’s will for His people. They simply had to take a step. A step of faith.

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But they didn’t. They forgot the God of the possible, and instead created a god of the impossible. They ignored His miraculous work of the past and looked at the obstacles before them. But seeking to save themselves, they lost it all. They made a horrible, deadly choice and in a business meeting, individual by individual voted a resounding, faithless “no.”

Their “no” would change some of them forever. All if that generation would never see the promises of God fulfilled. Death would follow them when they could have had life and loss abounded when they could have seen gain. Most of all, the chance for God to be glorified by all Israel would be delayed for 40 years.

Have you been voting “no” to God’s work in your life? Has God challenged you to step out in faith? A year ago, I did something that made no sense to people (still doesn’t) and God has amazed me as I have seen Him working in many places I visit. He gets the glory!

And so, let me encourage you to do the same, to walk by faith, to fear nothing, to step out…and let God get the glory!

Fran

Pastor, Are You Chasing the Wind?

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…” Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV

I get to travel quite a bit to talk with church leaders across the Upper Midwest. I’ve spent time in all sizes of churches, from the smallest of urban or rural churches to the upscale megachurch with multiple sites and services. Although there’s been some great research done on growing churches, I can tell you for my own observation that there’s a difference between leaders who are growing on a foundation of Christ and those who are just “chasing the wind” through their own efforts. In fact, I have seen a few commonalities in healthy, growing churches regardless of the context or size. Let me give you a quick list with no order of importance:
  1. A commitment to expository preaching. I’ve seen some really good expository preaching in which the pastor will take a passage and allow the structure of the passage to be the basis of the message. He takes time to explain the passage and the context, both at the time that it was written and the application for today. This is sorely needed in our culture today.
  2. A clear path for discipleship. I am amazed at how many church leaders have no real idea on how to disciple believers on an ongoing, systematic basis. The healthy churches that I have seen know exactly how to take a new believer in Christ through a process of growth to become more like Jesus. Find a process and work it.
  3. An authentic love. One of my favorite pastors does not buy into the CEO mentality as he ministers to his congregation. He spends time with his people, he fervently prays for them, and he also takes time to study so that he can pour into them in his pulpit ministry. He has boundaries, but his people know that he loves them. By the way, he ministers to about 1,500 people in his congregation each week.
  4. A priority on missions and evangelism. Church members focused on going and telling usually don’t major on the minors in the inner workings of the church. They know that their leaders are Godly, praying, loving men of the word and they trust them. They are much less likely to micromanage day-to-day affairs in the church. They also see their leaders right next to them as they do some of the grunt work, as they go out on mission trips and as they share the gospel.

That’s what I’ve noticed. Note that I never talked about hype, worship style, or any “cool factors” related to ministry. That’s because these are secondary issues that usually don’t matter over the long run. In other words, I’ve seen healthy, growing traditional churches in the middle of a cornfield as well as healthy, growing, super contemporary, polished churches in a suburb. The point is that the church will change the method but not at a price.

And this brings me to the possibly convicting news. I’ve noticed plenty of unhealthy disasters where the leadership has tried to “chase the hype,” even going as far as compromising the message (intentionally or not) in order to somehow try to stay relevant with the culture. This includes turning to shallow material that a member can pop into their living room like a Netflix movie and call it discipleship. Or making major cultural changes in the church arbitrarily and without communication. Or discarding the basic foundations of teaching for children and replacing it with moralistic, hypercool content with a verse of scripture slapped on it) that focuses on fun instead of the Gospel. Fun is, well, fun, but let’s not abandon the treasure of the Gospel just to entertain people.

My message to you: stop chasing the hype. You’re not going to grow disciples by trying to be cool. Look at what you’re doing and allowing to be taught by word and by deed. Spiritual growth is a slow, steady, ongoing and patient process, so take your time with others just as God worked in you to make you more like Jesus. Yes, you can have content to help you in the process of growing disciples while still being relevant to the culture of your community. Yes, you can do some awesome and creative things outside of the box to reach people where they are. But don’t forget the fundamentals, okay? Remember, when the leadership is focused on the word, discipleship, love, and missions, God will use His Spirit to produce a great deal of fruit.

Otherwise, you’re chasing after the wind.

Fran