My motivation for writing this blog is twofold: First, there is a slow apostasy that is creeping in to many so-called Christian denominations. Many groups that claim the name of Christ are advocating anti-Christian principles. Second, it seems that the majority of Christians are not adequately trained nor sufficiently motivated to carry out the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . . “(Matt. 28:19-20). To carry out this commission, Christians need to be disciples and disciple-makers. It means knowing basic Christian doctrine, knowing the Bible, and being able to defend the Christian faith.
I’m not saying that every Christian has to be seminary trained, memorize the New Testament, and stand on street corners shouting about Jesus. I am talking about the basic knowledge of God’s word as well as the basics of evangelism and doctrine that helps to lead us to do what Jesus charged us to do: make disciples.
Apostasy means to fall away from the truth. To the degree that Christians adopt the ideas of the world above scripture they are committing apostasy. The world wants us to let things be, to adopt a policy of tolerance about other religions and ideas in contradiction to Scripture, and let the culture simply continue on its way towards increasing immorality and irreverence. Jesus has given us a commission to make disciples and to do this means we have to be prepared and Bible-focused in a world that is hostile to Christianity. Carrying out the Great Commission means that we have to be praying, studying, tithing, learning, being trained, being active, supporting the church, supporting missionaries, etc. Some churches do this. Others do not. But, all should be evangelistic–not for church membership or church growth but for making people followers of Jesus.
The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) is the charge of Jesus to believers, to every believer, to be disciple makers. It is not aimed at just the pastor and the missionary. It is aimed at everyone in the church. But, perhaps you feel that you are not called to be a pastor, a missionary, or an evangelist–that just isn’t your calling. That’s okay. But, are you praying for those who are pastors, missionaries, and evangelists? Are you supporting them in your tithes? Are you using whatever gifts that you have in support of the church so that the Great Commission can be carried out by those God anoints to minister in whatever capacity it is?
The Great Commission is a commission of love given to us by the God of love. It is what Jesus asked us to do. People are going to hell. Jesus wants us to help as many as possible find salvation in Him. He wants us to beHis disciples and then make others into disciples as well. This is what He wants. Is this happening in your life and church? Are you contributing in some way to the building of the body of Christ, or do you only go to church and take in. If this is all you are doing, then you need to make some changes.
In America, too many Christians are comfortable with their lives, their DVR’s, their remote control TV’s, their air conditioned cars, retirement funds, and their polished preachers. Our comfort is important to us. But, it can lure us into a casual relationship with God because all our earthly needs are met. Such casualness destroys the urgency–the intimacy of dependence upon God that excites and motivates the believer into action when God miraculously and continuously provides our needs. I also believe that many pastors are failing to do what the Bible says to do: equip the saints (Eph. 4:12). I suspect far too many pastors are more concerned about not offending their own congregations with the whole gospel than spreading its truth lest people go find another church to be comfortable in. Growing in Christ means to become mature and daily pick up your cross to follow Jesus. The pastor is not there to baby-sit Christians. He is not there to simply comfort them and to make them feel warm and cozy, nor is he there to reflect the current social trends and morays of the secular environment. He is there to equip the saints, to call them to repentance and holiness, to present God’s word, to train them up to be more like Jesus (Eph. 4:12), and to help them mature in Christ so that they can become a people of action as well as a people of love.
The gospel is not only about being born again but is also about picking up your cross and following Jesus (Luke 9:23), about prayer, about supporting Christians who teach, about bearing one another’s burdens, about defending the faith, about standing up for righteousness, and much more. For too many Christians, picking up the cross and following Jesus is too much to ask. But it is, however, easy to drop a check in the offering plate and think that they’ve done their part as a Christian. This is nothing more than buying a way out of their responsibilities.
Is this too harsh?
If you think I am being too harsh, let me say that I know that there are many Christians who take their faith seriously, are learning and applying God’s word, and doing what they can to expand God’s kingdom whether it be by praying, tithing, witnesses, teaching, church work, or living godly lives. Likewise, I know that there are many pastors who labor to equip their congregations and who lovingly work to shepherd them with all sincerity and obedience to Christ. For you all, I praise God for His miraculous work in you.
Pastors have a huge job before them. They are to preach God’s word, teach the congregation, counsel, model godliness, and equip the saints. This is difficult to do, especially when secularism is slowly making inroads into the hearts and minds of Christians. Regarding moral issues, Christians, statistically, are in bad shape. According to Barna Research online, of those claiming to be born again, only 23% believe abortion should be illegal; 34% believe homosexuality is alright; 36% believe that a man and a woman living together is okay; 37% says profanity is acceptable; only 20% believe it is wrong to get drunk, etc. This is truly sad and dangerous. Oh sure, you may say they are not ‘real’ Christians. I hope you’re right. But, the statistics are real, and those who are truly born again should be out there fighting against abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness, etc., as well as praying for and seeking revival in Christian churches.
People are going to hell. The enemy is making converts to false gospels in the cults, false world religions, humanistic principles in schools, and moral relativism in society. Christians are not supposed to be keepers of the aquarium. They are supposed to be fishers of men. Christians are supposed to confront the world in a wise and loving fashion. This is what the Bible says to do; and to accomplish this, the Christians need a truly Christian Worldview with the desire to spread the gospel everywhere.
The Christian Church needs to wake Up!
Christianity is under an ever increasing attack. Here in America, laws are being passed to reduce and remove our religious freedoms. Prayer has been removed from schools, the 10 Commandments removed from courtrooms. Movies and TV routinely portray Christians as ignorant bigots. Universities constantly attack the absolutes of Christianity and some even promote Eastern Mysticism, witchcraft, relativism, and a homosexual agenda by having representatives of these lies come in and teach! Secular society as a whole is imposing its moral agenda upon all people, the church included, and it is working! Christians are starting to listen to the false teaching of a fallen world and recanting on biblical doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, of Jesus being theonly way, of moral absolutes, and of their being a Day of Judgment with the unsaved going to hell. This is the sign of apostasy within the church!
Again, let me add that not all Christians are apathetic and worldly. There are many churches with godly pastors who are teaching all of God’s word. There are many churches out there with members who are learning God’s word, who are making converts, and who are standing up for righteousness. It is because of people like them that the gospel is spreading throughout the world. There are more Christians alive now than ever before. But, there are also more Muslims now than ever before–more Mormons, more Jehovah’s Witnesses, more atheists, etc., than ever before. Let’s not give up nor become discouraged. Let’s support one another in prayer. Let’s study to show ourselves approved to God. Let’s tithe properly. Let’s witness. Let’s take risks for Jesus. Let’s do what He asks of us.
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20, NASB).
I remember very vividly, some years ago, that the question which perplexed me as a younger Christian (and some of my friends as well) was this: what is God’s purpose for His people? Granted that we have been converted, granted that we have been saved and received new life in Jesus Christ, what comes next? Of course, we knew the famous statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever: we knew that, and we believed it. We also toyed with some briefer statements, like one of only five words— love God, love your neighbor. But somehow neither of these, nor some others that we could mention, seemed wholly satisfactory. So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth, and it is—God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.
So if that is true, I am proposing the following: first to lay down the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness; secondly, to give some New Testament examples of this; thirdly, to draw some practical conclusions. And it all relates to becoming like Chris
So first is the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness. This basis is not a single text: the basis is more substantial than can be encapsulated in a single text. The basis consists rather of three texts which we would do well to hold together in our Christian thinking and living: Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, and 1 John 3:2. Let’s look at these three briefly.
Romans 8:29 reads that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son: that is, to become like Jesus. We all know that when Adam fell he lost much—though not all—of the divine image in which he had been created. But God has restored it in Christ. Conformity to the image of God means to become like Jesus: Christlikeness is the eternal predestinating purpose of God.
My second text is 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” So it is by the indwelling Spirit Himself that we are being changed from glory to glory—it is a magnificent vision. In this second stage of becoming like Christ, you will notice that the perspective has changed from the past to the present, from God’s eternal predestination to His present transformation of us by the Holy Spirit. It has changed from God’s eternal purpose to make us like Christ, to His historical work by His Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus.
That brings me to my third text: 1 John 3:2. “Beloved, we are God’s children now and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We don’t know in any detail what we shall be in the last day, but we do know that we will be like Christ. There is really no need for us to know any more than this. We are content with the glorious truth that we will be with Christ, like Christ, forever.
Here are three perspectives—past, present, and future. All of them are pointing in the same direction: there is God’s eternal purpose, we have been predestined; there is God’s historical purpose, we are being changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit; and there is God’s final or eschatological purpose, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All three, the eternal, the historical, and the eschatological, combine towards the same end of Christlikeness. This, I suggest, is the purpose of God for the people of God. That is the biblical basis for becoming like Christ: it is the purpose of God for the people of God.
I want to move on to illustrate this truth with a number of New Testament examples. First, I think it is important for us to make a general statement, as the apostle John does in 1 John 2:6: “he who says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way as he walked.” In other words, if we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christlike. Here is the first New Testament example: we are to be like Christ in his Incarnation.
Some of you may immediately recoil in horror from such an idea. Surely, you will say to me, the Incarnation was an altogether unique event and cannot possibly be imitated in any way? My answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, it was unique, in the sense that the Son of God took our humanity to Himself in Jesus of Nazareth, once and for all and forever, never to be repeated. That is true. But there is another sense in which the Incarnation was not unique: the amazing grace of God in the Incarnation of Christ is to be followed by all of us. The Incarnation, in that sense, was not unique but universal. We are all called to follow the example of His great humility in coming down from heaven to earth. So Paul could write in Philippians 2:5-8: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped for his own selfish enjoyment, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation in the amazing self-humbling which lies behind the Incarnation.
Secondly, we are to be like Christ in His service. We move on now from his Incarnation to His life of service; from His birth to His life, from the beginning to the end. Let me invite you to come with me to the upper room where Jesus spent his last evening with His disciples, recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 13: “He took off his outer garments, he tied a towel round him, he poured water into a basin and washed his disciples’ feet. When he had finished, he resumed his place and said, ‘If then I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have given you an example”—notice the word— “that you should do as I have done to you.”
Some Christians take Jesus’ command literally and have a foot-washing ceremony in their Lord’s Supper once a month or on Maundy Thursday—and they may be right to do it. But I think most of us transpose Jesus’ command culturally: that is, just as Jesus performed what in His culture was the work of a slave, so we in our cultures must regard no task too menial or degrading to undertake for each other.
Thirdly, we are to be like Christ in His love. I think particularly now of Ephesians 5:2—“walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Notice that the text is in two parts. The first part is walk in love, an injunction that all our behavior should be characterized by love, but the second part of the verse says that He gave Himself for us, which is not a continuous thing but an aorist, a past tense, a clear reference to the cross. Paul is urging us to be like Christ in his death, to love with self-giving Calvary love. Notice what is developing: Paul is urging us to be like the Christ of the Incarnation, to be like the Christ of the foot washing, and to be like the Christ of the cross. These three events of the life of Christ indicate clearly what Christlikeness means in practice.
Fourthly, we are to be like Christ in His patient endurance. In this next example we consider not the teaching of Paul but of Peter. Every chapter of the first letter of Peter contains an allusion to our suffering like Christ, for the background to the letter is the beginnings of persecution. In chapter 2 of 1 Peter in particular, Peter urges Christian slaves, if punished unjustly, to bear it and not to repay evil for evil. For, Peter goes on, you and we have been called to this because Christ also suffered, leaving us an example—there is that word again—so that we may follow in His steps. This call to Christlikeness in suffering unjustly may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures in the world today.
My fifth and last example from the New Testament is that we are to be like Christ in His mission. Having looked at the teaching of Paul and Peter, we come now to the teaching of Jesus recorded by John. In John 20:21, in prayer, Jesus said, “As you, Father, have sent me into the world, so I send them into the world”—that is us. And in His commissioning in John 17 He says, “As the Father sent me into the world, so I send you.” These words are immensely significant. This is not just the Johannine version of the Great Commission but also an instruction that their mission in the world was to resemble Christ’s mission. In what respect? The key words in these texts are “sent into the world.” As Christ had entered our world, so we are to enter other people’s worlds. It was eloquently explained by Archbishop Michael Ramsey some years ago: “We state and commend the faith only in so far as we go out and put ourselves with loving sympathy inside the doubts of the doubters, the questions of the questioners, and the loneliness of those who have lost the way.”
This entering into other people’s worlds is exactly what we mean by incarnational evangelism. All authentic mission is incarnational mission. We are to be like Christ in His mission. These are the five main ways in which we are to be Christlike: in His Incarnation, in His service, in His love, in His endurance, and in His mission.
Very briefly, I want to give you three practical consequences of Christlikeness.
Firstly, Christlikeness and the mystery of suffering. Suffering is a huge subject in itself and there are many ways in which Christians try to understand it. One way stands out: that suffering is part of God’s process of making us like Christ. Whether we suffer from a disappointment, a frustration, or some other painful tragedy, we need to try to see this in the light of Romans 8:28-29. According to Romans 8:28, God is always working for the good of His people, and according to Romans 8:29, this good purpose is to make us like Christ.
Secondly, Christlikeness and the challenge of evangelism. Why is it, you must have asked, as I have, that in many situations our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given and I do not want to over-simplify, but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we are proclaiming. John Poulton, who has written about this in a perceptive little book entitled, A Today Sort of Evangelism, wrote this:
The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message. Christians need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas. Authenticity gets across. Deep down inside people, what communicates now is basically personal authenticity.
That is Christlikeness. Let me give you another example. There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him: “If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.” I think India would be at their feet today if we Christians lived like Christ. From the Islamic world, the Reverend Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, has said “If all Christians were Christians—that is, Christlike—there would be no more Islam today.”
That brings me to my third point—Christlikeness and the indwelling of the Spirit. I have spoken much tonight about Christlikeness, but is it attainable? In our own strength it is clearly not attainable, but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within. William Temple, Archbishop in the 1940s, used to illustrate this point from Shakespeare:
It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it—I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it—I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.
So I conclude, as a brief summary of what we have tried to say to one another: God’s purpose is to make us like Christ. God’s way to make us like Christ is to fill us with his Spirit. In other words, it is a Trinitarian conclusion, concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
In our quest to find the broken hearted and ostracized of life we called upon other ministries that function primarily outside the walls of the church to present the gospel hope of Jesus Christ. We found astonishing evidence that a loving presences of evangelistic workers makes a difference in getting the gospel outside to a dyeing world. I had an interesting event happen in my life in a “Crack House In Perris Ca., I went to deliver some packages and was overcome with remorse and a strong unction to pray for those in that trailer and it reshaped my life and introduced me to the Help Mate I now have in my life.
An out-of-the-way topless bar and club off the highway was a regular Thursday evening destination for Anne Polencheck and her outreach partner. Every two weeks the women faithfully toted gift bags of handmade cards, homemade cookies, earrings, and lotion to the bar and club. With a word of kindness, a prayer, or a hug, they hoped to share Christ’s compassion with women who worked there.
Polencheck, a former software engineer, leads New Name, a ministry to strip clubs, bars, massage parlors, and so-called spas in the western suburbs of Chicago. Volunteers pray together and regularly visit venues. It’s a slow-going ministry that emulates Jesus leaving the safety of the fold to seek the one lost sheep. Often the workers are busy with customers or simply aren’t interested in chatting.
One week, Polencheck met Debbie, a 20-something who recognized the “church ladies” from their previous visits. “I’m seven months pregnant. I need a new job,” she said. After their visit, Debbie stepped outside and prayed: “God, if you’re real, can you help me?”
When Polencheck and her ministry partner returned one week later, they handed Debbie a flier for Refuge for Women, a Kentucky residential program for those choosing to leave sexual exploitation. It usually had a wait list, but it had one opening.
Debbie’s plea came after years of despair. Her childhood was marked by sexual abuse that started when she was 5. At age 9, Debbie was placed in foster care after she showed up at school black and blue from violent beatings. Twenty times, she was shuffled in and out of foster homes in part due to her anger-driven rebellion.
The wounded girl grew to become a broken woman who numbed her pain with alcohol and drugs. Her husband, an abusive drug addict, introduced her to strip clubs. She began exotic dancing and using more drugs. Debbie’s horrific background is not unusual for women working in strip clubs. About 90 percent of women who have received care at Refuge were sexually abused as children.
“Jesus would want us to look at these women as our sisters,” says Ked Frank, director and cofounder of Refuge. “They’re living out of pain and trauma, and our hearts should be broken for them.” At the residential facility, Debbie found family in seven other women with similar experiences as well as a church community and mentors who listened, prayed, and encouraged her.
Before graduating the yearlong program, Debbie gave birth to a healthy baby girl, accepted Christ, and was baptized. She now leads worship at her church and mentors teenagers in the youth group. Debbie holds a job as she raises her 2-year-old daughter and volunteers at Refuge, hoping to help other women who bear the invisible chains of abuse and exploitation.
“God is at work, and his presence is found in the clubs,” Frank says.
So, would Jesus hang out with people in a strip club? I believe he’s been doing just that.
Jesus unconditionally loves us all, including club owners, dancers, and customers. He is still calling us to leave the safety of our church walls and extend a hand of hope to a broken man or woman.
No, He Wouldn’t
In 1896, Charles Sheldon, a Congregational minister in Kansas, wrote In His Steps, a novel that became an all-time bestseller and spawned the ubiquitous phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?”
Back then it was an open question—as Sheldon makes clear—whether Jesus would condone hanging out at a boxing match. Today, we’re wondering if we can give reasons why Jesus wouldn’t hang out at a strip club. Times have changed.
Initially, I assumed this must be a trick question. Are there Christians who ponder, “What Would Jesus Do?” and think, “Jesus would probably be hanging out at a bar where people go to watch women undress”?
It’s hard for me to believe there are Christians who think Jesus would hang out in a strip club. Are we talking about the Jesus who had a high opinion of women and a low view of lust? Hanging out at a strip club doesn’t sound like something he would do.
But since the question is being asked, I assume there are people who think he would. I have to assume they think that since Jesus ate with sinners, he’d have no problem eating at a buffet next to a stripper pole.
Jesus did sit and eat with sinners (Mark 2:16–17). In Luke 15, we again find the oft-quoted claim made by the Pharisees: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” What is often left out is the lengthy reply Jesus gave. After hearing their charges, Jesus tells three parables—about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a prodigal son. Each of these stories has the same theme: rejoicing over the repentance of sinners. It’s possible, even likely, that some who ate with Jesus—such as during the feeding of the 5,000, or at Simon the Pharisee’s house—left unrepentant. But there is no evidence that Jesus ever ate with sinners or even spent significant time “hanging out” with them without calling them to turn from their sin.
There is no place in Scripture where Jesus was uncritically present when sin was occurring or when an action that mocked God was taking place. In fact, in the most famous example of Jesus witnessing an act where sin was taking place and God was being mocked—a scene recorded in all four Gospels—he made a whip of cords and drove sinners from the temple. Do we think this Jesus would unreservedly hang out in a place where men and women were mocking the dignity of the human body?
I wonder if what many people want to know is not whether Jesus would hang out at a strip club, but whether he’d have an issue if they hung out there. For those people, I’d recommend meditating on the words of Matthew 5:28–29.
Yes, to Shine in the Dark
Strip club? Crack house? Porn convention? Casino? Fill in the blank, and every response of mine is an absolute yes—Jesus would hang out in these places. Here’s why: There is no context, environment, or event that Jesus would choose not to be in.
Our limitations on where he might go are based on not fully understanding the desperate need for Christ in these godforsaken places. There are an estimated 400,000 strippers working in nearly 4,000 clubs in the United States. As followers of Christ, we should hang out in these places too.
In January 2002, Craig Gross and Mike Foster launched a ministry at a Las Vegas porn convention. The organization, XXXchurch.com, is devoted to being the presence of Christ at these events. There, volunteers have handed out thousands of Bibles with the words “Jesus loves porn stars” on the cover. I was taught about the deep and lavish grace of God not by a seminary professor but by the sex industry. In our moments of pride, we say that “those sinful people” have nothing to offer us, that we are there to save them. But a great desire of God is to ruin our spiritual pride. (If you don’t believe this, go to an AA meeting.)
Fear is the core reason why many of us would say “no” to Jesus hanging out in a strip club. Fill in the blank of what you might be afraid of happening: it might look bad; it wouldn’t be very productive to do ministry in that environment; people would be dragged down into a life of sin; someone would have to explain our actions to religious people.
I am sympathetic to these fears and their power. But such comments expose the smallness of our religion. A Christian leader once said to me, “Don’t blame the dark for being dark. Blame the light for not shining in the dark.”
God is the God of “yes” and the God of “go.” We have made our faith too heavy and our walk burdensome and scary. We are so great at making the gospel complex that we forget about the simplicity of Jesus. He is not held down by manmade restraints, restrictions, or rules. He easily strolls into the space of need and the lives that are desperate for healing.
Here is my purely marketing move: If I were acting as brand consultant for Jesus, I would tell him to go to the strip club. No place is off-limits to the gospel. In Luke 5:32 Jesus proclaims, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Everyone is looking for attention and trying to get their message out. Do you want to stand out? Then do what other teachers, religious leaders, and followers refuse to do. In my opinion, light shines the brightest in the darkest places—places like the neighborhood strip club.
My cable company sent a postcard inviting me to check out its latest improvements in TV channels. The card indicated that I needed to contact the company to get the necessary new digital equipment and explained how to hook it up and activate it. After that, the ad said I was just to “sit back and enjoy the World of More.”
The card made me think of the “World of More” that Christians are privileged to live in. When God transports people from the darkness of sin “into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), a whole new life opens up.
Romans 5 tells us some of the more that we have in Christ: We have been “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (v.10) and therefore have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1). We have access to God and His grace (v.2). Rejoicing in trouble is now possible because we understand that it’s an opportunity to grow in our character through trusting Him (vv.3-4). Additionally, the Holy Spirit, who has been given to live in us, pours the love of God into our hearts (v.5). And sin no longer has the same hold on us (6:18).
As Christians, we have unlimited access to a real “World of More.” Wouldn’t it be selfish not to invite others to join us in that special world?
The world seeks fulfillment in The pleasures they adore; But those who follow Jesus Christ Are given so much more.
Lately, there has been a passage of scripture that has been echoing in my mind. I can’t think of any reason at all for this except to say that perhaps God is wanting me to focus on it. The passage of scripture is Phil. 1:1-6 which says, “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 3I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 6Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (KJV). I am drawn to the final verse; and as I think about it, I am encouraged.
We need the confidence of knowing that the Lord is working in us, that He has not left us alone, and that He is very concerned about us. Sometimes we experience that stale and dry season where we seem to have reached a stone wall in our spiritual development. Of course, this could be true for many due to sin or rebellion of some sort. But, for those who simply seek God and desire to experience Him more and more and yet find themselves wondering and waiting, this verse is for you. It has three main parts:
First, the work that was begun in you was regeneration. When you trusted in Christ and were born again, you were changed. This is the beginning of the work of God in your hearts. God saves us as we are, but He does not leave us as we are. He changes us. Initially, when we are saved, we are justified; that is, we are declared righteous in God’s eyes. That is the easy part because it is all done by the Lord. The hard part is the changing part. It is called sanctification and is the process God puts us through to conform us more and more into the image of His Son, Jesus. It is this second part, this sanctification, that is hidden in the phrase of Phil. 1:6 where it says, ” . . . will perform it . . . ” In other words, the Lord is “performing” (KJV), “perfecting” (NASB) us. This perfecting will proceed until ” . . . the day of Jesus Christ.” This is a reference to the return of Christ. By design, the Bible leaves us with the impression that the return of Jesus can be accomplished at any time. This work will continue in all Christians in all places and in all times until the return of Jesus. Once He has been revealed, we will all be with Him (1 Thess. 4:16-5:2); and we will no longer as a whole church or as individuals need to be perfected since the full manifestation of our salvation has been realized in the resurrection and/or change of our bodies to the incorruptible state.
So, Phil. 1:6 carries with it the past, present, and future work of God in us and for us because of what Jesus has done on the cross. Remember, it is because of Jesus and only because of Jesus that the Lord will and is working in us. If you are having problems of some sort, doubting your salvation, unsure about your growth, let the Lord speak to your heart by spending time in prayer and reading His word. He uses these things to “perfect” the work that He has begun in you. Remember that the Lord will never forsake you or leave you. He cannot be unfaithful, and His love for you cannot fail. To the Lord be the glory.
The Jesus of the Incarnation provides us with a more authentic leadership than “alpha males” in the wild or in politics, for in His differences He is Alpha and Omega.
Some of us learned a new term during the late and unlamented presidential campaign. Campaign observers, drawing on something learned from studies of animals in the wild, told us that one of the candidates was trying to learn to behave as an Alpha Male. An Alpha Male. What does that mean?
In the wild, certain creatures become leaders of the pack and exhibit the sort of behavior that makes others follow them instinctively. Gray wolves, for example, will travel in packs, and one male and his mate will emerge as leaders. A certain aggressiveness, a body endowed with powerful limbs, the ability to react swiftly to danger, a protective spirit – all of these things mark the alpha male among gray wolves. And similar behavior can be found in the animal kingdom in a variety of creatures, from chimpanzees to iguanas. The alpha male is the one who takes charge, asserts himself, makes things happen, and allows for no rivals. Every inch the leader of the pack. The one others follow. The one who keeps peace in the pack by the force of his leadership.
We need alphas. We human beings are not exempt from the need to have someone to follow. Today we might quarrel with the insistence on alpha males; there are, and must be, alpha females too. But we need alphas. We need someone we can follow. We need someone with a vision of peace, a strategy for peacemaking and peacekeeping. Most of us are not made of alpha stuff. We must have in front of us a leader whose strength is indisputable, whose intellect is powerful, whose spirit is indomitable, and whose character is unquestionable. We must have someone who is committed to creating a peace-filled and orderly world.
But where shall we find such a person? Who will give us that sort of leadership? Who can make peace and keep peace for us. Will we find such a leader in politics? Some of us quickly became accustomed to the idea of a presidential vacuum during the recent election crisis. Some of us felt that the nation had not so much chosen a leader as it had waffled on both of the candidates. They just did not seem to inspire great passion, one way or the other. No real alpha males there.
Shall we find such a leader in the business world? An alpha male among the megamillions of the dotcom pioneers or the inventors of new biotechnologies? Will wealth make peace?
Shall we find an alpha in the academic world? A philosopher who can put all wisdom together and create peace?
Or in the military world? An alpha general who can marshal military muscle sufficient to hold the field for peace?
In a world of change and conflict, in a time of suspicion and terror, if we are to have peace, we must follow a leader who is an unquestioned alpha. Someone who stands without blemish at the head of the pack. Someone whose life, whose heart, whose mind, whose spirit we may trust.
Two thousand years ago, all of the same pursuits toward peace we use today had been tried and found wanting. The world had tried politics and there was no peace. Augustus Caesar on his throne in far-off Rome held that throne through intrigue and terror, not trust. Men followed Augustus because they had to, not because they wanted to. And there was no peace. There was no alpha.
Wealth had not created peace either. In fact the pursuit of wealth had wreaked havoc on humanity, for slavery was everywhere, and the unbridled pursuit of wealth made life miserable. Everywhere there were thieves and highway robbers. Decent people could not be safe, even in their own homes, when the publicans came around. King Herod, a small-minded man with a penchant for a pretty face and an appetite for self-indulgence, could have cared less about his people. No peace, no alpha there to guard the public trust.
Nor had military might made peace. Oh, Rome had imposed its own understanding of peace on the empire, but it was bought with a great price. Someone quipped that the Romans entered your land, destroyed it, made it a desert, and then called that “peace”. They came to destroy and not to build. And they governed with self-centered little men like Pontius Pilate, more concerned about being noticed by Rome so that a promotion would come than about building up the people. No alphas there, no leaders to be trusted.
Two thousand years ago, as now, the world was hungry for true peace. And needed someone to bring it peace. Needed an alpha leader to follow. The wonder of it all, that on a starlit night on a Judean hillside, heaven and earth saw Him born. A babe, but not just any babe. The prince of peace. A child, but not just any child. The alpha, the word made flesh.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
I submit to you tonight that Jesus the Christ, the child of Bethlehem, is the world’s alpha male. He is the one we must follow if there is to be peace. He is the one who can be trusted. He is the one who knows the secrets of our hearts and can bring us to authentic peace. He is our alpha.
Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He leads out of poverty and humility, not out of wealth and pompous prestige. Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He shows us that whoever is worth following is worthy because of the qualities of character he has, not because of the trappings of power around him. Leadership is not what you have, it is what you are. Leadership is not what stuff you have accumulated, it is the stuff you are made of. Jesus is our alpha because He leads us not with wealth or political power or military muscle, but with the force of His character.
Gardner Taylor is known as a prince of preachers. Many have tried to imitate his inimitable preaching style. The story is that years ago, one young preacher, noticing that Gardner Taylor often preaches with his pulpit robe hanging open, decided that would be his style too. He went to his pulpit, opened his robe, then opened his mouth, and quickly demonstrated that it’s not the robe on the outside of the man, it’s what’s inside the man inside the robe that makes a preacher. Jesus is our alpha, for he leads from a lowly stable, dressed in swaddling clothes, with nothing to persuade us of His importance. But He is our alpha by the force of His character.
Martin Luther King taught us a few years ago to be sure to measure others not by externals, like the color of their skin or the size of their bank account. He reminded us to measure others by the content of their character. Jesus Christ is without spot or blemish, without failure or flaw. He is our alpha, for He leads us not by the stuff He has, but by the stuff He is.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Further, Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He leads by identifying with us. Not by lording it over us, but by identifying with us. By living among us, feeling what we feel, seeing what we see, tasting what we taste, suffering what we suffer. He is no lofty philosophical ideal, above it all, untouched by the human predicament. He is the word made flesh, right here, getting his hands dirty, with us. With us. Immanuel, God with us. He identifies with us, just as we are.
If you travel around the world and see the images of Jesus as they are presented in various cultures, you will see a remarkable thing. You will see Jesus’ face taking on the characteristics of all the peoples who worship Him. In Japan, His almond-shaped eyes look out at you from rice paper paintings. In Peru, His high cheekbones are those of an Inca noble. In Poland, His features are unmistakably Slavic. In northern Europe, His image looks a bit like mine. In Africa, His image looks like many of you. It’s not that any of these images are historically and literally correct. Very likely Jesus the man looked something like your Jewish or your Arab neighbors. It’s not that these images are historically correct; they’re not. But they are spiritually correct. They are spiritually true.
Jesus is our alpha because He identifies with us. It is He, not Santa Claus, who knows what you’ve been thinking, for He knows who we are and what we face. He has been here. He has walked among us. He is like us and yet unlike us. Not a God a way out somewhere in the stratosphere, remote and untouchable. But with us. Among us. Like us. Jesus is our alpha, our prince of peace, for He identifies with us.
Further, Jesus is our alpha, for He teaches a radical new way of life, a way of life which, if we take it seriously, will lead to peace. Jesus is our alpha, our pioneer, for He teaches a way of life like no other teacher who has ever lived.
I am persuaded that the sickness of modern Christianity is that we have not taken seriously the radical demands of our master. When Jesus tells us that if someone strikes us on one cheek, we are to turn the other, we dismiss that as unrealistic idealism. When Jesus teaches us that when that person who is so demanding, so insistent, and we’ve already given him as much as we think he deserves — when he asks for even more, we can’t handle it. We don’t like it. We won’t do it. But Jesus teaches that if any one asks of you your coat, give him your cloak as well. What a radical teacher He is! And we have never really taken Him seriously.
This coming year I hope to lead an outreach that will be second to none into a year of rediscovering Jesus. I want to gain buy-in of all denominations to form a coalition to push the initiatives of the gospel to a degree that gang-bangers and addicts alike would receive the essential Jesus. I hope we will conclude, as did the Temple officers reported in John’s Gospel, “Never man spake like this man.” How true that is! With what matchless insight He probes us and instructs us and leads us! Jesus is our alpha, for He teaches a radical new way of life.
In my desire to help further the gospel of Jesus Christ to a dyeing world I have taken the liberty of starting this blog. There are so many challenges associated with ministry and one can be compelled to stall his or her efforts if not for the help of the holy spirit. It is our work to give to the whole world–to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people–the saving truths of the gospel of reconciliation and to herald the third angels message. But it has been a difficult problem to know how to reach the people in the great centers of population. We are not allowed entrance to the churches. In the cities the large halls are expensive, and in most cases but few will come out to the best halls. We have been spoken against by those who were not acquainted with us. The reasons of our faith are not understood by the people, and we have been regarded as fanatics who are ignorantly looking to the heavens and Jesus Christ for salvation. In this work I have been perplexed to know how to break through the barriers of worldliness and prejudice, and bring before the people the precious truth which means so much to them. The Lord has instructed us that the innovation and culturally sound presentation of His word is one of the most important instrumentalities for the accomplishment of this work.
This outline is for May and I to use to build a culturally sound church community within our vision of Second Chance Alliance. We believe that as much as possible we should infuse our community with the core beliefs of our existence as it is wholesomely apart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some church leaders find planning a formidable exercise. In reality, the planning process is simple —conceptually. It can be described as answering seven key questions:
Spiritual Needs Assessment: What are the greatest spiritual needs of our church and community?
Strengths and Weaknesses: What are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of our church?
Opportunities and Threats or Barriers: What are the most significant ministry opportunities for and potential threats (or barriers) to our church, given the answers to the first two questions?
Ministry Options: What appear to be the most viable options for strengthening the ministry of our church?
Ministry Platform: What is the primary ministry platform on which our specific ministries should be built? Included in the ministry platform are our statement of faith, vision statement, mission statement, philosophy of ministry, and listing of ministries.
Ministry Goals: What goals is the Holy Spirit leading us to strive for to enhance our church’s ministry over the next year? The next two to three years?
Action Steps: What action steps must we accomplish to achieve these goals?
Getting your team to agree on the answers to these questions (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) may or may not be simple, depending on the circumstances and the relationships of leaders in your church. We feel strongly about fellowship with our leaders to gain leverage in togetherness and creating a 360 degree circumference around our team to solidify our ranks. We are compelled to this undertaking by the need to fulfill the Scriptural model of Titus 1:5; to set churches in order through the appointment of godly leadership.
What not to do
In Hemet Ca, where we live, potholes are in abundance on most side roads. Some can be avoided, while others come upon you so quickly they are difficult to miss. On the avenue called planning, it’s important to know the potholes to avoid:
Making Planning Too Complex: There are usually two or three key issues that will be discovered, and, if acted on, will lead to enhanced health and vitality. One church in Covina Ca. narrowed their planning to: (1) revising the organization chart, (2) enhancing community life, and (3) streamlining priorities. When these three issues were named, each ministry team could set goals for day-to-day ministry, based on them.
Not Reaching Conclusions and Making an Action Plan: Tie up loose ends along the way, and outline appropriate action steps.
Not Keeping the Action Plan Simple: One church I worked with had such a long document, with dozens of goals and action steps, that it felt overwhelming and didn’t win approval. The objective is to create a plan that every member can articulate without having to refer to any documentation.
Not Revisiting the Plan: Your plan should be adjustable along the way, revised and renewed according to the needs and resources available to you. Keep your planning documents alive. Don’t shelve them, file them, or formalize them in pretty documents. At Second Chance Alliance, we hold our plans loosely, in a “white paper” format, with lots of room for give and take each step of the way. May and I are learning as we go how to build and implement viable concepts that will help us with the trajectory we desire to get our model off the ground and receive excitement and commitment with buy-in to our visions.
Taking Too Long: Don’t let your planning team tire and begin to complain about the value of doing this. Keep the group moving forward toward conclusion and celebration.
Trusting Your Instincts apart from Prayer: As a team, lean fully in God’s direction to hear his voice, feel his heart, understand his will, and trust his empowering presence to lead you. Strategic planning in a local church or business is a process that God through his Holy Spirit must direct. Become a people of prayer as you trust him for his design for your church!