Discipleship Moment: How to Serve Jesus, Even When You’re Envious of Others

Two Guys

There’s this guy I’ve known for decades. He started his Christian life the same way I did. Like me, he was an angry 60s rebel who met Jesus on the streets during the Jesus Movement revival. Like me, some great men and women of the faith took an interest in his life and taught him how to walk with Jesus. Like me, he felt God’s call to serve Christ in vocational ministry. Like me, he is sold out to the Lord Jesus as a devoted disciple.

Unlike me, he went straight into ministry after his studies at a university. Unlike me, he did not go to seminary and never studied the Bible under esteemed theologians and professors of Bible. Unlike me, his work for Christ has never centered in a local church, but has been more regional, nationwide, and even global.

Though we are both convinced that we are walking the path the Lord Jesus is leading us on, our convictions about how to actually reach the world for Him could not be more different!

• He’s into the big splash, the hottest trends, and the latest evango-hero personality. I hate that stuff.

• He devotes a lot of his life doing “think tank” stuff around a table with other “think-tank guys,” strategizing and planning. I think that’s a waste of time.

• He’s really interested in politics and current trends in America, and how the church can do something big to turn our culture around. I think that politics too often distracts Christians from the only real hope for America—authentic churches that make disciples that transform their families, neighborhoods, and communities.

• He’s a top-down authoritarian leader; I’m a team-processing communal leader.

• He’s the boss; I’m the player-coach.

• He thinks I’m too vulnerable to my team; I think he lives in a dangerous place.

We disagree on a lot of theological issues too!

• He actually practices some gifts of the Holy Spirit I’m not sure are still around.

• He’s not sure Christians can’t lose their salvation; I’m absolutely convinced that eternal life is a free gift that can never be lost.

Oh yeah, he makes a lot more money than I do, doesn’t suffer from a chronic disease, flies away to exotic getaways with his wife several times a year, and his ministry receives huge gifts from extremely wealthy people.

Not that I’m comparing, competing, or envious.

Yes I am.

Don’t tell me you don’t struggle with this too.

Two Gardens

Is there a person like this in your life?

You can’t understand why God gives them opportunities when they disagree with you about so many things. You can’t understand why God doesn’t straighten out their theology when it’s so obvious to you that they are so wrong. And you really have a problem with God giving them such an easy life when you have to struggle like you do.

Here’s what I’ve decided about this guy. You may want to decide the same about the Christian in your life you’re either competing with, comparing yourself to, or envious of.

He has his garden to tend for God, and that is between him and Jesus.

My garden is Church of the Open Door. Jesus wants me to be the best under-gardener I can be in the garden He gave me to tend.

When Peter looked up from the garden of his life and challenged the Lord Jesus about the “easy garden” He gave to John, the Lord told him what we all need to hear:

“If I will that he remain (in a life that doesn’t involve as much suffering as yours) till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” –John 21:22

Question: What strategy helps you when you’re feeling jealous of other people’s gardens?

Discipleship Minute: Jesus’ Impressive Self-Control

The Self-Control of the Son of God

From the time I first met Jesus and read about Him in the Gospels, I’ve been impressed by His self control.

I’m not talking about His ability to somehow throttle His emotions while walking on earth the way the fundies picture Him, all buttoned-down and loafered-up with no excesses.

I’m talking about God controlling Himself in the way Jesus did when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness or when His enemies asked Him for a big rocket across the sky miracle.

If I were God, I’d show those people what for.

I’d turn the whole mountain to bread and then throw it into some lake that I had turned into a bowl of chicken noodle soup. “Okay, Satan, my man, how about that?!”

“Okay you dirty little Galileans. All these miracles you’ve already seen aren’t  enough to convince you? Then how about some fire and brimstone to heat this argument up a little. What do you think of me now?”

That’s what I would of done.

But of course I’m not Jesus. I’m not God in the flesh. I’m not the Friend of Sinners who never gives people what they deserve. He just loves them and lays down His life for them.

Come to think of it, I’m pretty okay with Jesus’ self-control. If He gave me what I deserved, I’d be sunk!

I think there must be a connection between His love for me and His self-control somewhere, but I’m going to leave that to better theologians than I.

I think I’ll just receive His love, jump up and down, and shout about His grace and mercy.

Question: Do you ever find yourself wanting God to give others what they deserve, and then think, “Oh, wait a minute. What if He gave me what I deserve?”

Discipleship Minute: Have you hit your “grace wall” yet?

My last post on why I reject the term “cheap grace” generated a lot of conversation. I loved the interaction, but there was one thread of conversation that bothered me. The comment went something like this, “You can’t tell me that someone who says they are a Christian and then does _________ (fill in the blanks with some horrendous sin) is a Christian. That’s an abuse of grace!” What that tells me is that this person just hit their “grace wall”–the threshold of sinful behavior that they simply cannot believe a true Christian would do. But if certain sinners cannot be Christians, can any of us be sure that we have eternal life? No matter what our theological predisposition is, I’m certain we can all agree that our own sinfulness profile is pretty ugly. The question is: are there some sins that prove someone who claims to be a Christian and still does that sin is deluded by cheap grace? Here are a few reasons why you and I need to be careful when someone we know hits our personal grace wall.

Famous Sinners in the Bible. The Bible offers clear examples of people who were saved but still sinned greatly. Lot’s life was riddled with vile sin, yet the New Testament declares that he was a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7). If we only had the story about his behavior in the Old Testament to judge by, surely he had hit his grace wall. Think about the believers in Ephesus. Paul had led them to Christ and was discipling them. Still, after believing in the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:18 clearly states this), many of them continued their superstitious practices. Finally, near the end of Paul’s ministry there, they gave up their idolatrous ways. Apparently holding on to their evil magic didn’t mean that they had hit a grace wall but that they were in a grace gutter that the blood of Christ was cleansing.

Famous Offers of Eternal Life. Salvation is always through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Even though we should never boast about our faith, it is the absolutely necessary and only way to receive eternal life (John 5:24; 17:3). The New Testament word translated believe or faith means reliance on someone or something. They only way to receive eternal life is to rely on Jesus Christ as the One who made payment for our sin (John 3:16).

Famous Sins in Our Life. If what Jesus said is true and we’re guilty of a sin if we’ve thought it, if what the Bible says is true, and one of the worst sins is sewing discord among the brethren, and if other people saw the sin we’re hoping nobody saw in our own life, then we’ve all hit our grace wall. We’re all sunk!

Famous Hypocrites Who Have Changed Their Mind. I’ve been observing this dynamic for decades. Some high profile Christian is teaching that a certain sin is proof that the person committing it is not saved, and then they do that exact sin. After a time, they conclude that sure enough, Christians like them actually sin in this way. When we run in to our own grace wall, we happily take Jesus by the hand as He helps us over the wall.

Question: Why do you think we’re so preoccupied with why people are on the wrong side of a grace wall rather than offering them our hand to help them over that wall to their destiny in Christ?

Discipleship Minute: Cheap Grace! Really?

I’m convinced that eternal life is a gift freely given to all who believe in Jesus.

Whenever I say this someone will protest, “That’s cheap grace!”

Really?

What’s cheap about an absolutely innocent 33 year-old man in the prime of life walking up a hill with a cross on his bloody shoulders?

What’s cheap about this man who could have called down legions of angels submitting to the Roman soldier who pounded stakes into his limbs?

What’s cheap about this man hanging on that cross while religious people spit on him and shouted insults?

What’s cheap about this man calling out to His Father in heaven to forgive his tormentors?

What’s cheap about this man crying out to His Father that it is finished?

What’s cheap about the tears and wailing of his mother and followers at the foot of that cross?

And what’s cheap about God and His Son, Jesus, agreeing in eternity past that this is what would have to happen if they wanted to express their love and offer their life to sinners?

Discipleship Minute: When I say, “unity,” …

What is your first thought?

If you’re a Christian, your first reaction may be guilt and shame when you read words like these from the lips of Jesus:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-23).

One of the surest signs of how far the church today lives from the New Testament’s emphasis on unity is that most of us read these words as a challenge rather than a comfort.

It’s time to look at them again, as if for the first time and in context!

Imagine you’re one of the disciples living out the drama of that dark night in a room overlooking the dangerous streets of Jerusalem. Jesus begins to tell you things you don’t want to hear and can’t believe. He’s already told you again and again that this is His last trip to Jerusalem with you. He insists that His enemies will kill Him.

Now, as you sit around a table for what should be a Passover celebration, He tells you that some foreboding but familiar Old Testament prophecies concerning Messiah will be fulfilled that night (Mark 14:16-29):

• One of you will betray Him, just as Psalm 41:9 predicted.

• This is your last supper with Him.

• You will be scattered, forsaking Him and one another, fulfilling Zechariah 13:7.

This is the context of Jesus’ emphasis on unity and loving one another in the Upper Room Discourse in John 13-17…

This is why Jesus tells them to love one another.

This is why Jesus begs the Father to make them one.

Why? Because, they will need one another!

Jesus didn’t plead and pray for church unity to challenge and shame us but to bless us—to encourage and comfort us!

Unity is one of Jesus’ primary provisions for His followers in a world full of tribulation.

Your friends, loved ones, Christian disciples, and even you, will face dark days—you will receive bad news that will scare you beyond hope. Your heart will be grieved and life will hurt so bad it takes your breath away.

It’s at that precise time you and the others in your life will need the unity Jesus has been telling you to work on since the day you believed. And that should be one of your first thoughts when it comes to unity.

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12).

Discipleship Minute: Are We Too Rich to Care About Heaven?

“Whatever happened to our hope of heaven?”

That’s the question an aged saint asked of a small group she had joined when a twenty-something Bible student told her he could care less about heaven because, “He was into being the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world.” He was about living for others, not about what He would get someday through some, in his words, “pie-in-the-sky” promises that, again in his words, “medicate the poor and hurting” so that they’ll accept social injustices.

As a Jesus Movement convert of the 60’s, I’d have to own some of this young man’s charge. We were so focused on “getting people to heaven,” we convinced ourselves we could ignore the social insensitivities, the prejudices, and injustices of our day. Wouldn’t want anyone to accuse us of preaching a “social gospel” like the liberals.

However, if I’m reading my Bible correctly, there’s no good hell and no bad heaven. Seems to me this isn’t an either-or but a both-and deal. Believers who ignore the hurting aren’t living out Christ’s love in this world; believers who ignore eternity aren’t living out what He says about the world to come.

One common thread I’ve observed in sincere and godly people so uncomfortable with my passion for the gospel: They often come from upscale neighborhoods, attended schools filled with other affluent students, and have little personal experience with life at the bottom. It’s not their fault that they grew up that way, they just did.

Could it be that at least some of the reason we don’t long for heaven is because we have it so good here?

Phil Yancey says it best, “To believe in future rewards is to believe that the long arm of the Lord bends toward justice, to believe that one day the proud will be overthrown and the humble raised up and the hungry filled with good things. Like a bell tolling from another world, Jesus’ promise of rewards proclaims that no matter how things appear, there is no foundation in evil, only in good.”

What do you think? I sure would love to hear from someone who’s dealing with the meanness of this world as a participant rather than an observer. Does affluence diminish our longing for heaven?

For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly awaits for the revealing of the Sons of God”(Romans 8:20).

Discipleship Minute: Disregarding Unity

The pastor paced the floor screaming out to God. “What did I do wrong? All I ever wanted to do was serve you!”

I had just had breakfast with the chairman of his elder board who had asked me, “Where did we go south on this? All we ever wanted to do was see people come to Christ.”

Church fights, family tensions, embattled ministries, friends at odds—the most discouraging and damaging dynamic in Christianity.

I’ve been around churches and working with church leaders for decades, and I’m convinced that the number one reason church leaders fight isn’t doctrine or philosophy of ministry. Our problem is that in the furious blur of personal and corporate ministry, we begin to neglect our relationships.

I know, it happened to me eighteen years ago.

Judy and I have thought a lot about that painful process, asking ourselves where it all began, what was the first sign of disunity that we should have heeded to. Here’s the condensed wisdom of all that pain and the pain of others we have tried to help:

We created a climate in which we gave ourselves permission to disregard one another.

• Someone expresses their heart and the rest of us give one another that “here she goes again” look. After the meeting we all agree, “She’s just trying to get her way.”

• One family member leaves the room in tears and nobody follows. “We’ve told him over and over he’s just too intense.”

• Two leaders disagree on a finer point of doctrine and begin to view that as the simple explanation for every strain in their relationship, every tear in their unity.

You may not be a church leader, but you are a wife, a husband, a son, a daughter, a friend, a coworker, or part of a ministry team. Whatever you do, don’t give yourself permission to disregard those the Lord Jesus has brought into your life.

It never ends well.

“These things I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:17).

All the Bible, Every Book: Colossians–Christ is Enough!

All the Bible, Every Book: Colossians

Christ is Enough!

Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

All is not well at Colosse. Epaphras, the founder of the Colossian Church, reports to Paul in Rome that a dangerous heresy—saying Jesus is neither central nor supreme—is undermining the work. False teachers were presenting a type of “advanced” spirituality combining spiritual mysticism with legalistic taboos as a way to maturity and perfection. Followers of this “enlightened” philosophy were forming into “elite” groups of spiritual snobs. Their power was growing as they encouraged others to go beyond what they considered the shallow and simple truths the Apostles taught about Christ.

Paul’s response to these deceivers is profound, powerful and persuasive. From his headquarters under house arrest in Rome, their Apostle pens a majestic picture of the Person and work of Christ. He exposes the Colossian heresy for what it is—an immature denial of the reality of Christ’s preeminence in creation, in the church, and in the lives of His followers. “Christ is enough,” warns Paul, “and any teaching which detracts from the centrality of Christ is a perversion that threatens the very essence of our faith. Believers who follow these false teachings will not grow to maturity. And remember, immature Christians do not please Christ!”

The great tragedy of the Colossian heresy is that it appeals to those who want more in their Christian life. The only “more” that will truly satisfy the child of God is more of Christ. Those who seek their “more” beyond Jesus are responding to one of Satan’s oldest strategies. Paul’s exhortation to continue in “the faith” (1:21-23) is just as timely today as it was the day he penned it.

More is not always better; Christ is enough! 

Colossians warns Christians against any teaching that devalues Christ and His work.

… 

Read More »

Discipleship Minute: Mature, Childlike Conversations

Still Want to Live and Serve?

A friend asked me recently if I still wanted him to ask God to “Please let Ed live and serve.”

My response? “Absolutely! Why wouldn’t I want you to continue praying for me?”

He seemed surprised. “But we’ve been praying this for eight years! Isn’t it time to stop asking or at least time to change the prayer a little? Don’t you think,” he wondered, “that God’s tired of hearing the same thing over and over again?”

His comment unmasks a common misconception about prayer: That we should communicate with God in adult ways—trying to figure out what He wants to hear and then making sure that we get it right and don’t bore Him.

PhAInfant QuestioningFace

Welcome to Kindergarten!

When the Lord Jesus taught on prayer, He encouraged His disciples to relate to the Heavenly Father with childlike faith, words, and behavior. His central teaching on prayer, Luke 11:1-13, reads like a kindergarten lesson plan rather than a seminary course.

A childlike request precipitates the teaching, “Lord, teach us to pray” (v 1).

Jesus’ model prayer expresses simple, innocent thoughts to the Father (vv 2-4):

–I wish and cannot wait until you are in charge of everything!

–Until then, please take care of my physical needs and my daily spiritual needs for forgiveness, strength to forgive others, and protect me from temptation and the devil.

The Lord finishes his lesson with two illustrations which adults wonder about but children immediately understand.

–Adults wonder why God is compared to this lousy guy who won’t even get up and help a friend unless he keeps pounding on the door. (5-8) But a child thinks, “Oh, Jesus says that I should just keep on asking until I get my answer.” (Every child knows how to do that…if you don’t think so, take one shopping sometime!)

–Adults try to figure out the nuances and symbolism of the bread that the little boy asks for and the stone that a father wouldn’t offer. And then adults get a little miffed that Jesus calls them evil. We begin thinking, “Hey, I’m a good dad. Why is Jesus calling me evil? I’m not so bad!” But a child just takes the Lord at face value and concludes, “Jesus is saying, ‘don’t be afraid of the answer your Heavenly Father gives you. He knows best how to give you good things.’”

Children Just Ask!

And so, while adults argue over the interpretation and try to figure out God, children just pray and get answers from God.

That’s what I’m looking for—answers! And you would too if you had this disease.

I don’t understand the mystery of prayer, but this I know: The Lord Jesus told me to ask my Loving Father in Heaven for what I want—and I want to live and serve.

It’s been thirteen years since my diagnosis and just yesterday the doctors told me again that I’m the only person with this disease who lives such a normal life! So, to my friend who asked me if I wanted him to keep praying (and to the rest of my faithful friends!), thanks for praying for me—please don’t stop!

And remember, though you and I are adults, we are still just His little children. And with such a kind and generous Father, we should never hesitate to ask again and again for what our hearts desire. We don’t have to be afraid of His answer.

You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).

Question: Why do you think most Christians are afraid to just ask their Heavenly Father for what they want?

Discipleship Minute: The Problem With “Balanced” Teaching

An early lesson God taught me through teaching the Bible to His people was how uncomfortable we are with unresolved tension. He taught me the difference between our minds and His. It was, and still is difficult, because it requires an admission that I can’t explain Him—the same admission I seek from those who wish I would “clarify something” following most of my Sunday sermons.

I had just finished preaching on Jesus’ healing of the demonized boy in Mark 9:14-29. One sentence in bold summarized my thoughts: If you want to follow Jesus, you must learn to fast and pray. An earnest gentleman approached me wearing one of those “I disapprove greatly” faces every pastor knows too well. Before I could greet him, he reminded me of about fourteen other passages, verses, and theological truths that just didn’t seem to fit with what I had just said.


“What about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit? Good nutrition is important!”

“How do you think the overweight people in your congregation felt? You should be more sensitive to your flock!”

“Don’t you think it’s dangerous to tell people this when they might have a health problem? You’re causing sick people to stumble!”

“Did you know that the words ‘and fasting’ aren’t in the NIV or the NASB? You should have told people that before making it the main part of your sermon!”

I turned in my Bible to the passage we had studied. “I know this may be new to you, but fasting was an important spiritual discipline in Jesus’ life and in the early church. It seems clear that this is the lesson He was teaching His disciples here and in Matthew 6:16 Jesus says, ‘When you fast…’ assuming that His followers would. You’ve brought up some accurate and even important biblical and theological truths, but they’re not taught here.”

“Well,” he protested without looking down at the pages of my Bible, “I think you should balance the truth before you just say it!”

I closed my Bible, put my hands on his shoulders, and looked him in the eye. “That’s not what Jesus did. He just said it.”

The problem with totally “balanced” teaching is that if you say everything you say nothing.

If you think Jesus is easy to figure out, you’re reading a different New Testament than mine.

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, will not be tamed.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15).