Discipleship Minute: Lyman Who?

lyman stewart

Just a Businessman?

Most people have never heard of him. The son of a simple tanner, who failed miserably in the oil business in Northwest Pennsylvania before enlisting in Lincoln’s northern army during the Civil War. He then moved to California and became the self-made entrepreneur who built Union Oil into a $50 million company by 1908.

But it wasn’t the rich oil fields that preoccupied Lyman Stewart’s heart; it was the fields rich for the harvest of souls. His vision of and passion for a relevant Gospel witness in Los Angeles catalyzed the founding of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles in 1913 and Church of the Open Door in 1915. That storied partnership that began almost 100 years ago at 6th and Hope Streets in downtown Los Angeles is the heritage we celebrated yesterday as we dedicated our new worship center on our hillside campus in Glendora.

Eloquent Visionary

As we laid the same cornerstone on our campus plaza that he and R. A. Torrey laid downtown in 1913, I read some of his words to our congregation. Lyman Stewart was so much more than an entrepreneur and a philanthropist; he was a passionate follower of Christ who boldly believed God. And, as we discovered from his original typed pages, he was eloquent in his expressions of that devotion:

Like the great apostle to the Gentiles, the Institute in its propaganda will have but one theme—Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Its teaching, therefore, from the standpoint of this world’s wisdom, will be narrow. The inscription upon this corner-stone, “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood,” will ever tell the casual passer-by the sweet, life-giving message of the blood, and remind every believer in Christ of God’s great salvation which His infinite wisdom and love devised and provided, as set forth in the wonderful doctrine of the blood—that “the life**is in the blood,” and that “it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul,” “the precious blood” of our Divinely appointed Substitute, upon Whom the Lord hath laid…the iniquity of us all;” that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission” of sins, and that “God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This is the foundation on which we are building for “other foundation can no man lay than is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Therefore our watchword is and ever will be, “Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood…to Him be glory and dominion forever.”

Wow!

What would have happened if Lyman Stewart would have decided that he was “just a businessman” who should leave the work of the ministry to the “professionals”?

If you’re a Christian, you have everything you need—new life, the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the church—to become your personal version of Lyman Stewart!

Don’t let the so-called professionals tell you that you’re just a businessman or business woman, just a teacher, just a waitress, just a truck driver, just a doctor, just a nurse, just…anything!

The only just before your name should be, just a believer, who received Christ, Who transformed you into a world-changer for Him!

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

Discipleship Minute: It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This!

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It…

…is Christianity—that wondrous offer of God’s life, eternal life, to every man, woman, boy and girl in the history of humanity.

The Bible clearly teaches that God’s eternal plan to rescue creation from sin centers on the focus of His love and care—humanity. His redemptive touch human life is His only strategy. As redeemed individuals gather into redeemed communities that live out the potential of His healing touch, they will manifest His glory to the universe.

The only touch point between God and humanity is the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection released God’s love, making it available to all who will receive it.

This…

…is grace—that breathtaking decision of God to risk the entire future of creation on humanity’s willingness to trust in Him.

Jesus Christ clearly taught that only those who trust in Him will receive God’s life, eternal life. All who refuse to trust in Him and reject His love by insisting that God count their works as worthy will not receive this love.

The only way to receive eternal life is by grace through faith, and the only way to experience the fullness of eternal life in this world and the next is by grace through faith.

And It Doesn’t Get Any Better…

Incredibly, from the very beginning the church has tried to bully people into believing that there is something better than grace!

Church history clearly teaches us that the primary combat zone for the God’s truth is the battlefield of grace. Religion mistrusts grace; always has, always will. Those who embrace their religious lies are trapped by their performance-based communities and doomed to lives of defeat and despair.

Only those who trust Christ gather in grace-based communities that release them to lives only explained by His power and presence.

If “it” (Christianity) gets better than “this” (grace), then it’s no longer Christianity. It’s religion.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Discipleship Minute: Best Advice Ever!

advice_mod

I have received some great advice from some wise and godly people over the years:

“For every dollar you borrow you have to make two to pay it back.” (Dick Caddock, elder in our church in Oregon)

“Crawl up on your Heavenly Father’s lap and tell Him exactly what you want.” (Jo Stone, our former pastor, Ted’s, wife)

“You can never go wrong working hard.” (Bill Sandborg, the Superintendent of my Fulton Hotshots fire crew)

But maybe the best advice I’ve ever read came from the lips of a Jewish mother, a pretty extraordinary Jewish mother—Mary, the mother of Jesus.

It came on the day He let her know that He was about His Father’s business. She had turned to Jesus, her oldest son, to help her in a very real personal crisis. The wedding she was coordinating had run out of wine. This was a huge embarrassment for Mary, a social disaster. So, as she had been doing since her husband Joseph had died, she reported the problem to Jesus.

When Jesus replied that He just couldn’t fulfill this role any more because He was launching His public ministry as the Son of God and Savior of the world, Mary turned to the servants and said, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:5)

Sure enough, when they obeyed Jesus’ command to pour water in the purification water pots, Jesus turned the water into 120 gallons of the finest wine the wedding party had ever tasted!

It’s great advice. If you do what Jesus says, He will turn your water to wine. He will take our heartaches, your fears, your plans and your dreams and transform them according to His purposes…if you do what He says.

What is that one part of your life you would most want Jesus to change? Turn to His word to see what He has said.

And do it!

“Whatever He says to you, do it” (John 2:5).

 

Discipleship Minute: Remembering a Servant of Christ

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I’m fascinated by God’s timing; always have been. His timing often helps me connect the dots between my circumstance and a particular lesson He’s teaching me

One Sunday a few years ago, a study of Mark brought me to chapter 9:30-37, a fascinating conversation between Jesus and His disciples concerning greatness. As they passed through Galilee, Jesus taught them again concerning His impending death and resurrection. This time He added the discouraging news that all of this will happen because someone will betray Him. They didn’t understand; it was just too much for them, and they were afraid to ask Him to explain further.

What they did understand were the prophecies that someday Messiah would rule and reign over His Kingdom on earth. Still clinging to their insistence that Jesus should be that Messiah—the ruling and reigning one, rather than the Messiah He was telling them He was—the One who would first suffer, die, and then rise from the dead, they did what everyone does when they are around someone they think has power and status: They postured for position in His Kingdom. They were about to learn Jesus’ definition of greatness—His radical, counterculture, counter-flesh, measure of greatness in His Kingdom: If you follow Jesus, He will ask you to serve everyone—especially the weak.

It’s an upside-down measure of greatness for most people. It’s not the number of people who serve you that matters to Jesus; it’s the number of people you serve.

On the next Monday I drove to my hometown of Bakersfield, California to officiate at the funeral of a friend’s mom. If you’ve read any of my books, you know the story. Bobby Rader was the friend God used to guide me to Christ. On the night my desperate situation caused me to seek Jesus, I drove to Bobby’s house.

Bobby’s home was a safe place for me. Mrs. Rader had always been kind to me. She hosted our Young Life meetings, invited me in even when Bobby wasn’t home, and always asked the same question when I walked in, “You hungry Eddie?”

Hers was a Christian home. Not because they told everybody they were Christians, but because they lived it out in warm hospitality. Her open home was a powerful witness to Christ to many of us who eventually trusted Christ in the Jesus Movement of the 60s.

Nobody ever served Mrs. Rader. But she served hundreds over the years. Even an angry young man who showed up really late one evening forty years ago to talk with her son about God.

She was a great lady according to Jesus’ definition of greatness.

“If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

Discipleship Minute: What’s Missing?

i can't

A young husband and father with a passion for Christ hung his head as he admitted to me that he just couldn’t lead his family. He wanted to stay at Church of the Open Door. Our unique grace-based culture encouraged the type of truth telling that redeems, releasing Christians to their strengths. He loved it; it was what he was always longed for, and his walk with Christ was thriving.

I Can’t

But it was messy, and his wife wasn’t one for messiness. She had grown up in a button-down, dress-up-for-Jesus church where you put on your very best we-have-it-together-so-don’t-worry-about-us mask every Sunday. When the probing and penetrating grace of God began to expose their stuff, she bolted.

“We’re going back to a real church,” she told him. “A place where people accept us just the way we are!” What her husband and I knew she meant by that was, “A place where people are accepted just as they want people to think they are.”

I told him what he already knew, what we had been talking about for two years. I turned him to passages that clearly taught that God held him accountable for the spiritual well-being of his family, that it was his responsibility to lead them according to his understanding of the Scriptures, and that his love for his wife should be growing her toward authentic maturity in Christ.

He looked up at me and admitted the truth, “I can’t.”

I told him what I really believed at that moment, “Then there’s nothing I can do for you.”

But God Can!

Now I know better. I was limiting myself to what I could do, what I understood about the Scriptures, how I could persuade him to do what the Bible says.

Something was missing, something that should have come first, something we too often overlook.

Something was missing, something we hardly ever forget when we first believe in Jesus, something we overlook when we begin to feel confident in our use of the Scriptures and our Christian skill set.

The same something the overconfident disciples forgot when they were surrounded by enemies and confronted with the dark evil in this world. Before you read on to find out what’s missing from me, turn to Mark 9:14-29. Jesus will tell you what is missing.

If I could do it over again, I would say, “There is a hurt, a deep wound in your bride’s life that has left her so afraid, so unsettled, so suspicious, that she can’t trust grace—from us, from you, but most importantly from God. I don’t know what that is, but God does. You go home right now and tell her, ‘Honey, before we give up on this, please let me lead you in this way: Pray with me, fast with me. Will you trust God and me enough to do that? To fast and pray before His throne of grace? Let’s stop eating, shift our focus away from our physical need to our spiritual need, and get on our knees. Together, let’s beg Him to heal us, to make us one, to give us hope that we can move forward together in Christ.’”

Ask Him!

Would you have to admit that fasting and praying is missing from your walk with Christ? What do you want God to do? Ask Him. Do away with the distraction of food as you kneel at His throne of grace. Fast and pray.

“This kind comes out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” –Jesus Christ, Mark 9:29

Discipleship Minute: Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?

The Ongoing Christmas Wars

During Christmas 2005 a war erupted in the United States and it’s a battle that continues to rage today—the greeting wars between Christian associations and American retailers.

There are many who encouraged followers to protest against or even boycott retailers who referred to the festivities and events of December as “holidays” rather than “Christmas” in the name of political correctness.

Giant retailers—Lowes, Wal-Mart, Sears, Home Depot, and Costco—and many smaller chains had begun this trend in 1997, regarding November through January as both Jewish and Christian holidays in the U.S. State and local governments have joined in the fight on both sides. This year, the war is hotter than ever in battles and skirmishes like the one raging over Washington’s governor allowing an atheist sign to be placed near a Nativity scene.

It would break my heart if America bowed to these pressures and our culture took one more step toward erasing my Savior’s impact on the world and our nation. What a shame it would be if the name of Christ dropped from this celebration of His birth. What a tragedy it would be if we lost this wonderful opportunity to tell the world about our Savior and why He came.

And yet, I have to ask myself, “What are we doing with the opportunities we have today?”

Missed Opportunity?

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bible.cod: Hosea–God’s Loyal Love

bible.cod: Hosea

God’s Loyal Love

I will heal their waywardness and love them freely (Hosea 14:4).

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

Hosea’s prophetic career began near the end of a time of great economic prosperity and military success for both Israel and Judah. His primary ministry was to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of her greatest king, Jeroboam II. However, Assyrian influence began to strengthen under Tiglath-pileser III, who conquered Israel in 722 B.C. The reigns of Israel’s last five illegitimate kings (usurpers to the throne of the line of Jehu, 2 Kings 10:30; 15:12) were short-lived and confused. Chaos and weakness characterized these last years of the northern kingdom. Still, her people refused to heed Hosea’s warning of imminent judgment. The people were in a spiritual daze, filled with sin and idolatry. Hosea’s ministry to Israel parallels the coming ministry of Jeremiah to the southern kingdom of Judah. Like Jeremiah, Hosea relates God’s deep sorrow over the state of the people and the nation He loves. Israel is God’s silly dove (7:11) refusing to repent (4:1), and it breaks God’s heart to discipline her (chapter 11).

The personal tragedy of a marital unfaithfulness becomes a powerful illustration of the greater tragedy of a nation in rebellion against her God. It’s a story of loyal love—between the prophet Hosea and his adulterous wife, Gomer, and between God and His idolatrous people, Israel. Just as Gomer breaks Hosea’s heart by playing the harlot, Israel breaks the heart of her God as she spurns His love. But unconditional love is the theme: Just as Hosea buys his wife out of slavery, God will redeem and restore His people—after a time of purifying punishment. Unconditional love keeps seeking even after it is rejected. Hosea, whose name means salvation, is a prophet from the northern kingdom of Israel, often called Ephraim because that was the dominant tribe in the north as Judah was in the south. He writes with the detail and passion of a native eyewitness to the demise of Israel. “In no prophet is the love of God more clearly demarcated and illustrated than in Hosea” (Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 197).

Hosea was written to encourage the adulterous northern kingdom to repent by demonstrating God’s loyal love for His people in Hosea’s marriage and his message. God passionately pursues His unfaithful people. Though His loyal love never ignores unfaithfulness (chapter 3), He never abandons nor stops pursuing the unfaithful (5:14-6:1):

Hosea: The Lord’s loyal love never stops pursuing those who are His!

“The great illustration of how committed God is to His people is how He instructed Hosea to relate to his unfaithful wife. The Lord will not forsake those with whom He has joined in covenant commitment even if they become unfaithful to Him repeatedly. He will be patient with them and eventually save them (11:1-4; 14)” (Tom Constable, Hosea, p. 4).

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Discipleship Minute: You Made the Difference! Not Really…

You Did It!

A few years ago Judy and I sat in our dining room with a couple that had been part of a church we had pastored. She was dying of cancer and he was taking her on her “farewell tour.” As you might imagine, it was an emotional evening.

During one of Judy’s special “you’re important to us” meals, I couldn’t help thinking about the first time we met them. They had just moved to our part of the country to get away from Southern California. Both were pretty much fed up with church, but they saw and heard things in our fellowship that encouraged them to give church one more try. I remembered the men and women who discipled them, and their eventual joy in actually being used by God.

And now, here they were, back in Southern California, sitting around our table. The church both of us had held so dear had imploded and scattered the sheep. Judy and I had moved on with our lives here at Church of the Open Door, but they seemed stuck in their “Ed and Judy” memories.

“It hasn’t been the same since you left. You’re just so special. If it weren’t for you two, we would never have come back to the Lord.”

“We’re trying to find a new church, but nothing measures up. Ed, we miss your preaching. There won’t be another church like we had back then.”

“You two made the difference in our lives.”

No I Didn’t…

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I had to interrupt them with a pretty disruptive, “Not really!”

And then I reminded them of the One who really made the difference in their lives. It wasn’t my preaching, Judy’s warmth and charm, the disciplers in their lives, or even the exciting church that sadly fell apart.

It was Someone else.

His name is Jesus.

Do you find yourself living in the past or giving credit to mere men and women for what Christ has done in your life?

Maybe it’s time to move on with the One who makes all the difference.

His name is Jesus.

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” -Jesus Christ, Hebrews 13:5

Discipleship Minute: Two Classes of Christians

Before you get all, “What do you mean two classes of Christians, we’re all one in Christ?” on me, read 1 Corinthians 2:15-3:4 and Hebrews 5:13-14.

These passages introduce us to two types of Christians–babies and grownups. Notice that the difference has little to do with how long you’ve been a believer!

Paul’s Scolding: Grow Up

Baby Paul’s fed up with the infantile Corinthians. After all this time and with all these spiritual benefits, they should be chewing on the deep truths of God’s Word. Instead, they can only suck down the same baby formulas that sustained them at birth.

 

Paul’s Contrast: Babes and Grownups

Were you able to pick out the differences between grownup Christians and babies? Babes are so dominated by fleshly desires that they have trouble thinking biblically.

They’re unstable and easily discouraged.

Their immaturity is most apparent in their divisive behavior: Babes love a fight and have to have their way in a church.

Grownups are dominated by the Spirit’s desires so that they develop discernment, based on God’s Word.

Their confidence in God is unshakeable.

They demonstrate their maturity in a church by giving up their rights.

Look Around You

Does this change the way you view the people in your church? It should. It’s not how long someone has been a Christian or how many generations they have been at a church that makes him or her someone you should listen to. It’s how grown up they are in Christ.

And the surest indicator of a baby”s heart is a demanding spirit. When we let the babies have their way, our churches look more like chaotic playgrounds without adult supervision. The bullies rule and he or she who screams loudest gets the most attention.

Until a church stands up to the bullies and tells the screaming toddlers to shut up, it’s an unsafe climate for spiritual growth.

Look In the Mirror

How about you? Do you need to grow up? Before you answer no. Ask someone close to you-your spouse, your children, your friends. The choice is clear. We can either stay on the bottle of self-centered behaviors or start chewing on the solid food of selfless, Christlike, Spirit-powered, Bible informed truths of life.

So what will it be? Grow or no?

For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:13-14).

Discipleship Minute: On the Shoulders of Nobodies!

Two guys in a remote corner of the world nobody notices take a walk with a man whom their friend had barely introduced to them the day before. One of them hurries on ahead to tell his brother about this man. On their way to an even more obscure place with this man, two more join their group—that makes five followers and one leader.

You can read the story in John 1:29-51. If you’re careful to read it with honest eyes and discipline to stop your mind from running ahead of the familiar story, it’s pretty incredible. A small group of unimpressive men who had been following a weirdo named John, are now walking the trail north to Galilee with a young upstart from Nazareth.

If you were a church growth expert selling books today, you would have to reprimand the Son of Man for His naiveté. “This is no way to start a church! You’re heading in the wrong direction with the wrong type of people. No one’s going to listen to these unimpressive guys! Hurry, before it’s too late; turn back to Jerusalem. Our studies show that those neighborhoods are far more ready for religious teaching. You have no money, no reputation…you don’t even have a place to sleep!”

Jesus started the church in the same way God always does His greatest work—surprisingly humble and everyday. God delights in turning history on unnoticed events and founding His greatest works on the shoulders of insignificant people.

God’s beginnings never make the evening news or the front pages of the papers. Every time He does something big the religious experts and learned prognosticators of the day miss it. I’m pretty sure that whatever Jesus is doing today has very little to do with what they’re talking about on CNN, MSNBC, or FOX News.

I wonder if it has that much to do with what we’re talking about in the Christian community? Church history answers that question with a painfully honest, “Probably not.”

Jesus is always doing something, but it’s rarely what we think He’s doing.

So the next time some Christian leader tries to scare you with “alarming trends” in society, impress you with the latest “can’t miss” theory on the spiritual life or convince you to get on board with “the biggest thing” God is doing right now, remember the humble beginnings of the church.

Five men nobody knew walking on a road to nowhere important with a Carpenter from Nazareth nobody had heard of, walking toward a destiny greater than the Roman Emperor.

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, The Message)