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…

jesus_nazareth1

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)

Discipleship Minute: Fearful Deliverance!

Respect?

As a new Christian I didn’t like the idea of fearing God. It didn’t seem right that this same Jesus who came to earth to die for my sins was Someone I needed to be afraid of. When I asked about this, everyone said, “Oh, that doesn’t mean that we should be afraid of God. It just means that we should respect Him.”

Each time I read “fear” I would think “respect.” But I wondered why it was only that word that people told me to change. If the Greek or Hebrew word was “respect,” why did the translators insist on using “fear”? I didn’t like changing a word in my Bible just because it made me feel uncomfortable.

No, Fear!

Today, when I read “fear” in my Bible I think “fear.” And it’s not because I’ve learned Greek and Hebrew and I now know that the original word was indeed fear and the translators were right. It’s because I not only respect God, I’m afraid of Him.

Just like the disciples were afraid of Jesus when they began to understand what it really meant to be in a personal relationship with God in the flesh:

  • It scares me that He is so sure of Himself that He refuses to be controlled by my desires and wishes.
  • It scares me that He is so purposeful that He refuses to be swayed by popular opinion or political correctness.
  • It scares me that He is so powerful that He could take me out whenever He wants.
  • It scares me that He is so devoted to my children’s spiritual maturity that He doesn’t consult me concerning the easiest and safest path for their lives.
  • It scares me that He is willing to do anything, even inflict pain, to draw my loved ones, my friends, and me closer to Him.

But Also, Comfort…

And then, just when His power and purposes begin to intimidate me to the point that I want to draw away, I realize that these are the same reasons why I need Him so. And I’m comforted.

  • It comforts me to know that He ignores the stupid parts of my plans for my life and just goes ahead and does what He wants.
  • It comforts me to know that He never considers opinion polls or popular trends; He just does what is right.
  • It comforts me that He is the one who will take me out of this life in His perfect time and in His perfect way–my end on earth will not be a random event determined by chemistry or physics.
  • It comforts me that He cares more for my children’s eternal well-being than He does for their temporary pleasant and prosperous circumstance.
  • It comforts me to know that there is Someone perfectly reliable and strong who, more than anything else, wants intimacy with me and those I love. And, that He is willing and able to do whatever it takes to achieve His goal.

So what are you reading, fear or respect? You need to respect God, but you also need a God you can fear. The only Deliverer who can meet your deepest needs.

“He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them!” (Psalm 145:19)

Discipleship Minute: The December Question

not-stupid

Stupid Choices!

I don’t know what it is about December that causes Christians to make bad decisions.

Maybe it’s the realization that not much has really changed over the last 11 months. Most of our problems have not gone away; in fact some of them have become worse. Most of our goals and resolutions from last January never happened.

Maybe it’s the realization that a lot of the things we didn’t want to change last year did… the loved one who died; the marriage that failed, or the friends that moved away.

Maybe it’s the myth that we really can medicate all of these hurts and disappointments by providing for and experiencing a “perfect Christmas”—the new Lexus in the driveway, the trip to Hawaii, the perfect tree, or a room full of presents on Christmas morning.

Whatever it is, we sure make some stupid choices:

• We decide that this is the month that our body isn’t really the temple of the Holy Spirit, so it’s okay to put our health on hold as we consume massive amounts of food. Then we plan on “working hard” to burn calories after the holidays in a world where most people are desperately trying to find enough calories to stay alive.

• We decide that this is the month that God just hasn’t provided enough money, so it’s okay to buy stuff we really can’t afford. Then we plan on “paying off the charge cards” after the holidays in a world where every church or missionary we know desperately needs funds to tell others about the One whose birth we celebrate this month.

• We decide that this is the perfect month to “make that big change” in life we’re convinced will make us happier next year—buy a new house, remodel the home we have, go to a new church, go back to our old church, move to a new city, change careers, get married, get a new set of friends, get a pet, get rid of the pet…

Not Joshua!

This is why the first week of December is the perfect week to read Joshua, chapter 9. Right in the middle of his campaign to conquer Israel, Joshua rashly entered into a treaty with the Gibeonites—a treaty that would haunt Israel for centuries.

The Gibeonites deceived Joshua and his leaders. Their mistake, however, wasn’t that they believed the lie of the enemy. Their mistake was failing to consult with their God.

“But they did not ask counsel of the Lord. So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them to let them live; and the rulers of the congregation swore to them” (Joshua 9:14-15).

I’m going to think of that verse every time I feel the pressures of the month moving me toward one of those “December treaties” with my baser appetites and desires…

…before I make that second turkey sandwich or grab that next peanut butter ball from the tray.

…before I pull out that charge card or click “buy now” online.

…before I conclude that there’s just one change I can make while it’s still 2012 that will make me happier in 2013 and beyond.

Before any “end-of-the-year” decisions, I’m going to think about Joshua and my own need to consult with the Lord Jesus.

It’s a simple “December question” that will protect us from a lot of painful consequences in 2013 and beyond: “Lord Jesus, I want to know what you think about this…should I, or shouldn’t I?”

Discipleship Minute: Apollos and Me

Trying To Measure Up?

When I read about some of the people in Scripture, I think, “I’d love to hang out with him. He seems like the kind of guy I’d like to serve on some ministry team with. If he were alive today, we might even be friends.”

Peter is one of those guys. David is another. Talented guys with a lot of flaws. Men with a lot of passion who mess up quite regularly. I could picture going backpacking with Peter or David—sitting around the campfire telling jokes, laughing, talking less about ourselves and more about the Lord late into the night. I’d feel comfortable with either one of them.

Then there are those others, the ones I think would intimidate me, or make me feel shallow. Joseph is the first one I think of from the Old Testament. Perfect Joseph. How’d you like to sit around a campfire with him talking about his visions, and how he always runs from temptation, and how he was his father’s favorite, and how he did everything perfectly in prison, and how God made him Prime Minister? I’d probably turn in early, go to my tent, and shame!

In the New Testament, it’s Apollos. Listen to the way Luke introduces him:

“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord…” (Acts 18:24-25).

How would you like to be on a ministry team with that guy? I can just picture it. Apollos stands before the crowd, wows them with his eloquence, and says profound and mighty things about the Bible I never even thought of. Then he says, “And now, here’s my partner, Ed Underwood. Ed’s from Bakersfield, California, and he…, and…, he’s a good guy.”

I stand up and do what I usually do. Make up a few new words like “sacrificiously,” talk too long, and go over the top with demonstrative passion that embarrasses my family. I walk back to my seat wondering:

“Did I spit on the people in the first row?”

“Why did those three people leave in the middle of my talk?”

“I didn’t accidentally say something inappropriate, did I?”

As I take my seat next to Apollos, he smiles reassuringly and says something to make me feel better. What he doesn’t realize is that these few kind sentences in private remind me once again that he thinks of things and says things, (even when he’s not trying!), that are better than the things I think and say on my best day.

The truth is that I have a lot of real-life Apolloses that I’m never going to measure up to.

And so do you. You’re thinking of them right now, aren’t you?

Who’s Your Apollos?

Here’s what you and I can do. It’s right there in the verses describing Apollos. We might not be eloquent and mighty in speech, but we can be fervent in spirit and speak and teach the things of the Lord accuratelyFervent in spirit, or literally “boiling over in spirit” means being full of enthusiasm. And of course, accurately means, well, accurately.

God’s not asking us to measure up to the Apolloses in our lives. He’s just asking us to study His word and teach it accurately, and to live full of enthusiasm for the Lord Jesus.

If we’re doing that, He’s okay with us making up a word or two along the way. Maybe He even smiles when a guy from Bakersfield encourages people to give “sacrificiously.”

Discipleship Minute: Not What I Expected

Nobody Gets That!

A young Bible School graduate marched into my office and announced, “I’m through with God. This isn’t at all what I expected my life to look like. So I just wanted you to know that I won’t be doing anything at church anymore!”

Before I had a chance to respond, he explained his decision, careful to emphatically count off each of his supporting points on the fingers of his left hand. “I’ve been out of school for two years. I prayed for a wife, and I don’t have one yet. I prayed for a full-time position in a church, and I don’t have one yet. If I would have known that God wasn’t going to let me do these things, I could have gone to a regular college and studied engineering. I’d be making a lot of money right now.”

After he calmed down, I jolted him with my answer: “Nobody gets that.”

He shot back. “Nobody gets what?”

“What they expected.” He seemed bewildered.

I knew I could prove my point from Scripture, but I decided to tell him stories instead.

Living Proof

I told him about some of the ladies in my wife, Judy’s His Alone class who did everything “right” but have to move on without a husband because he decided he would be much “happier” with a new wife and family.

I told him about a friend who teaches at a seminary who lives with a disease that randomly confines him to a wheel chair and sometimes even threatens his life.

I told him about the dedicated Christian couple whose only daughter was born with such a severe birth defect that in the precious few months they had with her this side of heaven she never smiled…never acknowledged their presence in the ways most mommies and daddies long for.

I told him stories for ten minutes.

Expectations, or God’s Best?

And then I told him how the Lord used each of these disappointments and tragedies to transform not only the ones suffering through the pain, but also those who were watching.

We talked. He cried. By the end of our time together, he was able to hear what I wanted to tell him when he first walked in. “It’s not what you’re expecting God to do that matters, it’s what He wants to do. Once you get that straight, you are ready to receive His very best for your life–both the expected and the unexpected.”

“For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:3-4, New Living Translation).

Discipleship Minute: Stop Recycling!

Same Old Garbage

Every Sunday evening I fill a gray recycle bin with assorted cardboard boxes, empty bottles, crushed beverage cans and other stuff they tell me I shouldn’t throw away. Just before I close the lid and wheel it to the curb I notice that the contents look just like the junk I put in there last week. There’s something about the rhythm of the Underwood household that produces the same garbage, day in and day out, week in and week out, every month, every year.

I’m okay with that, as long as it’s only physical garbage that’s stinking up our lives.

But Not the Same Old Life!

What I don’t want to recycle is the spiritual rubble of my soul–my sin. There are some things I just want to throw in the bin and roll it to the curb, never to return. Like my threatened male ego, my need to be right, my selfish ambition, my insensitivities to Judy….

This is what I love about being a Christian. The Lord Jesus set me free from the most garbage-filled person in my life–me! I don’t have to deal with the same old garbage every week because I’m not who I use to be before I met Jesus. I’m a brand new person with brand new power that is stronger than my temptations, failures, and weaknesses.

And Still Not Finished…

I wouldn’t want you to think that my garbage bin is ever empty. The more I get to know Jesus, the more junk He tells me belongs in the bin. But the wonderful truth is that I don’t need to recycle. The more I trust Jesus, the more stuff He cycles out of my life.

The next time you fill your recycle bin with the useless junk your life produces, think about the useless stuff in your heart Jesus wants you to stop recycling. And make the choice to trust Jesus and His power to deliver you from that sin. Or better yet, stop recycling right now, by asking Him for help.

Lord Jesus, I’m tired of living this way. I’ve been ignoring your power too long. Please help me. I’m going to trust you more today by confessing that this is wrong. And then, before I have time to change my mind or hide again, I’m going to tell someone who loves me about my problem. I feel safe with you, Lord. Help me feel safe enough to trust others with this. Show me how your love and their’s can protect me and deliver me from this sin.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

Discipleship Minute: Our King Is Coming

Prophecy Matters

A new couple asked me after church, “Do you ever teach on prophecy?”

“Well, yes”, I answered. “Why?”

They explained that they haven’t heard a sermon on prophecy for years.

That made me sad, because it’s true. In this age where church is all about growth and trendy issues, many pastors feel that their people just aren’t “ready” for prophecy. I think that’s a terrible miscalculation.

It’s impossible to separate the explosive growth of the Church in Acts from its prophetic hope. The early Christians who turned the world upside down for Christ hoped in Jesus’ coming. They did not believe their world would ever get better apart from the resurrection power of Jesus. They did believe that they were a part of God’s ultimate rescue of their world in Christ. Paul said that he endured the suffering of serving Christ in this present time because he knew that the Church is part of God’s glorious plans for the future—the glory to come when all that creation groans for and all that we experience in the delivering power of Christ’s resurrection will be realized (Romans 8:18-25). They knew that Jesus would finally secure all that He accomplished through His cross and resurrection—the redemption and renewal of all that He created—when He returned. The early Church prayed constantly for and looked forward to the return of Jesus.

They knew their King was coming.

It is impossible to separate God’s message in His Word from its offer of prophetic hope. One fourth of the Bible was prophetic when it was written. Surely God meant for us to look into the future with eyes of hope, knowing His good plans and redemptive purposes for humanity and for the universe. Although Christians can’t agree on all the details, our common faith in a rock-hard hope for the future should never diminish. Unlike heathen religions, Christianity’s hope is brilliant and plain—we will not always feel the way we feel today and this world will not always be the way it is now. The life to come is better than this life and the world to come is better than the one we live in today.

The Bible says that our King is coming.

It Mattered to Us…and to You!

And it’s impossible for me to separate our zeal for Christ in the Jesus Movement of the sixties from our prophetic hope. I can’t know exactly how God used prophetic hope in the return of Jesus to fuel other revivals, but I do know how He used it in ours. He restored our belief in the purpose of life on earth, emboldened us with a confidence we had never before known, and burdened us with an urgency to tell others about Christ because our King was coming!

If you’re a Christian, your King is coming. And He’s given you a lot of indicators that He’s coming soon. Do you know the signs of His coming? You should!

Here are a few of my favorite prophecy passages you may want to look at for some encouragement: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11; Revelation 3:11; 22:7, 12).

“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.” –Jesus Christ, Revelation 22:12

Discipleship Minute: Saturday Morning Thoughts On Black Friday

The Perfect Title

Rarely do the media get something right from a biblical perspective. Usually, what pop culture calls good, the Bible calls bad; and if the Bible says it’s bad, pop culture exalts it as good.

But the popular title for the day after Thanksgiving is biblically precise:

Black Friday

For it is the Friday after Thanksgiving when the dark night of the soul of our materialistic culture asserts its true allegiance, unashamedly worships its true god.

Here’s the Saturday morning headline from a few years ago:

Black Friday madness: Shopper pepper sprays crowd to get deal at L.A. Wal-Mart, shootings in CA, SC Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/black-friday-madness-shopper-pepper-sprays-crowd-deal-a-wal-mart-shootings-ca-sc-article-1.982565#ixzz1epW5gq6E)

How else do you explain such bizarre behavior?

It’s idolatry.

And like all idolatry, it exposes the emptiness of life without Christ.

We’re raising a generation of idolators in homes where no one talks, but everyone has a screen to relate to. Junior’s in one room dedicating his life to the life-critical skill of flying angry birds to their objectives. Sister sits in another room texting her love and devotion to the latest pimple faced heart throb of her personal high school musical subculture. Mom’s trolling Facebook. This is all fine with dad because he has to get his fantasy team set so that he can compete in a league that only he and a handful of fellow fantasy players will remember…for about two weeks.

But, they gather often at the throne of the screen that really counts: The screen that presents pages and pages of the “stuff” they may want to buy. No, the stuff they must buy. No, the stuff they have to have. And the stuff they will get.

Even if they can’t afford it.

Even if someone else gets there first.

That’s why mom carries that pepper spray.