Christian Living

Living the Gospel Physically

Permissiveness prevails in the church today. Obedience is mostly viewed spiritually, rarely physically manifesting itself.

It’s almost a foreign concept today that walking with Jesus would mean be tied to physical obedience. We’ve cheapened a relationship with Jesus down to the point where we aren’t really asking new followers of Jesus to do anything more than raise their hand or bow their head. If we are honest with ourselves, most of our churches expect little more of congregants than to show up and write checks to fund the church.

We want to prosper but we don’t want to sacrifice.

Maybe, just maybe, a walk with Jesus is supposed to be as physical as it is spiritual? In other words, we lie to people by reshaping the Gospel around what Jesus can do for them. More importantly, we lie to ourselves when we walk with Jesus safely and justify our safe-walk with Jesus with cultural answers to Scriptural truths.

Allow me to show you three examples of extreme physical obedience to God.

#1 Give it all away – Acts 2

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

I hear Christians say all the time, “If we could just go back to the way it was in Acts 2, the church would grow.” I agree. Let’s start by selling all your property and possessions and lets live together in a community where we share it all.

“Well, well, well… that’s too extreme. This is the modern age. We couldn’t just do that anymore.” If it’s so extreme why did the Holy Spirit inspire Luke to write it down in Acts?

Lesson #1 – Physical obedience to God may be risky to your possessions.

#2 Move somewhere unsafe – Nehemiah 2

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”

I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” Nehemiah 2:17-20

There’s nothing wrong with living in the suburbs. But if God has called you to the city you are going to have to deal with city realities. You are probably going to have to send your kids to “those schools” and live in “that neighborhood” and you might have to deal with “those people.” If God called you to it, than He has declared to you that  those schools are His schools, that neighborhood is His neighborhood and those people are His people.

But, it’s my responsibility to make sure my family is safe and my kids get the best education they can.” Actually, that is crappy practical theology. There is no where safer for your family than in obedience to His will. And there is no better education you can offer your kids than your obedience.

Lesson #2 – Physical obedience to God redefines what it means to be safe.

#3 Cut it off – Genesis 17

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14

Let’s be blunt here. As a pastor, I had a hard time getting people to show up for Spring clean-up. How do you think it’d go if I stood up on Sunday after my message and said, “If you are ready to walk with Jesus in obedience to what you just heard, and you are a male, please stay after the service today. We are going to cut off some skin from your penis as a symbol of your commitment. Doing this won’t save you, but it will show God that you are serious. Not the whole thing, just a little bit of skin.

Done. Empty church. No need to vote, I’d be fired! There are news trucks in front of my house by the time I get back from Applebees. The byline of the story would probably call me the perverted penis pastor or something like that. There would be talk shows on CNN accusing me of being a cult leader. Congregants would line up to talk to Katie Couric, “He’s a nice guy and we love him as our pastor. He was always trying to get us to be dedicated to walking with Jesus, but it was just too far to make it some sort of physical thing.

And yet, this is exactly what God told Abraham to do. You want to be God’s people? Let’s seal the deal by making it personal. Line up every male and prove you are serious about this covenant. We’re not talking about taking off a digit of your pinky. We’re talking about cutting part of your penis off! As a Bible college student we were studying this passage and I raised my hand to ask a question. “I’m not trying to be smart. But do you think God gave Abraham some sort of instruction manual with this? I mean, how did he know if he cut enough off? And… who do you think went first?

I have a feeling Abraham went first. He was a leader… so he lead the men somewhere they were unwilling to go on their own.

Lesson #3 – Physical obedience to God is a personal, willful sacrifice.

Discussion questions:

  • Gut check. All excuses aside, how are you doing at physical obedience to Jesus?
  • What does Scripture reveal to me about what I need to do to physically live out the Gospel in my life?
  • What are some first steps of obedience?
  • What does this have to do with living in community?
Church Leadership

Moving towards the polite middle

As I think about the church and the 5%-10% of people we reach in the community I wonder where we fall on the bell curve.

Something tells me that it looks a little like this.

I wonder if the positions we take attracts, appeals to, and connects a certain type of people? And I wonder if church leaders are going for the sucker pin of thinking of going more conservative (politically/socially/by American cultural definitions) or more liberal is going to lead to growth in their congregation? However, this is counter to what we know about behavior from the bell curve. This just means that to attract more people “like us” we need to have a wider reach and draw people from a larger and larger geographic area.

Sidebar: Now, immediately I have some people who will read this upset because they don’t really like my labels. And they especially don’t like that I’ve lumped nearly all churches into two categories. And some are going to be quick to point out ways that their church is neither liberal nor conservative. That’s OK. This is just some generalization and hyperbole to make a point.

Here’s my neighborhood on the bell curve. Again, full of hyperbole and generality.

Our neighborhood is not unlike any other urban or suburban neighborhood I’ve lived in. We have our cooky people on the fringes, we have our people who are just a little bit political, but who will quickly drop it for the sake of community… and we have the vast majority of people who probably have some personal opinions but just want the neighborhood to be a nice place to live, are willing to politely disagree on some stuff, and otherwise would rather be defined by their neighborliness than their political leanings.

Think strategically church leader!

Instead of trying to out-conservative or out-liberal ourselves, where we will find decreasing populations and have to incur the expense of widening our reach, the reality is that reaching the majority of the population will come as we lay aside our ideals and move towards the middle.

As Stephen Phelan, my pastor, put it yesterday– The two extremes will come together when we focus on a common mission. For instance, if we focus on feeding and housing the poor, both extremes agree that we should do it for their own ideologies, and people in the middle are just happy to participate in something cool. The happy middle will agree to be a part of it because everyone knows it’s good to take care of the poor in your community.

For example. I’m an egalitarian. I would love to see more women in the pulpit. And I’ve turned down positions on boards that were all male with the exception that I’d join the board if they moved towards 50% board membership by females. But I go, love, and support a church in my neighborhood that is PCA. (Which doesn’t allow women to preach or hold pastoral roles.) How do I deal with that contradiction between what I believe the Bible teaches about women and the church I attend? It’s easy… I’m in love with the mission of our church! Just like we overlook the flaws of our spouse because of our love, so I overlook this disagreement because of my love for the church. While I disagree with that one position, I am in full agreement with their strategy to reach our community and I love the staff as brothers and sisters in Christ. That over-powers my personal preferences.

How to reach more people

If you want to grow, from a population standpoint, you need to better represent your zip code and move to the middle. To do  this, you’ll need to take a sober judgement of your congregation. Walk around the place with centrist eyes. Ask yourself, “What is in this building that could be offensive to the general population? What would make people feel uncomfortable? What would make them feel like they didn’t fit in?

Over the past few months people have approached me and said that I present both radical and simple ideas… that their church would never go for. The reality is this: Move to the middle to find growth and those naysayer voices will be overcome by the reality of your strategy. Focus on what we all know to be true… Jesus called the church to be good news to the neighborhood. It’s a centrist position that only feels extreme to people on the extremes scared to be pulled towards the middle!

To move towards the middle you may need to realize that your leadership might just be on the leading edge one way or the other. That doesn’t mean that they can’t hold those positions. But it might mean that they can’t represent those personal convictions on behalf of the church.

Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

Making the Bible Accessible

“The Bible isn’t for people outside of the church to understand. So it isn’t your place to make the Gospel accessible.

That may be the dumbest quote I’ve ever heard in relation to using sound missiological principles to reach a dead and dying people group. And yet, this quote apparently came from the mouths of smart, biblically authoritative evangelicals upset with the work of a young leader.

Just so people know: This isn’t the position of middle-of-the-road evangelicals. It’s not even the position of anyone reasonably conservative in the evangelical world. It’s a radically fundamentalist position which denies the very presuppositions of evangelicalism!

History counters this statement: The evangelical missions movement of the 19th and 20th century saw hundreds of thousands give their lives in work and thousands more give their lives as martyrs making the Gospel accessible to unreached people groups. Such a statement slaps those people in the face.

Such a statement devalues the activity of nearly every evangelical in their daily workplace. It denies the action of church planting. It denies the the very notion that we, as believers, can impact the Kingdom with our actions.

In short– its not an orthodox position. We must rally behind those who are reaching the lost!

It is our job, as believers, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, to bring the Bible to the lost and see the Gospel renew the people and their land. (Ephesians 2:10)

The statement above is why the church needs a change in leadership. We need people with level heads who are smart, savvy, and reasonable. Those holding extreme positions are not bad people. They just shouldn’t be in authority.

Middle-of-the-road evangelicals are tired of culture wars. We are longing for fresh voices and fresh leadership. We simply want to right wrongs, reach the lost, and love their neighbors. (All in the name of Jesus, under the power of Jesus, and for the purpose of making Jesus known) We will continue to distance ourselves from extremist.

While extremists lament and pontificate, we will continue to reaching the lost, righting wrongs, and loving our neighbors.

People at high levels who say/think/perpetrate these thoughts devalue the entire purpose of the Gospel in order to protect their own self-interests. At the end of the day, that’s what the statement must be about. Protecting their self-interests. The statement isn’t true and doesn’t represent the tenants of our movement— so to say such a thing reveals that they are putting their own interests above all else.

The lesson is– if you take a stand for truth you must be willing to stand up against the religious establishment, and continue to speak the truth in love despite their sneers and allegations of heresy.

Today is no different than the time of John Wycliffe, who died shunned by the religious establishment.

Sadly, shunning is part of reforming.

For those who are bringing fresh wind into the sails of the movement, my encouragement is to boldly ask those people set aside what they are comfortable with for the sake of the Gospels spread.

The spread of the Gospel to unreached people groups, whether home or abroad, is never comfortable. It has never been comfortable. And we cannot win hearts until we are willing to walk in the tension of discomfort for the sake of others.