Christ followers…what do they look like?

I wrote the following as a comment on a young church planter’s blog today. I think you might be interested to know what I think a disciple might look like.

Christ followers?

A young business man who is convinced that Jesus’ claims are true and is trying to follow, but is still lustful and addicted to porn.

A young unmarried mother of two with a history of a broken family, broken dreams, and bad choices who thinks she has met some people who really care, they act like they love her. She is silently asking “Why would God love me?” She has a glimmer of hope that her life might actually change for the better. “Me, a Jesus freak?”

A homeless guy who lost hope many years ago when he lost his family, his business, and most all of his friends because of a crack addiction. He just can’t understand why every few days this older couple comes with a nice meal that they share with him, and warm NEW clothing, and they don’t want anything from me? “What makes them tick?”

A very successful retired couple from New Jersey who moved to Austin to escape the cold winters, high home prices, and high taxes. Two souls tired of boring church where Sunday and Wednesday are two check marks on the list of Christian stuff. They are inquiring because they heard about a small group of people who are loving the community in tangible ways. They are doing yard work for a Catholic widow, an atheist man who is grouchy and in ill health, and a Methodist preacher’s mom. And they don’t expect anything in return? “We have to check this out closer. These people seem to be real Christians”.

There are these in every city, some who are not yet convinced, waiting to be loved, to be told the good news by someone who is not just wanting to add to a number. Some will follow more closely and some at a distance for a long time. And, there are those who will disappoint over and over again.

Love never fails. Love NEVER fails.

Jesus died for the wicked, unrighteous, broken folks. They are waiting by the thousands to experience that love.

How will you and I join God in what He is up to?


The Dumbing Down of Discipleship, Superficial Scholarship in the churches of Christ

In the last several months there have been several dozen blog posts and articles in coC journals about the decline both of the number of churches and membership. The Christian Chronicle has done a good job of examining the raw data available and raising some relevant questions as to why this trend is real.

I have read letters to the editor, blog posts, and listened to on line sermons, each with some suggestion about how to stop the downward spiral. Most of what I have read only touches upon symptoms and does not address the heart of the problem.

Last night I listened to a message preached by John McCord to his people at the El Campo church of Christ in El Campo, Texas. I invite you to listen to this young man’s sermon. John McCord is one example of a preacher who has decided to no longer facilitate the falsehood of legalistic teaching. This is an example of someone with the courage to bring ethics into the pulpit along with his Bible.

All of the hand wringing and ideas about how to be more relevant, develop better programs, and become more attractive to our communities are all exercises in futility unless the root of the problem is addressed. Shoddy and sometimes even dishonest Bible scholarship is our greatest problem.

The recent uproar about 21st Century Christian not including congregations in their directory that had one or more instrumental service on Sunday highlighted a shocking truth. Today, almost 25% of the members of churches of Christ in the United States attend a congregation which has at least one service on Sunday where singing is accompanied by musical instruments.(I am sure there are others the keepers of the gate to heaven have not discovered yet) This is not the problem. The awful truth is that many of the remaining 75% don’t believe the 25% is going to heaven because they have the dreaded “instrument”. This undeniable fact gets at the root of the decline of the numbers of congregations and members. Many educated, thinking people simply dismiss this sort of nonsense as silly and either move on to some other church of Christ or quietly leave the church tradition of their ancestors.

Why should we expect people to be drawn to or stay in a church that teaches you are in danger of hell fire if you don’t agree with what they teach, and what they teach can’t be supported by the Bible? Almost every member of our churches has a computer at home and within a few clicks of a mouse they can tap into the wisdom of trusted theologians on any given subject and quickly decide if a teaching is Biblical or a myth.

We must devote ourselves to honest interpretation of the scriptures and lay aside the traditions of men if they are not valid. Each of us will do so at great risk but it is worth the effort. Christian discipleship is not for the thin skinned and faint of heart. If you set out to be loyal only to Christ and the word of God you will become the target of zealots whose security is not in Christ but rather in what they do, the system they have endorsed, and the religion they are committed to.

To be what God wants us to be, without regard to the numbers or our critics, we must get back to the basics of the Christian faith. We must become a people of the Word whose lives have the flavor of an authentic, vibrant faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Every area of our lives should reflect our devotion to the Son of God and our unconditional surrender to His will. We must become known as people who love each other unconditionally, who hold each other accountable, who look out for the interests of others, and whose mission on earth is to make Christ known.

True disciples of Jesus are known by how they love. They are not known by how they worship, by what sign is over the door where they worship, or by what their church history is.They are known by loving each other and by loving even their enemies and by so doing loving God.

We must stop pretending we have it all right and everyone else is wrong. We must stop being church centered and become Christ centered. It is high time the Restoration Movement churches are restored to the faith of our fathers without all the trappings of man made religion. It is a life or death matter.


The “Unknown God” of 21st Century Evangelicals

I readily confess to a play on words borrowed from the Apostle Paul in Acts 17 verse 23. While Paul was in Athens he passed the Athenian temple dedicated to the “Unknown God”. When he made his famous address to the listeners at the Areopagus he mentioned seeing an alter with the inscription “To the unknown God”. He went on to tell them about the God they did not know. The Areopagus was a gathering place for almost continuous speeches on all sorts of topics. The Athenians, and likely many visitors to the great city of Athens, had an unquenchable thirst for anything new. (Things haven’t changed much have they?)

The God Evangelicals claim allegiance to in our day is just as unknown, in the sense he is hardly recognizable when compared to the God of the Bible. Many of us are quick to point out the obvious excesses and extremes of those who are blatantly peddling their wares on TV and radio in the name of God so they can sit in gold plated chairs, drive Rolls Royce’s and Bentley’s, and enjoy lavish lifestyles at the expense of the ignorant. Meanwhile the God we profess to know, while slightly more moral than the one of the “you write it and I’ll cash it for Jesus” crowd, is a dependent weakling compared to the God of Holy Scriptures.

The God of the vast majority of self proclaimed “Christians” is one who thinks humans are the center of the universe and his chief purpose of being God is to make them happy and prosperous. You know, the God Joel Osteen supposedly speaks for every Sunday on TV. You don’t hear much about God followers being thrown to the lions or being sawed into from Osteen and others like him. Even those who don’t approve of Joel Osteen because of his perceived weakness on “sound doctrine” still largely buy into his grand idea of a man centered world populated by people, each of whom can have a heavenly father who is no more than a supernatural concierge who is waiting to supply their next wish list.

Christians are often personally offended when some happening in life is inconvenient or diminishes their pleasure in living. At once, while blaming God, they cry out to Him, “Why me?” What today’s average Christian wants from God is at a minimum an upper middle class lifestyle with two weeks paid vacation, healthy and bright children, no sickness that a trip to Rite Aid can’t cure, and an even more lavish home someday in heaven. They don’t really like being told much about how they should live their lives and certainly don’t entertain any thought of personal sacrifice for God. Are you kidding? Have you not heard that God is a loving Father full of grace and gifts to make me happy? Do you not know that God created us so he could have some friends, and that the reason he does so much for us is so we will love him? He was lonely in his big old young universe and he made us so he would have someone to talk to and do things for. He just wants us to love him back. He wants us to go to church, not get drunk, stop cursing, be nice to people we like, and tell other people about how nice he is to us. The bottom line is we are to imitate Jesus but God knows we can’t really do that so that is why Jesus died for us so God wouldn’t be mad at us.

This God we imagine has many of the limitations of humans. He doesn’t know what we will do until we have done it. And, he has made it so that pleasing a pastor or an elder is more important than pleasing him. This God gets his feelings hurt easily and in a fit of anger might just cause us to get cancer if we don’t toe the line. He doesn’t really like it when we cheat on our income taxes, tell dirty jokes at the office, and have a habit of lying, but He really will not do anything about it because he is all about love and good things.

This sort of God is an “Unknown God” to the pages of the Bible. The God of the Bible is far different. The center of the universe is God who is self sufficient and needs nothing and His chief end is His own glory and praise. We humans were created and recreated to that end. Ephesians chapter one gives the rationale for the redemptive scheme of God in Christ bringing sinners to himself.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
(Ephesians 1:2-14)

The praise of His glorious grace”, “the riches of His grace” and “the praise of His glory” are the reasons why God chose to lavish His love on us and to make us holy in Christ. The focus of God’s redemptive scheme is not us, but rather Himself. Paul explains further.

 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,  I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
(Ephesians 1:15-23)

Paul wanted the Ephesian believers to know how truly great and powerful and majestic and worthy God is. The emphasis of the unfolding revelation is never focused on us. We are only a means to an end which is God’s unmatched praise and glory demonstrated in us because of Christ’s work for us and in us.

The greatest good of man is to bring glory to his God. The truth that God does hear us when we pray and grant requests that meet His approval is not about us but about His glory. The reason for the salvation he freely gives us based upon the merit of Jesus is not about us but about Him.

When Paul described God to the Athenians he said these words:

(He is)“ The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being”. (Acts 17:24-28)

The God Paul talked about was hardly a God who needs anything, especially puny little us. In Revelation chapter 4 we are given a glimpse of the continual, eternal praise and glory of God with the shouts of “Holy, Holy, Holy” which never stop. Even in heaven, so far removed from sin and its curse, there are no words to describe the glory of God fully so that for eternity they must be repeated without ceasing.

Jesus in His humanity was the fullness of the godhead bodily, the express image of His person and His demands of those who would follow him are far, far from what our “unknown God” demands. Instead of prosperity He promised persecution and rejection by our fellows. Instead of a crown he demanded that we bear a cross, an instrument of death. Instead of delightful “things”, He demanded denial of self and self interests. All of this so that in the end, when those who have believed God’s record of His Son, and have depended on Him, are raised from the dead and given immortal bodies, they might show the richness of his grace to the praise of His glory.

Two or three hours a week and a small percentage of our gross income hardly measures up to what the Creator God who provides everything we have deserves in gratitude.

Do I, do you, serve and worship the God of the Bible who delights in Himself? Or, do you and I give allegiance to the “Unknown God” who is a creature that only exists in our imaginations?

For truth,


How’s Your Love Life?

If I do all the religious stuff expected of a faithful Christian, and don’t love others I have failed. If I attend every church service, take communion every week, say my prayers daily, do my daily Bible reading, give more than 10% of my income, and am not a lover of men, I wasted my time. If I am respected in my community, good to my wife and kids and don’t care about the needy, I am lacking.

Even if I surpass the usual church member and become a skilled orator, and give great prophecies, understand all mysteries and have all knowledge, become a favorite on the lecture circuit, and become known as a man with great faith, I have accomplished nothing unless I am a lover. If persecution comes and I become a martyr for my faith, I have really done nothing unless I have loved along the way.

This is the bar set by Jesus, the fleshing out of the two greatest commandments, Love. It is pretty clear that loving God is more than being a model church member and being right about doctrine, giving more than others, and doing more than is expected by others. It is a very high standard indeed but is intended to be the “normal” Christian life.

Am I patient and kind?
Do I envy or boast?
Am I arrogant or rude?
Do I insist on my own way?
Am I irritable or resentful?
Do I rejoice at wrongdoing?
Or, do I rejoice with the truth?
Do I bear all things?
Do I always believe the best?
Do I hope all things work out for good?
Am I one who endures anything?

Does my wife think so?
God knows the truth.

If I, with God’s enabling, am able to become one who loves unconditionally I will not be a failure, ever. How am I doing? Ask those who know me best. I give myself perhaps a C+. God is at work in me though, both to will and to do His good pleasure. There is hope for me and there is hope for you.

Because the Spirit of Christ lives in us, who have been born again, we have the potential to be the person God wants us to be. Because He is in us the following should come out of us in our daily living.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

The whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

How is your love life? The answer is not “try” harder, but rather “rely” harder.

Learning to love,