Try harder (imperatives)? Do nothing (indicatives)? How do we become more like Jesus Christ?

There has been a disagreement in the christian community about whether we should emphasize indicatives or imperatives to help people become more like Christ. Or, to what degree should we emphasize one over the other? Definitions at this point may help.

Biblical indicative – A statement of fact. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6

Biblical imperative – A command to be obeyed. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Romans 12:14

I will be leaning heavily on and quoting directly from “Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives” by Robert Kellemen to answer this question; how do we become more like Jesus Christ?

One approach has been the gospel indicative approach, which in its extreme seems to emphasize that sanctification entirely or almost exclusively involves the work of God, where our only “role” is to remember and re-believe what God has already done for us in the gospel (gospel indicatives). The other approach has been labeled the gospel imperative approach, which in its extreme seems to emphasize that sanctification, while always initially the work of God, primarily involves our active effort to change as we obey the commands of God (gospel imperatives). P.254

As you think through these theological issues you will come to realize what a enormous difference it makes in how a person counsels, disciples and preaches. Have you ever heard someone preach but they rarely emphasized the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and how it sustains and empowers us? Great recipe for burnout and fatigue. Or, the preaching that continually points to the cross and our justification but never goes on to explain how we put off our old self and put on the new (Ephesians 4:22-24)? Great recipe for confusion when it comes to living out our faith in everyday life. For my money there needs to be a balance. A balance, I believe, that we see in Scripture between the indicatives and the imperatives.

We ought to positively glory in the indicatives of the gospel. The indicatives ought to fuel our following of the imperatives. Our obedience must be grounded in the gospel. Sanctification is empowered by faith in the promises of God. We need to be reminded of our justification often and throughout our Christian lives. Our pursuit of personal righteousness will not go anywhere without a conviction that we are already reckoned positionally righteous in Christ.

The New Testament gives us commands, and these commands involve more than remembering, revisiting, and rediscovering the reality of our justification. We must also put on, put off, put to death, strive and make every effort…Yes this effort is always connected to gospel grace. But we cannot reduce effort to simply believing in justification. P. 258, Kellemen quoting Kevin DeYoung

Clearly Paul (and the collective testimony of Scripture for that matter) does not shy away from talking about effort and our need to pursue Christ. “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29). “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Yet at the same time our “effort” must flow out of an deep understanding and gratitude for what Jesus did on the cross and the fact that our life is now hidden in him.

Pleasure, Grace and a Chevy Malibu

As I slowly crawled out of the car I realized that it was upside down, the top had been pushed dangerously close to my head, the windows had all been busted out and I was in serious trouble. I clearly needed to redirect my pursuit of pleasure.

Car Wreck Michael

Between the ages of 18-20 I tried with all my strength to find pleasure and fulfillment in the things of this world. Up until the time I turned 18 I had lived a fairly moral life. As a pastor’s kid I just kinda coasted through high school with my fair share of spiritual highs and lows.

When I became 18 I developed a friendship with a guy who owned a Camaro and who liked to drink…alot.

What I quickly discovered about myself is that I liked to party but with 3 times the energy and enthusiasm as everyone else. The picture above is an actual photo of what I did to my parent’s car after a night of “hanging out with friends”, which is code for having way too much to drink.

I vaguely recall driving on I-17 in Phoenix, the sense that I was about to run into the back of a car in front of me, pulling the steering wheel sharply to the left, rolling the car off of the interstate, down an embankment, and finally coming to a stop with the car upside down. When I stumbled out of the car there were already several police officers waiting for me.

The whole thing leaves me with three thoughts…

The Chevy Malibu is a vivid picture of what the evil one wants to do through our pursuit of pleasure.  The devil, I believe, wanted me dead. Isn’t this what sin always does? Kill? I think, we think, that the next drink, job, house, purchase, achievement, relationship, touchdown that our kid scores, vacation will satisfy us but it never does. Is there anything you are pursuing these days that, if you were honest, is slowly killing your soul and leaving you feeling less alive?

God’s grace is written all over my life. How did I get out of that wreck with one small scratch? Without wearing a seat belt? I can only attribute it to the grace and mercy of God. I frequently think back to the accident in the Malibu and thank God for sparing my life. Whatever your struggle might be, God’s grace is always available to you.

I am still a pleasure junky but God is the only One who truly satisfies. Prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love. I would like to say that because of the car accident I have safely concluded that this world and it’s temptations are dead to me. I would like to say it but it would be an enormous lie. All of us are hedonists who end up wasting precious time looking for happiness in the wrong places. Finding true pleasure is a matter of life or death because the spiritual well-being of our soul is at stake. One sign that we are growing as Christians is that we are living and obeying God based more out of a sense of delight then duty. Which describes your reasons for obedience these days? Delight or duty? This battle of finding pleasure in Christ is going on in my soul every moment of every day. But this I do believe to be true, and this is what I cling to; Jesus is the only One who brings true, lasting pleasure that never disappoints.

Finding pleasure in the things of this world is not wrong in itself. In fact, God has made this world for us to enjoy.  “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving…” -1 Timothy 4:4. The problem is when we seek ultimate satisfaction from the world and fail to remember that God, and not his gifts, are to be worshipped.

You may wonder, why share any of this in the first place? I deeply wrestle with that question. Motives are always a murky thing to sort out. I guess this is my best explanation. I don’t think we help our family, church, friends, or the world when we pretend as if we are not sinners saved by the grace of God. I know for certain that everyone I encounter on a day-to-day basis is fighting a spiritual battle and instead of putting up a false image of “having it all together” one of the best things I can do is to say, “yep, me too.” Perhaps if I, if we all, take down the veneer of super-spirituality it will free others to do likewise. I believe God is honored when we openly admit our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 11:30) and boast in His righteousness, grace and goodness.

Although the pursuit of pleasure is a daily, slug it out, spiritual battle I am glad to know that our God not only wants us to be good and moral but also to be as joyful as possible. A joy that is only possible as we go deeper in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy—fully armed, too, because it is a highly dangerous quest. -Flannery O’Connor

It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. -CS Lewis

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! -Psalm 34:8

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. -Philippians 3:8

The Gospel in Everyday Life

On Sunday, April 19 I am very excited to say that I am beginning an eight week sermon series entitled “The Gospel in Everyday Life.” Normally I preach through books of the Bible but I felt like a good place to start when it comes to transitioning to a new church family is to begin with what is most important; the good news of Jesus Christ.

Week 1: What is the Gospel? (2 Corinthians 5:21, Colossians 2:20-3:4)
Week 2: The Gospel and Our Sin Nature (Romans 6:1-11)
Week 3: The Gospel and Marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33)
Week 4: The Gospel and Parenting (Luke 6:43-45)
Week 5: The Gospel and the Workplace (Ephesians 6:5-9)
Week 6: The Gospel and Money (Malachi 3:1-6, 4:1-3)
Week 7: The Gospel and Community (Ephesians 2:11-19)
Week 8: The Gospel and Loving Our Neighbors (Matthew 5:13-16)

Each week that I preach through this series I will post some thoughts, ideas and  application questions here. Feel free to join the discussion. I will also add some resources (books, articles) each week that I believe will help you get a stronger grip on how the gospel relates to marriage, parenting, workplace, money, etc..

The next sermon series will be from the book of Colossians.

Review of “Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life” by Jeff Vanderstelt

SaturateI received Jeff Vanderstelt’s new Book, “Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life” from Crossway so that I could review it. I must say up front that I have met Jeff, spent a week at his church in Tacoma for training purposes, and in general I am a big fan of the ministry he is doing. Am I biased? You bet.

I suppose there are many different ways that a person could review a book. I’m not going to pretend that I really know what I’m doing. I don’t. What I am going to do is highlight the main points in the book so that you, the reader, can understand what it is all about and make the wise decision of purchasing the book for yourself.

Part 1: Beginnings

In this section Jeff talks about his physical, emotional and spiritual breakdown while he was on staff at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. He explains his breakdown as being the result of being too involved in managing an organization as opposed to being connected in the lives of people. He felt like he no longer fit in at the church and it put him in a massive tailspin. Jeff writes, “…I had fallen into a deep depression and had started seeing a counselor. I was anxious, afraid, and felt like a failure…Some nights, I contemplated suicide.” (P. 18) Jeff goes on to talk about how God, during this difficult season, opened up his eyes to a new way of thinking about and doing ministry. As I write the word “new” in the previous sentence I am instantly reminded that what Jeff is describing in this book is not “new” at all. It truly is getting back to the basics of being the church and making disciples as we see in the pages of the New Testament.

For some excellent videos of Jeff talking about how the gospel relates to everyday life you can go HERE.

Part 2: Jesus

In Part 2 Jeff goes on to talk about how he began a new church in the Tacoma, Washington area. It was not long before they were very involved in reaching out to their community but this led to a brand new discovery. In the middle of attempting to live as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ “hosting cookouts with neighbors, serving our schools, feeding the homeless, partnering with the arts community, starting small businesses, meeting with politicians, fixing homes…” (P.48) they began to feel rundown and overwhelmed. Jeff is painfully honest and explains that he had developed a messiah complex. He was putting too much of the responsibility to make a difference in his community on his own shoulders. It was a time in his life where God reminded him that He was the only one who had the strength to carry such a burden.

The rest of Part 2 is a wonderful description of how the gospel is much more than what gets us into the kingdom of God. For many of us we realize that the gospel saves us but we are not real sure how it relates to the ongoing growth and maturity of the Christian the rest of their life. The gospel saves us, but it is also what strengthens and sustains us as we love God and serve others in everyday life.

Part 3: Discipleship

This section is critical for the American church to pay attention to. Jeff states clearly that the mission of the church is to be making disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:16-20). I don’t think many people will argue with that. Jeff explains that the problem is that we have tried to take shortcuts in the church when it comes to making disciples and this experiment has failed. Classrooms, programs, curriculum are good but they can never be a substitute for deep relationships and community.

“If we are to be disciples of Jesus who are being re-formed and restored to become more like him, we need to have people in our lives, up close and personal. We need people who can see where we do or do not believe the truth about Jesus and what he has done for us. Then, when the layers are pulled back, we need people to speak the truth of the gospel to our needs. Sometimes we just need a reminder of what we already know but have forgotten. Sometimes we need a bit of new information about Jesus. And there are times when we need a direct rebuke. We cannot do this in a classroom. It can’t happen in a week or two. We have to get more into each other’s lives, and it is messy, intrusive, and uncomfortable. P. 95

Part 4: New Identity

Part 4 is all about knowing who we are in Jesus Christ. Jeff describes the key characteristics of who we are in Christ as family, servants, and missionaries. Knowing our identity in Jesus keeps us from coming up with vision statements, goals, objectives that are divorced from what we clearly see in God’s Word. What we do as a church is rooted in who we are as the sons and daughters of God. We truly don’t need to be creative, imaginative when it comes to how we live out our faith as the church. We just need to re-examine the gospel. We are saved by the gospel and through it’s transforming power we are made in to the family of God, who live as servants and missionaries for the glory of God. Love this quote about being on mission…

We have the Spirit of God in us so that we might be empowered, just as Jesus was. We are his missionaries, filled and anointed by his Spirit. If you have the Spirit of God, you are a missionary sent by Jesus to tell the world who he is and what he has done. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” Everywhere you go, whatever you do, you are a missionary sent by Jesus to love like Jesus, overcome sin like Jesus, proclaim the gospel like Jesus, and see people’s lives changed by the power of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. You are always on mission. Every part of your life, every activity and event, is part of Jesus’ mission to make disciples. P. 163

Part 5: The Everyday Stuff

Part 5 is very helpful because it is very practical about how we live out our gospel identity as family, servants and missionaries. I find it so helpful because Jeff is not creating a new list of things for us to do. We are already too busy in the church. The last thing we need is another long list of things too do. Instead Jeff is helping us to see that everyday life is best place to proclaim and live out the good news of the gospel!

Eat: We all eat meals, everyday. Invite people from your church or neighborhood over and just enjoy building a relationship with them.

Story: Get to know the story of people all around you. Listen. Love them. Look for ways to tell the gospel story to them. Show them how the gospel story is a better way and meets their deepest needs and longings.

Bless: We have been blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. When we have experienced the blessings of the gospel we will want to pour out blessings to others. Look for ways to do this in everyday life.

Celebrate: Jesus compared his kingdom to a great party (Matthew 22:1-2). Our we people of joy and celebration? If not, why not?

ReCreate: This word comes from rest and create. Are we daily resting in Jesus? When we immerse ourselves in the gospel we can truly rest knowing that we are deeply loved and secure because of the work that Jesus did on the cross. What do you create on a daily basis? Are we doing it as unto the Lord?

I definitely encourage you to get this book and begin to rethink what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in everyday life. Just in case you feel you have not done enough reading yet, HERE is an an interview I did with Jeff’s wife, Jayne, a couple of years ago.

Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Live (Jeff Vanderstelt) from Saturate on Vimeo.

Our Welcome to New Life Church

Billboard

During one of my interview sessions with New Life they asked me what I would put up on a billboard that would tell everyone in Watertown what the church was all about. Without too much deep analysis I simply said “Jesus”. The weekend we candidated they put this sign up on a billboard in Watertown. Love it!

Strong In Knowledge But Weak In Love.

One thing I have seen over the years that has baffled me is people who are really strong when it comes to knowing the Bible but weak when it comes to love.

I should say that it use to baffle me. Now I think I get it.

It’s very possible to be reading one’s Bible, to be active in church and yet fail when it comes to being transformed by the gospel.

What is the fruit of the gospel? Making sure others know you are right? Correcting the mistakes of others? Winning an argument? Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23 that when a person is abiding in Christ the result 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.”

I can say from personal experience that as I draw closer to Jesus my own sin becomes more and more painfully obvious to me. As I continue to press into the gospel I find myself amazed that Jesus would love and die for such a sinner as myself. This gospel immersion leaves my heart soft and broken and desiring to pour out the same grace that I have received to others. It also makes me incredibly patient with others because I know how patient God is with me every single day.

There will be times when we need to speak the truth into someone’s life but Paul was clear in Galatians 4:15 that our words of truth must be done in a spirit of love.

When I find that people are divisive, self-righteous, or just plain hard to get along with I know that they may be busy with religion but somewhere in their soul there is a gospel disconnection.

But it is possible to subscribe to every orthodox doctrine and nevertheless fail to communicate the gospel to people’s hearts in a way that brings about repentance, joy, and spiritual growth. One way this happens is through dead orthodoxy, in which such pride grows in our doctrinal correctness that sound teaching and right church practice become a kind of works righteousness. Carefulness in doctrine and life is, of course, critical, but when it is accompanied in a church by self-righteousness, mockery, disdain of everyone else, and a contentious combative attitude, it shows that, while the doctrine of justification may be believed, a strong spirit of legalism reigns nonetheless. The doctrine has failed to touch hearts. -Center Church, p. 73-74

Have we made evangelism and hospitality too complicated?

dinner table

Over the past few months I have been asked a number of times about my opinion when it comes to how the church should do evangelism. One of my main responses has been that I believe we have over-complicated what it looks like to show the love of Jesus Christ to people all around us. I am not one to throw all “programs” under the bus. Programs have their place in the life of the local church. Yet I do think Jesus has modeled for us that there is no substitute for opening up our life, spending time with people and building relationships (Luke 7:34). With that said, allow me to share with you a quote from the book “A Meal With Jesus” by Tim Chester. Instead of making your life busier I hope this encourages you to see that evangelism can take place in the rhythm of everyday life.

Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals, and have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission. It’s not that meals save people. People are saved through the gospel message. But meals will create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates so powerfully with what you are saying. -Tim Chester, A Meal With Jesus