Contract Christianity

251732_4297I want to try to briefly discuss something that affects and infects our following of Jesus, especially in North America. It’s something I call “Contract Christianity”. This is where following Jesus is reduced really to a contract: we pray a prayer, and Jesus gets us into heaven.

And I think all of us know that praying a prayer to Jesus, just to go to heaven misses the heart of what following Jesus is about. It’s a truncated gospel. But what we sometimes miss is how this still infects our Christianity. We see following Jesus then in terms of a contract of what we do for him, and then what he does for us. We also then focus on what “breaks” the contract like the fine print in a legal contract. And this leads to all sorts of questions and comments that are in the wrong direction. Ones I get all the time in different ways about sin, church, and faith vs. works. Ones like this:

  • At what point will someone lose their salvation? How much can I sin and God still forgive me? I’ll still get to heaven if I don’t tithe right, or do everything?
  • It doesn’t matter if I go to church or not right? I can follow Jesus on my own, it’s a personal relationship right? Why can’t I just pray to Jesus and let that be that?
  • I prayed the prayer, isn’t that enough? why do I need to love others? Isn’t  it enough that I come to church, why do I need to change these actions?

But following Jesus is not a contract, it’s a covenant. So yes, it is not less than a contract, but a covenant is so much more than a contract. It’s a commitment for a lifetime based in relationship, not contractually binding arguments.

And if we ask the same type of questions above, in terms of a covenant relationship they quickly don’t make any sense. So let’s put those above questions in terms of the only covenant we have left really, marriage. And just see how much they miss the point.

Here are the same questions put in terms of a marriage.

  • How far can I go with another person, before it’s called cheating? Where is the line exactly? What can I do before you divorce me?
  • Why do I have to spend time with my spouse and family? We live together isn’t that enough?
  • I promised to love you and marry you, isn’t that enough? What do my actions have to do with it?

When these questions are put in the context of covenant they don’t make any sense. No one truly commits to a marriage thinking about how much they can get away with, or not wanting to spend time together, or not showing their love. But for some reason we do this with Jesus. We ask questions about what we can get away with while still following Jesus (sin questions). We ask questions about why we need to commit to Jesus’ family and gathering together (church questions). We ask questions about whether our faith really needs to change our actions or whether we are still “saved”.

This is all contract Christianity, not covenant Christianity. Because as soon as you start thinking about following Jesus in terms of a covenant none of those questions make any sense. If you are committing to follow Jesus for the rest of your life, you’re not interested in what you can get away with (sin). If you are covenanting with Jesus, spending time with him and his family (church) makes absolute sense. If you are being a disciple of his, having faith in him naturally flows out with showing it. (action / works)

So all that to say is that I think we need to regain the sense of following Jesus as a covenant and not just as a contract. We follow Jesus with our whole lives, not just what happens after our lives have ended. The point is that following Jesus is to change how we live now, which will last into eternity. And I think if there is one thing in Christianity we need to regain, it’s a sense of covenant because it matters and it’s beautiful.

Just Share Your Story ~ Its that Simple

445240_46957018On Sunday we looked at a unique text in Mark 5. Here Jesus heals a man possessed by a demon. What is interesting is that after being changed by Jesus and transformed the man wants to follow Jesus. This is all pretty straightforward I would think. If Jesus transforms you completely, deciding to follow him isn’t a stretch. But Jesus does something unique. He says no. He actually refuses to let the man come with him. And instead he says, “Go home to your family, and friends, and share the mercy God has shown you”

In essence, Jesus says simply go home and share your story. Share you story with those around you. Let them know about how you’ve been changed. Simply share the mercy God has shown you with others.

And in this one little verse I think we get a huge insight into how to share the love of Jesus Christ with others. We don’t need to force it into conversations, we don’t need to go door-to-door; we can simply share our story with our friends, family and neighbors. We can with humility, and grace share how God is changing our lives. We can say how God has freed us from fear, given us hope, supported us in difficulty, given us a purpose etc. We can simply share the wonderful things God is doing in our lives.

This is simple, easy, and sensitive to others. If you have a true friendship with others who aren’t following Jesus, they should care about how your life is changing. And if Jesus is the cause of that change then we should feel free to share it. The focus isn’t on changing others, but sharing the change within ourselves.

And the amazing thing is the story in Mark 5 actually testifies to how remarkably powerful this can be. As Jesus leaves the man the townspeople hate Jesus. They are completely against Jesus and want nothing to do with him. But Jesus leaves behind one man and his story with these people. We read that the man goes home to the region of the 10 Towns. A few chapters later Jesus shows up in the same region again. But this time the response from the people is completely different. One man and his story has changed the region from being against Jesus to being interested in Jesus. Mark records that with the women and children there, 10,000 people (approx.) show up to see Jesus. This is the power of sharing your story. People can become interested in Jesus and actually seek him out.

So on Sunday we left everyone with one challenge. Share your story. It’s that simple and see what God might do.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Share Your Story

Take Aways…

  • Jesus is already active in our relationships
  • If our life isn’t changing lives we’re missing something
  • Details matter even minor ones
  • Jesus saw the man
  • Go home and share your story
  • Sharing your story, changes lives
  • More than skin, and bone, muscle and tendon – you are made of stories. Michael Gungor
  • We don’t need more sermons, conferences, or Bible studies we need more of Jesus and a willingness to share him.
  • Our stories have to be real, honest, and focused on Jesus

Discussion Questions for Adults: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

Have you ever struggled to share Jesus with others before? What made you uncomfortable or struggle?

Whose story has impacted and influenced you to follow Jesus? How did you hear about it, or how was it shared with you?

What mercy has Jesus shown you throughout the years? Share a few stories about how Jesus has changed you.

Who are you friends with that God might be leading you to share your story with them? Take time and pray that God gives you an opportunity to share your story with them.

Discussion Questions for Young Families: If its true that sharing our stories change lives, why not take time and share your personal story with your kids. Be honest, be truthful, and take time to bring them along the journey with you.

Challenge This Week: Share your story with someone this week

 

Sharing Your Story…

1077691_68991810I believe that as Christians we want to be able to share Jesus with other people. This is natural and a good thing. Whenever anything good happens in our lives we want to share it with those that we care for. The trouble is that when it comes to sharing Jesus with others many of us have no idea how to do it in ways that don’t seem forced, aggressive, or insensitive. We want to share the grace of Jesus, with the same posture and spirit as Jesus – but in general I don’t think we know how.

When we think of sharing Jesus we think of going up to people cold, of artificially steering conversations towards him, or of handing out tracts or something. So since we don’t know what to do, we don’t end up doing much of anything.

And so many of us have a desire to share what Jesus has done in our lives, but no idea how to do that with our lives. In fact, because I think so many have shared about Jesus poorly, many of us are fearful of saying anything about Jesus at all. But if Jesus has honestly transformed our lives ~ freed us from greed, apathy, anger, and given us hope, life, and love ~ we should be able to share that with our friends, family, and neighbors.

The question is how?

That’s precisely the question I want to examine on Sunday. How do we share Jesus, not in an arrogant, or insensitive way but a natural and even beautiful way?

Well on Sunday we are going to look at one story that can really demonstrate to us how we can share the life and love of Jesus without repelling people from Jesus. How we can invite people to experience and understand the beauty of who Jesus is without some of the baggage often associated with ‘evangelism’.

But before we get there let me ask you a question. How did you come to know and believe in Jesus Christ? What was it that impacted you into considering a relationship with Jesus?

I’ll make a bet – it had something to do with someone sharing their story.

And as we’ll find out on Sunday, sometimes that’s all you have to do.

Pocket Jesus

Untitled-1For a long time people thought of “evangelism” as bringing Jesus with them to people who needed Jesus. It was almost as if we have Jesus in our back pocket and our goal was to bring him out in conversation with people. The goal was to bring Jesus into conversations, relationships, or places where he currently wasn’t. We were “storming the gates the hell”, “bringing salvation to the heathens”, or “taking the world for Jesus”. Perhaps you’ve heard or even used a phrase like that.

If you notice something though, the focus of every one of those statements is on our activity and not Jesus’. We bring Jesus, we make converts, and we storm the gates of hell all in the name of “evangelism”. I call this type of evangelism “pocket Jesus evangelism”  because it’s based on us carrying Jesus with us and sharing him however and wherever we can.

And while the idea of sharing Jesus with others is beautiful and absolutely necessary, the idea that we bring Jesus to places he isn’t leads to ugly evangelism. Perhaps you have seen or even experienced this yourself where well-meaning people seem more intent on forcing Jesus than sharing Jesus. Where conversations seem forced, unnatural, aggressive, and somehow off repel people from Jesus rather than draw them in. The reason this type of evangelism can so easily become ugly is because it’s built on a shaky foundation and faulty theology.

The faulty bit of theology is pretty clear when you think about it: you don’t bring Jesus anywhere, because he’s already everywhere.

Here is the point, as Christians Jesus absolutely does reside within us, but Jesus is not limited to us. To limit the world changing, life transforming, and Kingdom expanding work of the Father, Son, and Spirit to the work of Christians and the church is not only bad theology but just plain wrong. God is the primary actor in changing the world, we simply get to partner with him in what he is already doing. The world is being changed by the Father’s initiative, the Son’s sacrifice, and the power of the Spirit and we get to join in what God is doing.

The point is this, we, as Christians, do not take Jesus to a God-absent world. God is already active in the world and we get to join him in what he is doing. The very first act of Jesus Christ was to move into the neighborhood, and he’s been doing it ever since (John 1). If Jesus moved into an obscure, poverty riddled, Jewish family in the first century I’m pretty sure he’s already active on your street.

So then does evangelism still matter? Absolutely! The only difference is the focus shifts. Rather than forcing Jesus into conversations I watch for how he is active in conversations and follow his lead. Rather than trying to push Jesus into a relationship I see how he is guiding that relationship and listen to his direction.

The point is that no longer am I trying to “convert” anyone. What I am doing is joining in the work of Jesus who is already active in seeking and saving the whole world. I’m trusting that the Father, Son, and Spirit are the ones who save and “convert” people, I just want to do my part.

So my question is where do you see Jesus active in your friendships? Is someone open to forgiveness more than usual? Is Jesus directing you to spend more time with someone who seems to be growing? Who can you show love to, that is receptive or needing of grace?

The point is simple: I’m no longer taking Jesus with me asking him to join me in what I’m doing; I’m looking for what he is already doing and seeking to partner with him there.

I Don’t Believe in that God Either

1364043_24141534I have had a recurring conversation with my friends, family, and neighbors over the past few years. Often what happens is this type of a scenario. They either know or find out I’m a pastor and eventually ask this question:

“So you believe in…[insert any idea / caricature / or type of god here]”

Essentially they are asking about who I have given my life to following. They wonder if I am following a god who lives in the clouds. If I believe in a god who is prejudiced, hates, and unloving or a god so uninvolved in the world that he becomes non-existant, etc, etc. In essence, they often ask if I believe in a caricature of God that they have either been taught, or have experienced through society.

The point is that these friends and neighbors cannot reconciled this caricature with reality. And so they wonder, “how do you follow a god like this…” And so my standard response is this: “Oh I don’t believe in that god either” To which they are often surprised. You don’t believe in a god who hates, who is distant, unloving, uninvolved, or prejudiced? I respond with no. I believe, follow, and absolutely trust in the God who looks, lives, and loves like Jesus Christ.

I share that the perfect representation of God is Jesus Christ (Colosians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). Which in “un-theological language” means that not only does Jesus look like God, but God looks like Jesus. Which means that God is “Jesusy”. So when we see the supreme act of Jesus Christ, dying sacrificially on the cross for all people and being raised again, this is who God is. Someone who cares so much about injustice, sin, and evil that he enters into it, experiences the full brunt of it, so that we might be freed from it. This is the God I follow. Not some silly caricature of an old man sitting in a rocking chair in heaven. But a God who brings heaven to earth with the way he loves, and lives in the person of Jesus Christ.

So when my family, friends, and neighbors ask about what type of a god I follow – I love that question. Because I get to tell them that God looks like Jesus Christ. And that is a great place to start because people may be frustrated or turned off by church, nominal Christians, or caricatures of God but people are drawn to Jesus. So I always just start there and say, “If you want to know who I have given my life to following, and who I believe God is, look no further than Jesus Christ”

I think it’s the best and only place to start…with Jesus.

Homes, Hospitality, and Why Finding Jesus Often Begins Around a Table

540136_22497473Earlier this week I heard a really great story, of how people came out to our church, connected, and had God speak to them. It was very moving to hear about how God was working in their lives, and it got me really excited.

This is wonderful and beautiful, and there is something powerful that happens when the church gathers together. And it’s my honest hope that whenever we gather together as a community that life change happens, that people experience God, and that new life is found. But here is the interesting thing this life change for these people didn’t begin in our church, it began in a home.

You see long before these people were ever invited to church, they were invited into a home of someone a part of our church. Long before they ever crossed the door into our church building, they were welcomed into a home many times. Long before they ever heard me share on grace and life, they saw a friend demonstrate grace and life to them.

So the point is that if we want to see life change, the church is important, but let us not forget about our homes. Because I believe that change often starts in the home with hospitality. When people, as the church, practice hospitality it sparks transformation. When we invite friends, neighbors, and co-workers into our circles sharing grace, trust and hope, this is where life change begins. I absolutely believe we all need to be connected to a local community. I just know it often begins with being connected around a table, a meal, and a cup of coffee first.

So invite people to join in your church. Invite people to join with Jesus in what he is doing. Just don’t forget one of the first steps…to invite them over to your house first.

Sharing Your Story like a Shepherd

On Sunday we explored a story with surprise, beauty, and challenge. We explored a story of shepherds.

We read in Luke 2 of how God announced to the shepherds, through his angels, about Jesus. And about how these unqualified, unsure, and untrained outcasts shared Jesus. You see the thing about shepherds in this context is that they weren’t very respected. In fact, later on people would place shepherds in the same class as thieves and robbers. And in a court of law shepherds’ testimony didn’t count.

Yet God here chooses these people who aren’t respected, often distrusted, and of not great repute to share his story. The shepherds in Luke 2 “tell everyone” in the town about Jesus (Luke 2:17). They don’t focus on the angels, they focus on Jesus and share him with anyone who would listen. The Bible says because of their witness, testimony, their personal story that people were astonished. That people pondered who Jesus was. People started to focus on Jesus because some regular people shared their personal stories of interaction with Jesus.

So what does this mean for us? It’s simple: go and share your story too.

You don’t need to be trained, you don’t need another Bible study on evangelism, you don’t need a specific “gifting” – to share your story about Jesus in your life. This passage in Luke shows us that what matters isn’t training (the shepherds had none), reputation (shepherds didn’t have that either), or even ability (I doubt they were very eloquent). What matters is a  willingness to share your personal story of encounter with Jesus. And because they were willing they caused people’s focus to turn to Jesus. And isn’t this what we want in this season? Don’t we want people to be looking for Jesus? If we do, it starts with us. It starts with us being willing to share our stories.

So my challenge is this: share your personal story about Jesus with someone this week. It doesn’t have to be deep, fantastical, intellectual, qualified, or eloquent. It needs to be personal, honest, and true. That’s what the shepherds do and God uses it to draw people to him. And I think this Christmas…he wants to use you…

Sermon Notes

Big Idea: Jesus wants to use you to share his story with family, friends, and neighbors

Take Aways…

  • Great motives lead to meaning in gift giving and living
  • Jesus chooses the unqualified, and unimportant to share his story and his arrival. He also chooses us.
  • Sharing out personal experiences with Jesus cause people to ponder and consider him
  • If shepherds can share about Jesus, we can share about Jesus
  • To have a story to share is simple…run to Jesus

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you in the sermon? What was new? What was different? Do you feel qualified to share your story? Does being qualified matter to God? What has God done in your life that you can share? How have you found Jesus in your life? What has he changed? Who can you share that change with?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Spend time with your family and share with them your story of how you found Jesus and what change he has made in your life.

Challenge for this Week:

Share your story with a friend…

The Problem with “Evangelism”

I want to share with you the problem of “evangelism”. The problem with it – is the word itself. The word gives off this idea of qualification, professionalism, and deep training that is needed to become an “evangelist”. When I think of an “evangelist” I think of people so confident that they have no problem sharing Jesus with random strangers on the street. That these are the people that lead their grocery store clerk to Jesus, when I can barely hold an awkward 55 second conversation. In essence, when I hear the world “evangelism” or “evangelist” I think of something I’m not good at and won’t be good at. In essence, it reminds me of my failed attempts to communicate the beauty of Jesus to other people.

But this is the problem with the word because it gives us an impression of something that isn’t even biblical. Biblically should we be sharing our faith with others? Yes absolutely!! But do we need to be professionals at it? Do we need to attend training seminars about sharing the “4 Spiritual Laws”? Do we need to have a specific gifting that a spiritual gifts test reveals?…The answer is unequivocally no.

The Biblical answer as we’ll find out on Sunday is that everyone is called to be an “evangelist” right here and right now. Meaning that each and every Christian is called to share Jesus with others. And on Sunday we’ll see how God uses untrained, unqualified, and unsure people to change others. And as we’ll see, if he can use them, he can use us. Because here is the beautiful thing, that God wants to use you to shape your friends, family, and neighbors. And the beautiful thing is you don’t need more training, qualifications, or even ability…you just need a story to share.

Come to Christ, not just the Church

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we present Jesus. I’ve really noticed something of late.

What I’ve noticed is how much of our language focuses on “church” as the destination. That people are seeking to get others to go to this church service, program, speaker, worship event, etc. There is nothing wrong with any of these things, in fact, I think they are important. But we must be clear, the goal of life is not to get people to go to church, but to go to Christ.

That’s where the disconnection happens, because theologically you never go to church; as a Christian you are the church. You bring church with you. Our message needs to be, come to Christ and become part of the church. Our message is come to Jesus and join the adventure of following Christ together. Our message is good news to all. The church has the amazing role and responsibility of sharing that message. But the church shouldn’t transcend  or replace the message.

So all I’m saying is, the church is important, but it’s important only because of Jesus Christ. So when you invite a neighbor to church don’t stop there. Make sure you invite them to discover Jesus as well. Because the amazing thing is that once someone comes to Jesus, they become the church wherever they are…

Soap Boxes, Couches, and Stories

A friend of mine, Pernell Goodyear, was talking at our denomination’s regional gathering. I was recently going through my notes and really resonated with what he shared. He was talking about evangelism, as inviting people into our lives and walking with others. In his talk he said this:

“Soap boxes and pulpits are not nearly as important as kitchen tables and couches.”

This point really hit me quite hard. His point was simple. Evangelism happens best in the context of hospitality and friendship. Inviting people into your life to see how you live, to ask questions, and to live with you is the starting point. We need to be less concerned with getting our message out there, and more concerned with getting our “lives” out there. To actually connect with people, from friendships, and not only speak the message of grace, but to live it out.

Pernell’s point isn’t to invite someone into your home to “evangelize” or “convert” them. Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus entered people’s homes to hear their stories, to enter into their lives with grace. He entered their homes so that their lives became a part of his story. And we need to follow the same example, practicing radical hospitality with our friends, neighbors, and co-workers, letting their stories intermingle with ours, to see what God might do with the convergence.

So how do we practice this? Well, that’s the easy part, you start opening up your home, inviting neighbors in, inviting friends in, and welcoming others. Start listening to other people’s stories and seeking to discover how Jesus has been active in their lives, because he is. Jesus is already at work all over the world. We need to start joining him in that work by welcoming people into our homes, and starting to share our story, and listen to others…