Three Relaxing Realities for Stressed New Students

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Soon, my Facebook feed will be filled with statuses like, “Does anyone have the book for EN 101?” Or “My new roommate is _________!!” Or “Only three weeks of summer left!”

Cue panic attack. Don’t worry – you still have time to get your textbooks and make your schedule. But a new semester is fast approaching!

Perhaps you’ve enjoyed a less stressful summer. Good for you. But you know how you get during the craziness of the semester – panic attacks, maybe some crying (might as well admit to it, guys). Perhaps you’re going to be a brand-new college freshman! Congrats! This goes out to you, freshies…

Don’t stress. No matter how crazy it gets, don’t stress. Why?

Because God.

I’m a professional stresser. But God has been teaching me some things this summer that I’d like to share with you as we begin a new semester. I hope they’ll help you see the refreshing reality that is a risen Jesus.

Here’s four refreshing realities for stressed new students:

1. God gives people different passions and opinions – it’s okay!

Guess what? People at college will be different from you! Your roommate may get on your nerves, your classmate may be a jerk, and your professor may totally refute your valid argument.

People will disagree with you. And that’s okay!

This is so refreshing – you are not right 100% of the time! And there are a whole host of issues that people can disagree on within Christianity and still be okay. Because God does not make it clear in Scripture. Obviously, doctrine cannot be differed on. But a whole bunch of preferences can.

Maybe God gave them that passion or that opinion so they can reach some unsaved person with that weird opinion for the Gospel.

Maybe God made them more of a hick to reach the hicks. Maybe they’re more hipster to reach the hipsters.

It’s kinda cool how God does that. And it frees us to stop trying to change people’s opinions on things that don’t really matter and focus instead on witnessing to the people God’s put in our path because of our interests or perspectives. Spend your time trying to make disciples of the people in your path as you “go” into college (Matt. 28:19-20).

2. God made you weird – embrace it.

Yep, you’re weird. I could tell with one look.

I wasted so much time trying to be “Mr. Cool” or “Mr. Sporty.” I’m neither and never will be.

I can’t catch a football if it was thrown to me across a table, much less a field. I find more enjoyment watching Congressional debates on the budget than the Superbowl.

I also like llamas. I’m pretty obsessed. I have like seven stuffed ones in my office, car, and apartment.

I’m weird. And I tried to convince people otherwise – but now, I just don’t care. God made me weird. Oh well!

Christians will always be very weird to the world. If we’re not, we better check to make sure we’re acting like Christians!

Don’t waste your life trying to be cool or something you’re not. If you’re naturally hip and awesome, please be that way. If you’re naturally a goober, be the most Christ-like goober you can be!

3. God really, really loves you in Christ – live like it!

Now, I don’t say that as a sort-of “Veggie-Tales-feel-goody” pep talk. I’m not into making people feel good when they’re actually not.

So let me get this straight – you are a vile, wicked person. Yep. You don’t deserve to be given a used toothbrush, much less God’s grace.

But He’s given it to you anyway.

In Christ, you and I are forgiven. Of every last one of our nasty sins.

I don’t understand it. I certainly don’t deserve it. And I still wallow in the sins I’ve been forgiven of and need a good smack and clean-up from time to time (or all the time).

But Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so!

You’re a big boy now, heading off to college. Awesome! But never get over that simple kids’ song. It’s so, so true!

Jesus didn’t save you and now regret it because He sees how messed up you are. He didn’t save you only to tolerate you now – love you but not really like you. As Matt Chandler so powerfully puts it, “You don’t disgust Him.”

He really, really loves you.

“But Matt, if you tell people this, they’re just going to live however they want because God just loves them and nothing can change that.”

Actually, not. If you and I truly understand how amazing it is that God loved us and sent His Son to die for us, we will not do whatever we want. We will not be lawless. We will live loving Him!

You don’t truly understand that Jesus died for you if you don’t want to live for Him!

So tell yourself, especially when you mess up – “Jesus loves me!” You’re gonna mess up at college – expect it. Grades will be worse than ideal, you’ll fall back into the sin you said you’d leave behind in high school…but Jesus loves you.

Learn that Gospel more and more in college. No matter your major, that’s a great thing to study.

At the end of every day this semester, God will still love you the same incredible amount as He did when that day started. Nothing you did that day will affect that.

That’s freeing for those of us who are legalistic perfectionists. It’s motivating to those of us who are licentious lazies. And most of us are both simultaneously.

So here’s my simple advice as we finish summer and enter another crazy school year.

Welcome everyone – even those you disagree with (Rom. 14:1). Don’t try to be someone you’re not just for approval (Gal. 1:10). And through it all, trust Jesus (Prov. 3:5-7).

You’ll get through this semester fine with Him.

Welcome to college!

Books for Those Who Grew Up Christian

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It’s summer! Time for laying on the beach, getting burnt, and reading books. What? You’d prefer to swim in the ocean, go parasailing, and get eaten by sharks? No thank you! I much prefer my calm (boring) pastime of sitting and devouring book after book.

So join me! Pull up a beach chair into the lapping waves. Zone out the screaming children throwing sand at each other and the stress of a crazy world.

Think back with me to how you grew up. Like me, you probably were born into a Christian home – a second generation believer (or third or fourth or hundredth). You could quote John 3:16 before you knew your ABCs. You probably made a profession of faith between the ages of 4 and 10. You probably wrestled with whether or not you were really saved between the ages of 12-18. You probably got baptized once (or twice) in those years.

You won a ribbon in AWANA for reciting verses (or whatever you did). You made a decision at camp that you neglected the moment the bus pulled away from the camp ground. You walked down an aisle once or twice. You tried not to listen to rock, burned a CD or two, put part of your first paycheck in the offering, and rededicated your life to the Lord more times than you could count.

I’m not mocking any of that. That’s the story of my growing-up years. And the Lord has blessed me through it all. I’m so thankful for the firm faith of my parents.

But let’s face it – the spiritual life of a second-gen believer (particularly we millennials) can be kinda confusing. We were taught that it’s not by works that we are saved, and yet got the gnawing sense of guilt if we did not obey the rules laid down for us.

Our authorities meant well and deserve thanks, not complaints. It’s our own inner-sinfulness that has left us confused and often doubting our salvation. How can we get beyond these confusing times?

Enter the wisdom of men much wiser (and older) than we. Men who have worked hard to produce books based on Bible truths to guide us through these years of transitioning from the faith of our fathers to the faith of our own soul.

Maybe you lost your way somewhere along the way and have lots of fields of wild oats to show for it. Maybe you stuck within the fold but had your own internal battle (that’s me). Wherever you’re coming from out of a childhood in conservative Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism, let me guide you to some resources that were a huge help for my journey.

  1. When People Are Big and God Is Smallby Ed Welch. Outside the Bible, this book has done more for my spiritual walk than any other. Growing up in churches where everyone seemed perfect, we bought into the mindset that we must always put on a good show. We have to please people. This book (and its shorter, teen-friendly version, What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?) confronts our desire to be loved by others by presenting a God we can live for and a God who loves us. If you struggle with people-pleasing, as I so often do, I highly recommend this read.
  2. The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul. Lest we think we can abandon all the rules for riotous living, this book comes in to present a view of holiness that complements many of the principles our parents tried to teach us. Though rules may go too far at times, there is a very real Holy God whom we must fear. This book will encourage you to hate your sin, something we millennials could do more of.
  3. The Explicit Gospel, by Matt Chandler. This Dallas-based pastor is the Spurgeon of our generation, I believe. He knows what it is like to be in a more conservative church. That’s where he ended up where he was first saved. Like his powerful sermons (which I encourage you to listen to), this book cuts through the clutter to get down to what the Gospel actually is. In a Christian culture that often gets tangled up in preferences and opinions, this book is a refreshing look at the good news of our salvation, even if you first embraced that at age 5.
  4. The Imperfect Discipleby Jared C. Wilson. Jared (can I call him Jared? He seems cool with that) also understands the conservative Christian background. He grew up in a church that sounded a lot like mine and wrestled with many of the same problems I did – our own imperfections in light of a holy God and holier-than-thou people. What’s the balance between remorse over our sin and joy in the Gospel? Jared strikes what I think is the ideal mix, with some hilarious anecdotes and self-deprecation thrown in there for good measure. An excellent read!
  5. God Is the Gospel, by John Piper. Pastor John can be a bit deep if you’re not used to such things. He’s an excellent wordsmith, and this book is well-worth the deep thought it requires. The thesis is interesting – the good news of the Gospel is a relationship with God, not the gifts He provides through it (forgiveness, freedom from guilt). A refreshing look at what we say we believe.
  6. Another religion’s sacred text. WHAT? Yeah, you heard me (er, read me). If you feel confident enough in your own faith and in the Jesus you love, go ahead and read something another religion has put out as truth. Read the opposition. Especially since we have been called to reach these people. If you have a lot of Hindu coworkers, ask them for a copy of their sacred scriptures to look over. If you feel a burden for atheists and agnostics, read Darwin or Hitchens or Dawkins. Does that seem crazy? Paul apparently kept up with the pagan poets of his day (see Acts 17). I’m not saying read these all the time exclusively. I’m saying you should read something from someone far outside Christianity that would not cause your conscience to stumble. I’ve read the Qur’an, and it has helped me in my own witnessing endeavors. Challenge your friend to read the Bible if you read their sacred book. When I was speaking to millennials our age in a majority-Muslim country, they were astonished that I had studied other religions. Such an idea is foreign to the way they grew up. How powerful it is for me to testify that I have studied the claims of other religions and even their books – and found them all unsatisfying and dark compared to the glory of my Jesus and His Word! One of the problems with our generation of believers is that we’ve been sheltered (for good reason) from much falsehood. Then when we finally encounter these ideas, we fall prey to lies. We were never taught how to stand and fight. I appreciate the work of apologists in our circle for encouraging us to consider our beliefs and be prepared with answers. May their tribe increase.
  7. (Seven is the number of perfection. I better stop here!) Colossians & Galatians, by the Apostle Paul the Holy Spirit. Yeah, I just did that. Of course, you should read the Bible in its entirety before you even think about any of these books. It is the Word of Life. That’s a given. But I would commend special study of these particular epistles. Both deal with some form of legalism springing up in a church. Colossians 2 has the answer for many of us struggling with overcoming sin coming out of a “do-right” culture. Galatians as a whole confronts both legalism and license (for that matter, check out Romans too). All the rest of these books will fade and go out of print. But the Bible will remain. Only its words can give life. I recommend these other books only on the basis that their contents will commend the truth of the Word of God (except #6 of course).

Take these recommendations with a grain of salt. I’m too young to be considered wise. But I know God has used these as part of my journey of faith. I hope you can find some help from them as well.

Why Every Church Should Be Split

 

 

Your church should be split.

Crazy, I know.

Now, you know I’m not talking about a fiery business meeting where red-carpets face off against blue-carpets. Or when political operations are formed within the church in favor of Deacon Sam vs. Deacon Don. Or civil wars caused by rival Mary Kay sellers.

Churches split way too easily these days over ridiculous matters. Obviously, we all get a good laugh thinking about churches splitting over the color of carpets – that is, until we find ourselves in a similar circumstance where the pastor has recommended a book by an author we detest or seems to be teetering too close to the chasm of Calvinism (abandon all hope, ye who enter there). Or perhaps we’re ready to abandon ship and lead an army out with us over the fact that the music pastor has too many guitars – or too few.

Lest you think I’m throwing shade only on the older generations who tend to split over issues like the above, let me state that millennials are just as guilty. We may not formally split a church, but we very easily hop from church to church until we find one that fits our hipster music taste or has a pastor with a cool haircut.

It’s human nature – we like to hang out with people like us. We find community with like-minded people. Latte-toting millennials hang out at a church with a coffee shop in the foyer. Older folks who like simple things find themselves at home in a small country church that holds to the “good ole days.”

We want what we like. And we will do anything to make sure our preferences are followed in our church.

We’re willing to steamroll over anyone in our way – including our pastors, parents, older and wiser mentors, and ultimately Jesus Himself. You know, the Head of the Church. The Sovereign of our assembly. The Chief Shepherd.

We forget so easily about Him in the mud-slinging fights that accompany too much change or too little at church. Paul, inspired by the Spirit of Christ, wrote against such practices in 1 Corinthians.

So in one sense church “splits” – that is formally or informally splitting from a gathering because of personal preferences – is sin and should be avoided.

But in a different sense, every church should have a “split.” A split caused because the church has refused to formally split into two because they love each other – despite their differences.

Too many churches look like homogeneous globs of godly good-doers. You walk in Sunday morning and everyone looks the same. Everyone is from the same country and same ethnic group within that country. Everyone votes the same. Everyone eats similar food. Everyone shakes hands the same way. Everyone listens to the same music. Everyone has the same entertainment and dress standards.

Nothing is wrong with that – if that reflects the community the church is in. Perhaps that’s how it will be in rural Kansas where the population is 100% white and 100% conservative (‘Merica!). But in most places in America, particularly the South where I live, that’s not how the community is.

America is a diverse nation – which is something to celebrate this 4th of July (shoot off fireworks and try not to light your house on fire).

So our churches should reflect that diversity. If your community has a large percentage of African-Americans, why does the church not reflect that? If your town has a sizable immigrant population, where are some not in your assembly? Do you notice a lot of Hispanics at the grocery store but not in your pews? Do you see women with head coverings at the mall but have never dreamed of seeing someone stand up in church to talk about how they forsook that life for Jesus?

That’s a problem. You need more splits in your church.

Not just ethnic splits. Opinion splits. What I love about my church is that we have as many opinions as we have bodies in the auditorium. We have people more Calvinistic than Calvin and people who use his portrait as a dart board. We have people who like nothing more than listening to good organ music while on a jog and people who can drop the beat. We have people who share Fox News articles on Facebook and people who share New York Times articles.

Some would say we’re in danger of a church split. It certainly can’t be healthy to have such diverse opinions.

I say it’s actually a mark of a healthy church to have such diverse members (Hey Pastor Dever, can we add a tenth mark?).

Not diverse doctrinally (“Yeah, we got some Catholics, some Mormons, some theological liberals…and even a Muslim!”). But diverse on issues that good people differ on.

Many see this as a weakness. I see it as a strength. What glory is it to God if a bunch of people who look the same, vote the same, and think the same are unified? Any unsaved people could do that! Political parties can do that. Civic clubs can do that.

But what if a bunch of people who have totally different opinions and are from totally different backgrounds and like totally different things get together and call each other “brother” and “sister”? And love each other, even when they don’t agree?

That’s what I call a church.

A church that may be split on any given opinion. But a healthy church nonetheless.

Because only the work of God could bring such diverse people together in one body. And only God gets the glory when #neverTrump and #MAGA go to the same church. When TULIP and “Whosoever will” hug every Sunday. When “I love you” flows across the church atrium in many different languages. When people from every opinion, every culture, every tribe sing together, “Worthy is the Lamb!” Only God could be behind that!

Only God could keep a split church from splitting.

Content with Discontentment

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We millennials are not a very content lot. We’re the kind that like to stage protests each weekend because we don’t get our way. We’re known as world travelers and major-switchers and job-hoppers who have trouble settling down.

But then again, the older generations aren’t terribly content either. They get upset if any bad press comes out about a person they like or if their views are not held by everyone else. They never can get their “dream house” or “dream job.”

Let’s face it – humans are not very content creatures. I’ve always known this is an area I especially struggle with, but recently the Lord seems to be bringing it back to the forefront of my mind.

In my short life, I’ve moved all over this country to all sorts of towns in all sorts of houses, but I’ve never been fully satisfied with any place.

I’ve been in all sorts of churches, had all sorts of jobs, been friends with all sorts of people…and yet I’ve never been content!

I think I get to a place where the grass is green but every time I get there, it looks greener somewhere else.

Such is life…a series of moves toward fields of green and yet always finding myself in a field of brown.

Why do we humans always find things so unsatisfying? Why do the people who seem to have everything they could have always want still desire more – and ruin their lives to get it? Why are the magazines at the grocery store check-out full of celebrities who gained the world and yet don’t have enough?

The world understands this discontentment. In a song from the hit musical Wicked, Glinda laments that she has gotten everything she’s always wanted…but still isn’t happy.

“…Getting your dreams,
It’s strange, but it seems
A little – well – complicated.
…that joy, that thrill
Doesn’t thrill you like you think it will…
Because happy is what happens
When all your dreams come true –
Well, isn’t it?”

It’s not just Glinda who speaks to common human discontentment. C.S. Lewis wisely observes what may be causing this universal syndrome –

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

That’s it, isn’t it? That’s why we’re all so discontent. That’s why no matter where I go, I’m not content. That’s why no matter how many friends I have, I don’t have enough. That’s why no matter how much food I eat, I always want more (or maybe I just need to go on a diet).

Nothing in this world ultimately satisfies. No amount of fame or money or power fills us up. That’s the problem with our human dreams – they either get crushed or they get fulfilled…and we still feel crushed!

Over coffee with a friend of mine of late (a millennial), he rehearsed how a really healthy dream of his was crushed by someone else. And then stomped further into the ground by another friend, leaving him hurt, bitter, and angry.

But the Lord worked in him so that he actually approached these people and apologized for his bitterness. After recounting this to me, he sat back in his chair – I’ll never forget it – and said simply, “And now…I am content.”

Content? Dude, you were just betrayed. Stabbed in the back. Had your heart crushed! How can you be content?

I thought long and hard and tried my very best to do the same – sit back in my chair and look at my life and say, “I am content.” And I thought I was doing pretty well – until the Lord revealed a key area where I’ve been complaining! Oops…

But how can any of us humans sit back and say that we’re content, when so many of our dreams get crushed or end up being unsatisfying?

I think it’s because we see the truth in Colossians 3:1-4:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Look to where Christ is. Look beyond this world. Look to Heaven. Why? Because you died – and your life is now hidden with Christ. In fact, HE IS YOUR LIFE. If He is your life, you won’t long for things in this world. You will find in Him all you need.

He ultimately satisfies. No one else does. It’s a simple concept – but oh, so true and comforting!

Millennials, getting your Master’s and getting a nice-paying job in a big city will NOT satisfy you. Xers, getting that promotion and having seventy grandchildren will NOT satisfy you. Boomers, retiring early and playing golf will NOT satisfy you.

But Jesus will.

It’s not wrong to wish life turned out differently. It’s not wrong to be discontent from time to time with the futility and “vanity” of this world (see Ecclesiastes).

In fact, you’re guaranteed to be discontent in this world. But instead of letting that discontentment drive you to complain, let it drive you to seek something beyond this world that can make you content even with your discontentment.

His name is Jesus.

Take the advice of John Piper as recorded in a recent blog post (that nearly brought me to tears):

“Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”

Embrace the life you have. Sit daily with Jesus. Lean back in your chair and say, “I am content…with You.”

-M@

Moms Make the Best Mentors

 

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Moms are pretty fantastic. I highly recommend them.

Especially mine – she’s incredible. And my awesome mother-in-law too. The very best of the best!

You know why moms are so awesome? Because for almost everyone on the planet, the #1 mentor in their life has been their Mom.

Think about it – what makes a good mentor?

Somebody who does life with another. Somebody who goes to every game, every concert, every graduation. Somebody who throws themselves at a person to seek to grow and mature them. Somebody who gives up countless hours to do acts of service for them. Somebody who loves them no matter what and never stops praying and pursuing if they wander away.

That’s what makes a good mentor. And that’s what moms are!

No one has gone to more concerts and ceremonies for me than my Mom. No one has spent more time eating with me – from the time she had to spoon-feed me to the times she still has my wife and me over for Sunday lunch.

No one has been a bigger fan of me. Probably no one has prayed more for me. Probably no one has admonished me more when I strayed.

My Mom is my mentor. And if you stop and think about it, your mom probably was too.

And yet sometimes, this “mentoring” of moms can be a negative when they try to over-protect their children from every slightest danger. But I have found that the best moms – mine included – will let their kids explore far and dream big and make bold prayers for them and see them answered. Even if it pains them in the process.

Think of some biblical Moms. Think of Hannah, Samuel’s Mom, who prayed long and hard for a son. But when God finally gave her one, she willingly gave him entirely over to the Lord. Yet, she didn’t give up on him. Year by year, she brought him a “little robe” to wear (1 Samuel 2:19).

Think of Mary. She had no need to “mentor” her son (Him being the Son of God and all). And yet she was always there for her Son. At one point, she seemed to try to call Him away from ministry (see Matthew 12 – she was perhaps thinking of the time it was prophesied that a “sword” would pierce her own soul), and yet at the end she quietly watched Him suffer and die on a tree. The little baby she once held was now dying for the sins of the world.

Moms are a big deal to God. They are a big part of His plan for discipleship. It’s no wonder that so many heroes of the Bible and church history were greatly influenced and even brought to Christ by their mothers. It’s little surprise that so many influential people attribute their mother as the one who influenced them the most.

It’s no shock that the Apostle Paul himself would compare his own discipleship endeavors with being a mother. 1 Thessalonians 2:7 describes Paul’s gentleness with the Thessalonians like a mother with her nursing child. He travailed for the Galatians like a mother in a labor (4:19).

Mentoring is a lot like mothering because mothers make the best mentors.

So thank the Lord for godly mentors in your life. But when you do, never forget who was probably the best, most loyal, most faithful mentor ever – your own mother.

Thanks, Mom!

Mentoring Messy Millennials

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An interesting comment was posed to me on the “inter-generational panel” that my Dad organized for our church’s Men’s Retreat –

“I understand the importance of mentoring the next generation. But the millennials I’ve tried to invest in seem arrogant and always reject my attempts to disciple them.”

My response acknowledged the harsh reality –

“Yes, there certainly are a lot of flaws with my generation. Including great arrogance and rejection of authority.”

Let’s face it – for all our pleas for discipleship, we millennials are hard to disciple. We may desire inter-generational relationships and at the same time reject the older people who try to reach out to us. I’ll admit, it’s hard to mentor millennials. We’re kinda a mess. As I wrote in an earlier post, we’re the “Jerk Generation.”

But my response didn’t end there –

“And while it’s true that we should try to invest in those who are willing to be invested in…we also know that we are abundantly thankful God didn’t use that reasoning with us. He didn’t look for those willing and eager to embrace Him. He reached out into the lives of people who had rejected Him and wanted nothing to do with them. Since God chose to invest in us, who spurned His love, we should choose to invest in those who spurn our efforts to invest in them.”

Okay, maybe I wasn’t quite so eloquent during the actual moment, but I’ve been thinking about that comment ever since then. Especially when confronted in my own life with people who didn’t want me to invest in them. People who took advantage of my kindness. People who don’t listen to my advice and never change no matter how many times I tell them.

People I want to give up on.

But I can’t. Because Christ never gave up on me when I sinned the millionth time. He never abandoned me when I rejected time with Him for time with Facebook, movies, or worse yet, immorality. He stuck with me.

And that should motivate me to stick with the millennials I’m investing in. Even when they’re a big mess.

Yes, we should invest in those who seem to be interested. But at the same time, we should not reject those who reject us. We must be willing to throw ourselves at even the most messy and unmotivated people

That’s what Paul did. No, not in his relationship with Timothy (who seemed very open to discipleship). But in his relationship with his “troubled child” church – Corinth.

Both letters to this city are full of Paul’s gracious reprimands for what should have been obvious problems. 1 Corinthians confronts the church about letting a man who committed incest get away with it, dividing up into factions, and even denying the resurrection of the body!

As if that was nothing, his second letter had to confront something even worse for Paul personally. As you read the book, it becomes apparent that Paul was writing to people who had rejected him. False teachers had convinced them that Paul himself was a swindler, out to steal their money and promote himself. In fact, they questioned Paul’s apostolic authority entirely!

Talk about a punch to the gut. Paul had spent a lot of time with this church. He had personally invested in many of them, telling them about the Gospel and teaching them patiently how to apply it to their lives. And now they were treating him like dirt!

So what did Paul do? Give up on them? After all, they’re not worth it. If they don’t love him, he won’t waste his time on them. He’ll go and focus his efforts on churches that actually care about him. The Ephesians were always nicer to him anyways…

Quite the opposite, actually! Paul doubles down on these messy people. He won’t abandon them to heresy or sin. He boldly confronts them, yet the whole tone of the letter is that of a father with a wayward child.

In fact, Paul proves how much he loves this jerk church in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13. He tells them that he had great evangelistic opportunities in Troas, but abandoned them. Why? Because he was so concerned about the Corinthians and how they were responding to the letter he sent them through Titus. He had to leave sharing the Gospel in Troas to find Titus because he was so worried about them!

Wow. What love for messy people. But I love the way he sums up his care for them toward the end of the letter.

2 Corinthians 12:15 could be called the Christian mentor’s motto.

“I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?”

Such is the life of those who choose to invest in others, especially the messy and often rude millennial generation.

So, to answer the question raised by the person trying to invest in millennials but getting rejected…

Welcome to mentoring. Join the club.

Join me and Paul. In fact, join God Himself who lavishly loves those messy people who reject Him. People like you and me.

Easter – A Ceasefire in the Worship Wars

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I love Christmas music. I start listening to it sometime early fall (don’t shoot me!).

But I also love Easter music. And I feel like it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but when it comes to New Testament emphasis, the resurrection of Jesus Christ seems to be WAY more important. Our music should reflect that.

Maybe one reason it doesn’t is because there are far more “contemporary” resurrection music than Christmas. Maybe we can’t emphasize it in our worship services because so many of the songs are embroiled in controversy.

Brothers, these things ought not be.

A Ridiculous Controversy

Imagine my wife and mother are planning a birthday party for me (hint, hint, it’s coming up in a month, Mom and Carissa!). But all along the way while they plan it, they keep arguing over what they should do at the party. They can’t agree on the type of cake – “I like carrot cake,” says Mom. “But I like red velvet!” argues my wife. They can’t agree on the color of the balloons.

“I like blue!” “No, green!”

How ridiculous! If I found out about it. I’d be a little peeved. No offense, but who cares which color they prefer. It doesn’t matter what type of cake they personally enjoy. It’s MY party – they should pick colors and cake that I would like (FYI, I like green and red velvet)!

Similarly, it’s ridiculous that we are celebrating the RESURRECTION OF THE LORD JESUS, and yet arguing over what tempo the music is! We’re celebrating the day Christ conquered sin and death once for all – and yet we can’t agree on whether we should use organ or guitar.

Generation vs. generation. Pew vs. pew. Church vs. church. Culture vs. culture.

No offense, but WHO CARES what kind of tempo or music style or instrument YOU prefer. This is the Sunday of the year we focus on Jesus our Savior (who, by the way, DIED FOR US!). It doesn’t matter our preferences! All that matters is what HE cares about. We’re worshiping HIM after all. But too often all we end up doing is worshiping ourselves and our preferences.

By the way, I’m pointing the finger at both sides. And I’m pointing the finger at myself!

This past week, at my university we had a singspiration focused around Easter. I found myself standing there singing…nit-picking the song selection! Oh, I don’t know this song. Oh, this song is old. Oh, I like this song normally but the style is not what I like. On and on my thoughts ran.

I felt convicted. Here I had tried to piously look like I was celebrating the resurrection of Christ, but in my heart I was judging. That’s not worship. At least not worship of God. It’s worship of self!

Resurrection over Preferences

That service was a combination of new songs and old. And that’s probably what my church will have tomorrow. Some I will really like. Others won’t be my “jam.”

But who cares! Maybe your church sings too many “contemporary,” modern songs for your taste. Maybe your church is stuck on the organ and hymnbook.

I have one request for you and myself. Don’t focus on your preferences tomorrow in the service. Focus on the Savior.

Let’s make Easter Sunday a day of ceasefire for our worship wars.

A Beautiful Harmony

On Facebook, someone posted this: “Give a *single line* of a hymn that encapsulates what Christ accomplished on the cross. Go.”

The comments were beautiful.

Old songs with timeless truths – “No condemnation now I dread – Jesus and all in Him is mine!” “When I survey the wondrous cross…” “Jesus paid it all!” “At the cross where I first saw the light…”

New songs mixed in: “No guilt in life, no fear in death.” “Death has died. Love has won – hallelujah!” “Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table, Jesus thank You!” “Love has won. Death has lost!”

Young people. Old people. Boomers. Millennials. Fundamentalists. Hipsters.

All of these people coming together to share their favorite line encapsulating the redemption.

That’s how Easter should be! Not a day for bickering in heart or around the dinner table about a song chosen. Not a day to confront your music pastor about the volume.

This day is not about us. It’s about Him. So long as the songs properly and reverently worship the risen King, let us sing with all our might! Wherever in the world we may be…

Our brothers and sisters in Africa will gather in small village churches and beat on drums as they dance and sing to the resurrected Jesus.

Our brothers and sisters in the Middle East will gather in small rooms, fearful for their lives and yet still exuberantly singing with what instruments they can find.

Our brothers and sisters in the South will be singing with Southern drawl, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow!”

Our brothers and sisters in inner-city churches will burst forth with, “Hallelujah for the Cross!”

Our brothers and sisters in rural Ohio will be all smiles as they sing, “Up from the grave He arose!”

And all of it will be sweet in the ears of our Savior, who is risen and ascended and seated at the right hand of God!

Let’s sing!

 

Let’s join with the Apostle Paul, who had to confront his own “worship war” in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 14. But notice how the topic suddenly shifts in chapter 15 to something Paul can’t help but write about – the resurrection of Christ. And notice how he ends – with what seems to be a song! A song that he and all the Corinthian believers – even with all their problems and misuse of tongues and spiritual gifts – a unified song they could all sign together two thousand years ago…

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

Let’s join that ancient song. And at least for a day, let’s have a worship war ceasefire.

When Your Mentor Ascends into Heaven

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Sometimes the best way to mentor someone is just to get out of the way.

You can retire. You can move away. You can resign from that position. You can sit in the back row instead of behind the pulpit.

Or, you can ascend into Heaven via a whirlwind.

That’s what Elijah did. He is perhaps one of the greatest examples of a mentor in all of Scripture. We’re going to take the time on this blog to look at a number of mentor/mentee relationships in Scripture, and we’ll start with Elijah and Elisha, the two often-confused prophets to Northern Israel in the reign of Ahab and his sons.

I love Elijah. He’s a raw, gritty guy – hairy with a leather belt, he is described. He’s the kind of guy who grew up in a rough part of Israel and was probably used to a solitary life, especially as the unpopular prophet of Yahweh in an era of Baal.

But even Elijah gets lonely. Following his success on Mt. Carmel, he’s threatened by Queen Jezebel and runs into Sinai. There, the prophet of God complains that he’s the only halfway-decent fellow in the whole kingdom. God corrects him by pointing out that there are seven thousand others who haven’t given into Baal worship yet. Elijah was never that good at math…

But notice what else God tells Elijah in his moment of depression – He commanded him to go anoint three people: Hazael as king of Syria, Jehu as king of Israel, and Elisha as his replacement. God said these three guys would wipe out Baalism.

How many of those guys did Elijah anoint to their positions? Well, look a few verses later in 1 Kings 19 and you’ll see he at least did the last one – his own replacement, a young man named Elisha.

But what about Jehu and Hazael? It seems Elijah never got around to them. Elisha, his mentee, anoints Hazael in 2 Kings 8 and sends a “son of the prophets” to anoint Jehu in 2 Kings 9. This is all after Elijah’s death – er, his assumption into Heaven.

What’s up with that? Was Elijah slacking off? Was he sipping lemonade in Jezreel, confronting Ahab about Naboth’s vineyard when he should’ve been on a flight to Damascus to have words with Hazael?

We can’t be certain. Maybe Elijah disobeyed. Or maybe he never had the opportunity to do so. Maybe God’s plan was for Elijah to train Elisha so he could do it. And then Elisha could train an assistant who could finish it with anointing Jehu. Three generations.

We see in this overlooked account a principle for mentoring – sometimes, those you mentor will be more successful and do greater things than you do.

And that sometimes hurts. But it shouldn’t – it should be cause for rejoicing!

Elijah never got to see the overthrow of the worship of Baal. He never got to see the death of Jezebel. In fact, he never even got to anoint the guy who would run over Jezebel with his chariot (Jehu)!

Instead, he got to train his replacement. His replacement got to see Baal blown to bits out of Israel. His mentee got to do greater works than he did – multiply food, summon she-bears, heal leprosy, etc.

Do you think Elijah was up in Heaven pouting that he never got to do that cool stuff? That he never got to see his work come to fruition? No, I’m sure he rejoiced even more that Elisha had found that the “Yahweh, the God of Elijah” was present with him as well – and powerful!

Recently, a lot of guys I’ve spent time with have “grown-up.” They’ve taken positions that I once held. They’ve gone beyond anything I did. And what sometimes hurts the most, they’ve made all those things way better and been more successful than I ever could have done.

And that hurts my pride. But at the same time makes me proud.

Because it was never about me to begin with! When I go up to Heaven (hopefully by a whirlwind!), I want people to speak more of the “God of Matthew” than about me. Because anything I do, anything those I mentor do, can only ultimately be done by Yahweh.

So I’m going to get out of the way. I’m not going to try to maintain power. I’m going to train a replacement and let him take over. I’m going to let him become more awesome and more popular than I. Rather, I’m going to let God receive even more of the credit as He uses the next generation. I’m going to praise Him more for working in their lives than complain about how He never did that for me. That’s the way the church should work.

May I be the kind of mentor who knows how to get out of the way and watch God do even greater things with the next generation.

Real Christianity

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We millennials want the “real deal.” We want real coffee and real free-range beef and real gluten-free, soy-free, sugar-free cardboard to eat.

Okay, we’re a little weird.

We’re a generation who hates the fake, but we sure do engineer “fake” profile pictures of ourselves on our social media. We decry the lies of politicians and yet so easily fall for the delusions of “fake news.”

When it comes to Christianity, we say we hate the fakers or pretenders of prior generations who put on a suit and tie on Sunday and yet live like Jesus means nothing on Monday as they eat, talk, and act just like the unsaved. And yet, we do the same things, indulging in the sins of our generation (which are many).

Where is the reality? Where is the substance? Where is real Christianity?

I know one place it is – Detroit, Michigan. I spent Spring Break here, touring the city through the eyes of inner-city church planters and pastors.

The pastors and Christians up here are not fake. It’s been a huge encouragement…and a big rebuke.

I’m sick of seeing people who pretend to love Jesus but by their lives obviously do not. I’m sick of being that person myself!

I love to meet people who truly love Jesus. People like the ones up here, of all generations, who gather together in the rough parts of town. Who sit around discussing their various unsaved friends and how they can strategize with others to reach them.

How rarely we talk about such things in my sphere. The older generations preach about it, and the younger generation complains about how we’re not doing it – but is anyone actually doing anything?

Is anyone actually accomplishing the Great Commission?

I love how one of the pastors up here explained the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

The command of the passage is to MAKE DISCIPLES.

Not “go” (a participle in Greek), which is the context of this command. Jesus assumes we have “gone” into the world ever since he launched the church out of Jerusalem like a flaming arrow in the first century, spreading the Gospel fire around the Roman Empire. We too have “gone” to the world into our various workplaces and neighborhoods (though we could all go further and meet more unsaved people).

But the central command is simply to MAKE DISCIPLES. That’s not a quick-fix, Bible-Belt-strapping thing.

In Detroit, it looks like a Christian having to call an ambulance for a lady who will later curse them out. Or being threatened with a drugged-up new believer who tries to kill them in his delirium.

And yet after hearing about and seeing such things, it’s easy to get on a “spiritual high” up here where things are “real” only to miss out on the reality going on in the Bible Belt. Things may look a little different, but drug addicts and hurting people – indeed, unsaved people in general – are everywhere in this world. The opportunities to make disciples is endless.

But how do we do that? How do we make disciples? Jesus gives two simple processes after the initial command.

  1. Baptize the new converts. This is the important first step. This brings them into the fellowship of a local church for accountability and discipleship. You cannot disciple new believers outside the context of the local church, which makes church-planting so important.
  2. Teach them to obey everything Jesus taught. Notice He does not command us simply to teach them everything He taught, as if we just need to teach a bunch of facts to new believers. As if we just need to have them memorize a bunch of key verses and then they are discipled. Doctrine is huge, but the Bible always connects doctrine to doing. So we teach these new believers to OBEY in day-to-day life what Jesus taught.

There you have it. That’s real Christianity. Churches who do this are real. Christians who do this really love Jesus. It’s simple…but oh so hard!

But what if I go to a church that doesn’t seem to have much time for these things? That’s no excuse for us. To you (and me), let me challenge:

  1. Realize that the teenagers within your church and even freshmen college students ARE the new believers. Odds are that anyone under 20 is a new believer in some sense, even if they’ve been saved for fifteen years. In fact, most of us millennials are still baby Christians (some of us are in the “terrible twos”). We need a lot of discipleship.
  2. Stop complaining about how the church isn’t “real” and start acting. You may not be a pastor. You may not have a chance to teach or preach or even sing a special. But there is nothing stopping you from growing the body of Christ. There is no lack of opportunity to be involved in ministry because there is no lack of unsaved people in this country, from Detroit to Greenville. So GO – make disciples in your city. It’s easy, especially for we millennials, to complain about how the church isn’t real. It’s far harder to be real in our own lives and obey the Great Commission.

Matthew 28 is the basis for mentoring and discipleship. In fact, according to Jesus in this passage, making disciples is our whole mission on this planet. We don’t have time for complaining or warring between generations.

It’s time to make disciples.

Does it sound too ambitious? Too dangerous? Too messy to get involved in people’s lives? Too heart-breaking?

That’s why Jesus ended the commission with these words.

“Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Amen.

Come and See

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“How did you meet your wife?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that in the past three weeks. (Yes, I got married. That is, Matt got married. Not Caleb – he just got a dog, which is not the same thing as a wife.) It seems everyone wants to know how the two of us met. It’s a pretty interesting story, and I must admit, I don’t mind sharing it.

Here’s a more important question though – “How did you meet your Savior?”

How did you come to know Jesus, the Son of God? It’s a different answer for each one of us. Some, like myself, were led to Christ at a young age, perhaps through a pastor’s message or parent’s talk. Others came to Christ later, maybe through a friend, spouse, or family member. Others perhaps got saved by simply reading the Word of God or a tract or falling under conviction in a service.

However it happened, one thing is true for all of us: there was a moment we became followers of Jesus. Or you could say, we became “disciples” of Jesus.

That’s where we get a word we use often on this blog – “discipleship” or “discipling.” Sometimes we call it “mentoring” or “life on life relationships.” That’s what this blog is really all about, particularly in the area of intergenerational discipling. And that will never change.

But this year, we want to get into a deeper discussion of what that actually looks like BIBLICALLY. You know our opinions on certain practical matters. But recently I was hit with this question – what does the Bible actually say about discipling and mentoring? What does it command? What do healthy intergenerational relationships look like according to Jesus?

In 2017, we at the Church Accords want a lot less opinions and a lot more Bible.

So let’s dive into the Bible and start with the Gospel of John. It doesn’t take us long to find discipling there. John 1, in fact!

I love that chapter. You start with the very beginning of time, eternity past, the Word with God…and end with that same God interacting one-on-one with dirty, smelly Galilean fishermen. If Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, who created all things and IS GOD, can stoop down to take flesh and disciple guys…what’s our excuse again?

Anyway, we see in the end of John 1 the various ways people become disciples. If we’re going to study what the Bible says about discipling, we should probably start at the beginning. You can’t make disciples if you aren’t one yourself. But if you are a disciple, as Mark Dever points out, you WILL be making disciples.

How does it all begin? How can someone meet Jesus?

John gives us a couple of ways.

  1. Through preaching the truth of Jesus (35-39). John the Baptist was standing with some of his guys and saw Jesus. He pointed at Him and said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” And two of his guys left him to follow Jesus. Jesus asks them what they’re looking for. They say they want to see where He’s staying. I love Jesus’ reply – it’s one that every disciple-maker can use: “Come and see.” Some people become disciples of Jesus through hearing someone else proclaim Him as the Savior. This doesn’t diminish one-on-one relationships. In fact, preaching should always go hand-in-hand with personal conversation. The Bible puts a premium on solid, biblical preaching, but it also emphasizes discipleship. We must do both.
  2. Through someone else’s invitation (40-42, 45-51). Andrew, one of those guys from before, goes and does what every good disciple-maker should do – he brings someone else to Jesus. Specifically, his brother Simon Peter (heard of that guy?). Then a couple verses later, Philip is finding his buddy Nathanael and bringing him to Jesus. Notice what words he uses: “Come and see.” I love that! The disciple has taken up the words of his Master, inviting people to experience what he’s experienced. This is discipling!
  3. Through a personal experience with Jesus (43-44). Some people are drawn to Christ on their own. Sometimes, Christ captures someone’s heart not necessarily through a person, but through His Word and Spirit directly. Philip was approached directly by Christ and called to be a disciple. From the following conversation with Nathanael, Philip seemed to have been studying the Old Testament and knew what Moses and the prophets wrote. Maybe through his own study of Scripture, Philip’s heart was prepared for an encounter with Jesus.

There are a variety of ways people come to meet Jesus. We all have our stories. For some it’s a radical, life-jarring event where Christ drags you out of a life of sin. For others, it’s as simple as a young child’s prayer kneeling next to their Mom. Either way, a miracle has occurred! And we must never forget that. For if we realize all that Jesus has done in calling us to Himself, we will feel compelled to go out and tell others to “come and see” Jesus.

You met Jesus. Now it’s time to introduce Him to others.