But First Jesus

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)

 

Due to some recently events in my life, I’ve really been thinking about the centrality of Christ. How does He impact my everyday life? How does Jesus influence my conversations with others? And how does He direct how I interact with those who I am trying to mentor? The past couple weeks I’ve needed to take a step back and look at the end goal of all of my mentoring relationships. And because of this passage I’ve had to refocus my efforts and revaluate if Jesus was central in those relationships.

But First Jesus

In Colossians 1, I see three ideas about Christ that should influence mentoring in the church.

  1. Christ’s power. (15-17)

Jesus is the creator. Everything was created by Him and He is sovereign over all. That includes all thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities. The power used to create the universe is the same power that breathes new life into the hearts of sinners.

Jesus is central to mentoring, because only His power is strong enough to change a sinner.

  1. Christ’s position. (18-19)

Jesus is preeminent. Jesus is the head of the church. Jesus is completely God. Christ’s position in this world, our churches, and the believer’s heart is supposed to be above all. What Jesus teaches should be above any personal ideology. He should be the reason we gather at church. He is the reason we proclaim the gospel.

Jesus is central to mentoring, because He is preeminent.

  1. Christ’s payment. (20)

Jesus reconciled all to himself by dying on the cross. He made peace with the Father by shedding His blood for you and for me. Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay. And it is only through Him that we can peace with God.

Jesus is central to mentoring, because it was through His blood alone that we can fellowship with God.

Conclusion

Jesus is central to all of the Christian faith, and that includes how we mentor. Because of His power, position, and payment for our sins we should have an occasional pulse check to make sure we still have Christ where He needs to be, at the center.

Here are a few questions that I had to ask myself about my mentoring relationships to help gauge if Christ is where He needs to be:

  • Only Jesus has the power to change men’s heart, so am I mentoring with the Bible or my opinions? If with my opinions, why and are they Scripturally-based?
  • Christ is preeminent, so am I mentoring to encourage all out pursuit of Him or the things of this world?
  • Christ is preeminent, so am I pointing to Him as the goal of sanctification or am I trying to create a little me?
  • Christ is preeminent, so do I spend more time talking about Him or about the latest sports game or political article?
  • Christ is the only way to have peace with God, so do I encourage those that I mentor to completely rely on Him or trust in our own strength to make it through life?

When it comes to mentoring, across all age groups, Jesus must be central. All the strategies, ideas, blogs, and books that are being written and distributed are great, but before any of those can be used effectively, we need to focus on Christ and put Him at the center of our mentoring relationships.

Next time I meet with my mentor or those that I am mentoring, I must think and put Jesus first.

 

 

 

Can We Talk About This?

I’ve found, in my relatively short life span, that the best way to carry on a conversation is to come to an understanding of terms. It keeps both parties honest in how they use them and they will come to a mutual understanding of each other’s statements. Matt and I have thrown this term around a few times and I’ve heard it come up in conversation as I’ve discussed our blog with people in the community around me and my church. The term I’m referring to is “open relationship.”

What does that mean? How can we have them in our churches if we can’t put a definition on the term? Here we go, let’s try to define a very trendy, but very important phrase in our churches.

Let’s start with a definition that I got from a medical journal article that a friend sent me.

“An ‘open’ relationship system is one in which an individual is free to communicate a high percentage of inner thoughts, feelings, and fantasies to another who can reciprocate.”1

To my knowledge the author of this article is not a Christian, but this doctor was able to capture in a sentence what I know many in our churches very desperately need and want.

We need relationships that will allow us to share our inner thoughts. What are the questions that are plaguing our minds at night? What are the “issues” that we are trying to come to an understanding of? The church is facing many cultural issues now that it didn’t have or didn’t talk about 20 years ago and we need to be able to have conversations about them. Like what do I do when my professor is flagrantly anti-Christian? How do I treat my sibling or close friend that just came out as gay or transgender? How can I feel like I live in a community, when I don’t understand what true community is because I’ve never seen it in my own family? How can I believe God is good, when my entire childhood is riddled with sexual abuse? Realities that need Bible answers.

We need relationships that let us ask Bible questions. The church was the center for learning theology at the beginning of Christianity. They didn’t have Christian colleges to send kids to in order for them to learn the fundamentals of their faith. Doctrine was taught in the church and by their members. The church needs relationships that let those in them ask the hard doctrine and Bible questions. They need to be able to ask what does it mean to “be all things to all men in order that I might win some” in our culture today? How was Jesus both completely God and completely man? How can what I read in my Bible and what read in my science textbook be so different? Which is right? If God were love, then how can He condemn someone to hell? How did we arrive at this standard on (insert standard here) Biblically? Where does the Bible say that?

We need relationships that let us share our feelings. That felt so weird typing that. I’m a guy that takes a while for me to be willing to share how I really feel about something, but once I know you a bit be prepared for an outpouring (my brother-in-law will attest to this). Our church members need someone to be able to share our sorrows, frustrations, joys, and victories. It’s only in these types of relationships that we can truly share our feelings and fulfill Romans 12 and “rejoice with those who rejoice, [and] weep with those who weep.”

We need relationships that allow us to dream both spiritually and personally. I know I’ve enjoyed a mentoring relationship that where my mentor supports me in my dreams both spiritually and professionally. He gives me guidance in my professional career, but also helps me grow in my spiritual walk as well. I have a close friend that knows where I want to be in the future spiritually and prays that I will someday be there if God directs and permits. Our churches need to be filled with relationships that will help push each other to our next goal and next step toward Jesus.

Doesn’t that sound amazing. Hopefully you can see the need for this type of relationship and maybe you’ve experienced it. How different would your spiritual walk be if you had that type of relationship? I know my walk with Jesus would have been much different than it was in college and high school if I had someone that I felt I could have been completely open with.

I want to give just three ideas that can help you start these types of relationships with someone in your church. These are ideas that I’ve come to cherish in a couple of my mentoring relationships.

Listen.

Don’t listen to answer. Listen to hear what’s really being said. Let them vent. Let them talk, and eventually they’ll really say what’s on their heart. You’ll be amazed at what someone can work out on their own if someone were to just listen in silence. Listen to hear and understand, not to answer.

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Prov. 18:13)

Share Bible. Not preference.

If there is one thing I’ve had the privilege of having is a mentor that shares more Bible than opinion. I’m pretty sure this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote “but as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” to Timothy. After you’ve listened to hear and understand within the next minute whatever you say should have SCRIPTURE in it, not your opinions on the matter. God’s Word will not return void, I can’t say the same about our opinions.

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly.” (Col. 3:16)

Point to Jesus.

When Paul addressed the church at Corinth he could have made his knowledge of Scripture known. Instead he pointed to Jesus. He preached Jesus to them, and let the Spirit do the rest.

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Cor. 2:2)

 

I hope that I’m a person that can have an open relationship with those in my congregation. I want to be able to talk about the hard things and point to Scripture and Christ. I pray the Church can start having more open relationships and conversations and grow closer together by asking the hard questions.

 

1 Bowen, Murray. “Family Reaction to Death.” 335–336. Print.

Learners Needed

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Suess

I’m sitting in a Bible study on a Saturday morning. Well, it’s more like a Bible discussion, accountability, and mentoring group than an actual study and I love it. We’ve spent some time talking about life and how our week has been, but now we’ve moved into discussing what we’re memorizing. A friend quotes a passage that he’s memorizing from Proverbs 14 and the next guy in our group chimes in about a passage he memorized from Proverbs 15. And the short discussion starts. The subject is someone being closed-minded to ideas or having an open mind to learning. Here’s the verse we discussed for a few minutes:

“He who disdains instruction despises his own soul,

But he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.” (Pro. 15:32)

It’s pretty clear in the verse that someone who is close-minded to learning and receiving instruction “despises his own soul.” But someone who is willing to learn and receive a rebuke or two will get understanding. Sounds like a simple statement. If you are willing to be rebuked, you will gain understanding. If you hate instruction, then you despise your soul. Basic if/then statements that everyone should understand. Basic and incredibly hard to practice.

The church as a whole appears to have a learning problem. I will admit that receiving instruction is something I struggle with. Especially when I feel like I have the answer to the question or I just don’t want to hear an answer because of my pride. But it’s not just me. Every church is filled with people just like this, we’re ones that think they have it figured out and don’t want to learn anything else.

It’s as if we view the church as our spiritual “safe zones” that we hear so much about on college campuses. Church is the place I can go and not hear anything that is different from my views. If you’re going to say something that could be different than what I believe than you need to warn me before saying it, because everyone in the church reads the same Bible and therefore must come to the same conclusions as me.

Is that really what church is supposed to be like? Shouldn’t I be able to fellowship with another believer in my church that thinks differently than me? Isn’t the church a tapestry of grace, filled with believers from every tongue and nation, and not a collection of clones? Shouldn’t I be open to instruction from the Bible and then study what I just heard to test if it holds up to Scripture and not blindly accept what was taught because it aligns with what I predetermined to be correct? I should clarify that I’m not talking about core doctrines of the faith. There are doctrines not up for discussion like faith in Christ’s work on the cross as the only way to have a relationship with God. But there are a lot more areas of church life that seem to be taboo to have a different views on. Those are areas that we should learn about with each other.

Dr. Suess had it right when he wrote, “The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” If we want the church to grow and go places, we need to be willing to learn from each other. We’ll need to take rebuke in order to gain understanding. A church on the move looks like generations of people that hold Scripture higher than their traditions and the Bible tighter than the latest trend or book by some famous theologian. It’s members being willing to learn from and be rebuked by their discussions with each other about the Scripture, so we can gain understanding together.

A church on the move is a church of learners. A church that refuses to receive instruction hates its own soul and will not gain understanding. None of us have it all figured out, there’s always more to learn, and what better way to grow together than by receiving instructing from each other.

Restorative Relationships

I walk into my room. The same room I’ve lived in for years. It was the same maroon carpet that had been there since we moved into the house 12 years prior, and fortunately the pink walls had been painted a light yellow since I had moved into the room. I had memories stored in the look and smell of the room, but it was time for a change. My room needed a makeover, and it needed it soon.

I ripped up the carpets and exposed the original hardwoods underneath. They simply needed a little TLC to get them back to their former glory (by little I mean hours of sanding, stripping, and sealing). With the help of a friend we patched the hole in my ceiling. My mom and dad helped me paint the walls a nice gray and brighten up the room. By the end of my project I had what looked like a new room, but was really what the room looked like when the house was originally built. I hadn’t renovated my room, I restored my room. I restored it back to its original glory.

I love being able to restore older items back to its former brilliance and purpose. For a house, it’s taking what is considered old, ugly, and uninhabitable, and turning that into something beautiful and a home for someone to make memories in. I also love it because it’s an amazing picture of our relationship with Christ and what our relationships with each other should look like.

Restoration vs. Renovation

There’s a big difference between those two words. Restoration takes something old or broken-down and makes it like new. Nothing is changed about it. It’s like taking that one item and sending it back in time to when it was originally made, to when it was new. Renovation is taking what is broken-down and making it your own. For a house it’s putting the latest styles in, opposed to the styles common in the time the house was built. It’s taking “now” and putting it in the place of “back then”. They have the same purpose, making something useful again, but they have two different ways of accomplishing it. Restoration is taking something back to its original state. Renovation strips everything away and rebuilds it to your specifications.

A Common State

You see, we’re all run down with sin. We have our ugly spots. We have our uninhabitable sections of our lives because we struggle with our sin nature. Romans 8 gives a picture of all creation groaning because of the futility of earthly life. Verse 23 describes us as heirs with Christ and the firstfruits of the Spirit groaning inwardly until our bodies are redeemed with Jesus. The truth is, we are redeemed and washed by the blood of Jesus, but we still are not completely free of our earthly, sinful nature.

A Common Goal

Since we find ourselves in the same state, we should have the same goal. Our goal should be restoration. We should be restored to our original purpose and state. At the beginning of time man was created in the perfect image of God.

 

“So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him;”

Genesis 1:27

 

Man had a perfect relationship with God. Adam and Eve walked with God. They talked with Him in the garden. Until after the fall there was no barriers between them.

The purpose of sanctification is to make us like Jesus, or to restore us to our original design and purpose. That’s you and me being the perfect image of God and in a barrier-free relationship with Him.

Restorative Relationships

As believers and followers of Christ we need to be restored, not renovated. We need to be taken back to the original state of man: the perfect image of God. We don’t need to be renovated. We don’t need to take what we think is correct or better and shape ourselves into that image. We need to look at Scripture and be restored to the image of Christ.

So here’s the point. What are we doing within the church? Are we trying to restore our brothers and sisters in Christ back to man’s original state: the perfect image of God? Or are we trying to renovate them? Are we trying to put a touch of us into their lives?

Instead of focusing on renovating each other’s lives, let’s take it upon ourselves to have restorative relationships. What would the church look like if we focused on helping each other be restored into the image of Christ? And how different would our cross-generational relationship be if we stopped renovating each other, and focused on helping each other be restored to the image of God?

A Starting Point

Mine started in March of 1991. It’s formed how I view the world, people, geographical regions, economics, relationships, and theology. It the lens that colors my world, and makes my views different than yours. It’s my story. How I got from point A to point B. Yeah, our stories may be similar, but they aren’t identical. My twists, turns, valleys, and mountains have had a hand in forming my view of theology, just like your journey has helped form yours. It’s the reason why I may really cling to an attribute of God more closely than you and vice versa.

Last week Matt wrote an amazing post about transparency and how our church seems to be the one place that we should find it, but don’t. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, well click here and take a look. It was a call to be real, not a perfect Christian, but a real one. And for Christians to have transparent conversations and speak Christ into each other’s lives. But I’m sure some have had the question, “But how? How do I get to that point with someone? Where do I start?”

This is not a step by step guide, but a suggestion that I think could help.

In I Corinthians 6 we see this list of sinners that will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, but when we come to verse 11 we see an amazing verse about personal stories and works of grace.

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

This church in Corinth was filled with liars, adulterers, drunkards, and swindlers, but they had been washed in the blood of the Lamb and justified in the eyes of their Savior. They had a story that shaped their view of God. I’m sure the adulterer’s view of the purity of Christ was much more personal than the drunkards. His story shaped his view of purity. The swindler’s view of truth is much more precious to him than we could imagine. The freedom we experience through Christ may be more excellent to some one that was enslaved by alcohol. Those life experiences and stories are why each one of us may cling to a different attribute of God. Even if you haven’t been saved from specific sins listed in I Corinthians your history has still had a hand in forming your view of your Savior.

So how do you start having real, transparent conversations? Start with learning each other’s story. Find out why this person is the way they are. There are reasons why we believe what we believe and why we hold some truths so tightly while others we are more open to discussing. It’s our story. And until we make an attempt to understanding the why of each generation’s thinking and how they got there, a church accord may stay a thing of legend.

The point of understanding someone else’s story is not to hold it against them or have our view of them change for the worse. Christ’s blood has made each one of us as white as snow and as pure as Christ. Our list of ordinances against us have been taken away and nailed to the cross, with Christ gloriously triumphing over them, putting to open shame those that would hold it against us. The point is to find the common ground. It’s understanding each person at their most basic part and building open, transparent relationships from there.

So here’s how you start. It’s simple questions. “Why? Why do you think this way about _________? How did you get to there?” Then listen. Learn. And try to understand.

Don’t You Forget About Me

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (Eph. 4:11-12)

Ephesians 4 has become something special to me. In fact, this entire chapter has become a rally cry for me personally. It’s a challenge for those older than me and a call to action for those in my generation. So let me exegete why out of this passage.

The first part of this passage is all about unity. We have one faith, one Savior, one baptism, and one God. We, the body of Christ, the church, are unified around our Savior.

Here’s a problem that I see. We’ve divided our churches into groups intentionally or not. We’ve split our church by age and life-stage and then used those benchmarks to determine who can serve in certain capacities within the church. You’re either too young, too immature, too old, too old-fashion, single, or not willing to serve in certain capacities.

All these unspoken benchmarks have left me wondering why is it that we don’t see many, if any, twenty-something-year-old deacons or elders, or why don’t we see a twenty-six-year-old woman leading a bible study for the church. Not necessarily because there isn’t anyone in the church that’s willing or able, just we make the mistake of not thinking cross-generationally.

It may be because I’m in this age group, but I see this mindset especially targeting millennials. We’ve been put in the category of too young for the position, too immature to handle the responsibility, or too inexperienced (our favorites excuse) to make good decisions.

My response to all those excuses and misconceptions is Ephesians 4. The first few verses state that we should be unified. Yes, dividing into groups is great for administration or for focus groups. But there are areas of church life that shouldn’t require an age or marital status to serve in. Putting unnecessary barriers up for service only adds to the disunity that so many churches are experiencing.

As we continue reading we learn that God has equipped each person with a unique gift (verse 7). The purpose of these gifts were meant to be used in the context of the church. We get this in verse 16. Each part using its unique gift to help the body grow into the mature image of Christ.

So we all have a gift and it’s meant to be used within the church, but here in Ephesians 4 we get a different type of list than what we received in Romans and 1 Corinthians. This list of gifts are gifts to the church. Christ gave the church the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers. We also find out the purpose of these gifts: to equip the saints for the work of the ministry and for the building up of the body of Christ.

So here’s my hang up. If we all have gifts, we are supposed to be unified under Christ, and the gifts of pastors, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers are for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, why do we fail so often at equipping and building up? It’s like we’ve missed the point of our gifts and decided that equipping consists of preaching a sermon on Sunday or listening to a Sunday School lesson. If we model our relationships after the Great Shepherd, equipping is both preaching and one-on-one discipleship. Then sending that disciple out to do ministry, either within your church or in another church because of the equipping they received from others.

Yes, this idea of equipping and mentoring is risky. But it’s well worth the risk. Look at result of Paul equipping Timothy. We need more Pauls and Timothys in our churches. 

So pastors, evangelists, shepherd-teachers don’t you forget about me. Don’t wait for us to hit the life-stage benchmarks. Forget the fact I’m twenty-something and equip me; fulfill Ephesians 4 in your church; let me be your Timothy. You’ll find all the results of your actions listed in the rest of the chapter, and they’re pretty awesome. We’re talking things like unity of faith, knowledge of the Son of God, spiritual maturity, and sound doctrine. Disciple the millennials in your church. Imagine being able to focus on feeding your flock because you’ve equipped someone in the work of the ministry. Now both of us can fulfill what God planned with our gifts: unity and growth within the body of Christ.

Now everyone else, read verse 16:

“From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

We need to do our part. We need to ask. We need to serve. We can’t just pass the puck up, point fingers, and say, “It’s all their fault that we aren’t serving in certain capacities.” And we can’t not be involved because we think everyone is too old fashion or stuck in their ways. We need to do our part by using our gifts in the church and help our local body grow in Christ. We need to strive for unity, be involved, and be imitators of Christ ourselves and the result will be that other generations will follow.

Ultimately, I’m asking that those with these gifts don’t you forget about us, the millennials; instead equip us and let’s grow in unity of the faith and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.