religion

Favour with God AND Man

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Part One: FAVOUR WITH GOD & MAN

 

I have noticed a disturbing trend in Christianity over the years. Christians seem fascinated with labels and as the church, we love fitting anything and everything into categories.

Let me give you an example. You can be a Christian OR an atheist; if you are in church this morning most of you would consider yourselves Christian, but now as a Christian are you now Catholic OR Protestant? If you fall into the Protestant category are you Evangelical OR Orthodox? At My Victory, most of us would say Evangelical, but as an Evangelical are you baptist (which can mean vastly different things depending on whether you live in the US or Canada or the UK) or pentecostal? As a pentecostal are you Holiness Pentecostal OR Apostolic Pentecostal OR part of the River Movement OR OR OR... There are thousands of denominations, and each one carries it’s own label complete with guidelines for how they are supposed to operate. For instance; if you are from the United Church - most would consider you liberal. And if you are a certain type of Lutheran - you are legalistic.

It gets worse. Beyond our denominations we have created even more labels. We have the 'greasy gracers' or 'holiness movement', 'calvinists' or 'arminiests', 'seeker sensitive' or 'spirit filled', 'traditional' or 'emergent' church movement, hipster churches, etc. etc. etc.

It’s crazy!

But we all do it. We enter into conversations with other Christians that we don’t know and as quickly as we can we try to identify the camp they are in and if they say one thing we disagree with we place them into one of the enemy camps and dismiss everything else they have to say! They become one of 'those' people.

This is not at all what Jesus modelled for us! In fact, this tendency may be why He prayed this in one of His last prayers.

John 17:20-23 (NIV)

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

He could have prayed that we stay on the straight and narrow and that we remain theologically sound, but He didn’t. He prayed that we be one — in unity — so that the world would know Him.

22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—

He prays it again. He seems to be adamant about this point.

so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

This is a key to the world knowing and believing in Christ.

Now before we go on we need to realize that not all labels are bad. The Bible does say to label one group of people.  

Romans 16:17 (KJV)

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

Mark those who cause divisions among you. Avoid them. Let’s not be one of “them”. But outside of this divisive group,

when we label one another we are not practicing unity. We are not focusing on what we agree on but instead on what we differ on.

When we label one another it hurts. One of the labels that hurts me is when I get labeled “seeker sensitive” because we see souls saved in our church. Now, there is nothing wrong with being seeker sensitive and I always replay it’s better than being seeker insensitive, but it is the connotations that go with the label. The term seeker sensitive is generally used to describe churches that compromise the message and are against the working of the Holy Spirit. I love the Word! And I love the Holy Spirit! But instead labelling me as “seeker sensitive” OR “spirit filled”, why can’t I be both?

That’s what this series is about. It’s a Bible study in the word “AND”. Over the next few weeks we will tear down the labels that separate relationships and create disunity.  Let’s replace our “OR’s” with “ANDs” and live in the power of unity.

The first AND I want to look at is found in Luke 2:52. It refers to Jesus when he was first born. Look what it says about Him.

Luke 2:52

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

While there are 4 “ands” in this verse, there is one that jumps out at me. Favour with God AND man.

Think about it. It doesn’t say just in Favour with God. Many theologians claim Jesus was rejected by everyone so they justify doing church and living life just to please God and to be rejected like Jesus was rejected.

Yes, Jesus was rejected. But, not by the common folk. He was rejected by the religious elite. It was the religious that were offended with him, and when he did not fit within their own labels, they refused to listen to His wisdom. And yet thousands still followed Him and found Him and His gospel attractive. He grew in favour with man.  

But He didn’t grow in just favour with man. He grew in favour with God. There are others who would compromise all that is right in order to please everyone. But this is not right. We must first live to please God and live according to His ways. Yes, some will not understand and some may sneer, but if you live to please God and stand according to His Word, you will be blessed and many will respect you because of this stance. Standing with God does not mean standing against men. It's not either or. It's AND.

Today’s Takeaway:

Standing with God does not mean standing against men. Jesus grew in favour with God AND man. #thepowerofAND #myvictory

The 30 Books Every Pastor Should Read

I love to read! I try to maintain a 1-book per week pace, and because of that, I am often asked "what's the best book you've read lately?" So here you go! Here's a list of the 30 most influential books I've read to date that have helped me as a pastor and a leader. If you click on the title of the book that interests you it will take you directly to Amazon.ca where you can order a copy of your own. Remember, leaders are readers. Enjoy!

My top 30 in alphabetical order:

  1. 7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley

  2. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell

  3. Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs by Bill Hybels

  4. Becoming a Coaching Leader: The Proven System for Building Your Own Team of Champions by Daniel Harkavy

  5. Church Planting: God's Plan for Transformation by George Hill

  6. Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication by Andy Stanley

  7. Covenant Relationships by George Hill

  8. Cracking Your Church's Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration by Dr. Sam Chand

  9. Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend by Andy Stanley

  10. Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want -- Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible by Brian Tracey

  11. Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth by Dr. Sam Chand

  12. Living Your Strengths: Discover Your God-Given Talents and Inspire Your Community by Donald Clifton

  13. No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come-as-You-Are Culture in the Church by John Burke

  14. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller

  15. Passing the Leadership Baton: A Winning Transition Plan for Your Ministry by Tom Mullins

  16. Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren

  17. Simple Church: Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples by Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger

  18. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

  19. Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Team And Staff On The Same Page by Larry Osborne

  20. Surprising Insights From The Unchurched And Proven Ways To Reach Them by Thom Rainer

  21. The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential by John Maxwell

  22. The Big Idea: Aligning the Ministries of Your Church through Creative Collaboration by Dave Ferguson

  23. The Leader Who Had No Title: A Modern Fable on Real Success in Business and in Life by Robin Sharma

  24. The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams That Win Consistently by Tony Dungy

  25. One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard

  26. The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: King Solomon's Secrets to Success, Wealth, and Happiness by Stephen K. Scott

  27. Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrows Success by John Maxwell

  28. Visioneering: God's Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Vision by Andy Stanley

  29. Volunteer Revolution by Bill Hybels

  30. Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission by John Kaiser

Messy Christianity

One of my spiritual hero’s was John Wimber. He is widely known as the founder of the Vineyard movement of churches. One of the things I respect most about him is that it was said of him when he pastored his first church, he created the substantial growth of 7 other churches in his city because he was leading so many people to the Lord. He was a very enthusiastic evangelist, right from his own conversion in the early 1960’s.

John Wimber was a famous producer in the music industry in the early ’60’s before he became a pastor. Within a few years of his conversion to Christ, he was approached by the Beatles and asked to produce one of their albums. He consulted with the church he was attending and was told that he shouldn’t associate himself with them and strongly advised to not accept the offer. Knowing the type of passionate believer and evangelist John was, what if he had taken the gig? What could have happened if he had been allowed to work with and influence the world’s most popular and listened to group?

Have you heard the statement, “We are in the world, but not of the world?” What does it mean? I grew up in a Christian school. We were taught it meant to remain separate from the world. We were not allowed to dress like them or look like them. I was told that my hair shouldn’t touch my collar. We were taught to never listen to the world’s music. In fact, we were taught that rock ‘n roll in general was evil, even if it had Christian lyrics. It created an us vs. them mentality.

Of course, my teachers had many scriptures to back up their claims. Verses like 1 John 2:15, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."  And James 4:4, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

But what do we do with scriptures like John 3:16-17, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."  Or John 9:5, "While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world."

Is the Bible setting a double standard? Have you ever battled this tension? Have you ever felt that to be more “holy” you had to further distance yourself from the world and especially those who think like the world? I know I have. And then I read about Jesus, who was called a “friend of sinners”, and hung out with those who were some of the most worldly thinkers of the day. And He led his disciples to do the same!

I know for me, I’ve always been afraid of being tainted by the world, of slipping into sin, of backsliding, of losing holiness and of disappointing God. But in the Bible we get an incredible insight into the private thoughts of Jesus. We get to listen in on one of his prayers in John 17:13-18. He doesn't share these same fears. Instead He prayed, "But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”

There it is! There’s the tension we’re talking about. The tension of being “in the world" but "not of the world." What do you think it means? How do we effectively reach the world without being tainted by it? Does Jesus expectation of us living clean mean that we avoid the messiness of the lives around us?

Are You Serving as Your Own Saviour?

In his play Amadeus, Peter Shaffer tells the story of Antonio Saleri, a young musical prodigy who prayed this prayer to God: “Lord make me a great composer! Let me celebrate your glory through music - and be celebrated myself! Make me famous through the world, dear God! Make me immortal! After I die let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote! In return I vow I will give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life. And I will help my fellow man all I can. Amen and amen!”

In his younger years he strictly kept his vow to God. He kept his hands off women, he worked diligently at his music teaching many musicians for free, and he tirelessly helped the poor. His career began to blossom and he was thrilled that God was keeping His end of the bargain. All was going well for him until Mozart appeared with musical gifts far above Salieri’s. His genius had obviously been bestowed on him by God. Amadeus, Mozart’s middle name, means “beloved by God,” and yet he is vulgar and self-indulgent. The talent God lavished so prodigally on Mozart begins a crisis of faith in the heart of Salieri. And he pens these words:

“It was incomprehensible...Here I was denying all my natural lust in order to deserve God’s gift and there was Mozart indulging his in all directions - even though engaged to be married - and no rebuke at all!”

Finally, Salieri says to God, “From now on we are enemies, You and I,” and spends the rest of his life seeking to destroy Mozart. All of his efforts to be a good Christian were ultimately revealed to be profoundly self-interest. God was just a useful instrument. He told himself that he was sacrificing his time and money for God’s sake, but there was actually no sacrifice involved. He was doing it for his own sake, to get fame, fortune, and self-esteem.

“I liked myself,” Salieri said, “till he came.” Soon the moral and respectable Salieri shows himself capable of greater evil than the immoral, vulgar Mozart. While the Mozart of Amadeus is irreligious, it is Salieri the devout who ends up in a much greater state of alienation from God, just like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15. In the story Amadeus, Mozart of course is like the younger brother and Salieri is remarkably like the elder brother.

Dr. Timothy Keller said in his book Prodigal God, “If you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good person, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior. You are serving as your own Savior."

Unfortunately, when I hear the description of the elder brother in Luke 15 and in the story of Amadeus, I see a part of myself and my own tendencies.

Questions: Do you see some of the same traits in yourself? Have you ever tried to bargain with God? Have you ever tried to use your goodness to get what you wanted from God?

Are Our Traditions in the Way?

I think one of the most entertaining chapters in all the Bible is Acts 15. It tells the story of the one of the early churches first Board Meetings. And you'll never believe what the topic was!

The Apostle Paul was in the height of his church planting ministry and he was traveling from city to city seeing huge results. Many were being added to the church. Many leaders were being raised up. And there were many miracles. However, a group of zealous Jewish believers were following behind Paul and taking it upon themselves to "disciple" the new converts. One of their main objectives was to ensure that all of the believers, Jews and non-Jews, understood that Christianity was a Jewish religion and that it required every believer to adhere to the full Jewish law. And yes, this included circumcision.

What a crazy notion! And yet, it caused such a stir for "the Way" that the leadership of the early Christian movement had to gather together in Jerusalem to debate the topic. Everyone attending was passionate about preaching Jesus and no one was questioning the message of Christ. The major discrepancy was over their methods of discipleship.  There were those on one side, who believed that the Jewish law was the inspired Word of God and was to be adhered to by all men, Jew and Gentile. And then there were those on the other side, who understood the law to be for the Jewish people predating the arrival of the Messiah. And that while it was to be valued, it was not pertinent to salvation and believing in Jesus. After all, Jesus Himself had said He fulfilled the law. So, who was right?

I want you to take a moment to read the minutes of this meeting yourself. (Acts 15)

There is one verse in this chapter that leaps off the page at me every time I read it. Did you catch it, too? It's verse 19. After all of the discussion and the arguments back and forth, James the brother of Jesus, stands up and says, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God."

As ridiculous as it seems to us today to be debating over physical circumcision as a requirement for salvation. There's something about this chapter that is eerily familiar. Verse 19 in particular caused me to ask, "What traditions do I hold dear today that are making it difficult for outsiders to believe in Jesus?"

I've moved past the surgery or no surgery part of the discipleship process, but I have my own church traditions that I value. Are any of my "methods" hindering others from entering a relationship with Jesus?

When Mahatma Gandhi was asked how Christian Missionaries could make more of an impact on his nation of India, he replied “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Do you think that is true? What traditions do we, the Church, have that could be hindering outsiders from coming to Jesus? I know our message is sacred, but do you think it's time we start messin' with our methods?