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R.E.A.L. MEN

What is a “real” man?  What does a “real” man look like?  Do you have a picture in your mind of John Wayne (is it just me) or some other iconic American standing off the forces of evil single-handedly?  You are independent and you hear an inner voice saying, “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do!”  There is a huge difference between taking responsibility for our lives and trying to live independently of God and godly counsel.  The reality is that biblical community is required for us to grow and develop into the men God desires for us to be.

When you ask men for a biblical description of a godly man what kind of answer would you get?  There will be some excellent characteristics and spiritual qualities mentioned but can the men in your church give a clear, concise, and compelling vision of what a man of God looks like? Yet that ability is exactly what will enable every man in your church to pursue the goal of looking like what you have described.  You then have a benchmark that holds every man in your ministry accountable to that standard.

Robert Lewis went on a quest to define Authentic Manhoodin developing a ministry called Men’s Fraternity.  Luke McCown (recently retired NFL quarterback) shared with me that when he was playing with the Detroit Lions the chaplain, Dave Wilson, took those four benchmarks and with Robert’s permission developed the following acronym for R.E.A.L. Men:

  1. Rejects Passivity
  2. Engages with God
  3. Accepts Responsibility
  4. Leads Courageously.

These give every man a biblical standard to be held accountable to and pursue.

The greatest challenge for most men in this journey will be accountability. This does not set well with many because men by nature have a desire to be in control of their own lives and to chart their own courses.  The culture has convinced us that independence is a characteristic that must be pursued by “real” men but that is not what the Bible teaches.  Many are raised to believe that they do not need to rely or trust anyone else.  This builds a self-reliance where a man would rather go it alone than to risk the pain of being disappointed or let down by others.

We need a good definition of accountability and fortunately Pat Morley gives us one in his book, Man in the Mirror. 

He states, “to be regularly answerable for each of the key areas of our lives to qualified people.”

The scriptures show us the importance of this truth repeatedly.  Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Carry one another’s burdens” and admonishes us to restore those who fall.  Solomon makes this principle very clear in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 and tells us rather matter of fact, “Two are better than one.”  Proverbs 27:6 says, “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy.”

First, we must be answerable.  Everyone answers to someone and we tend to stray when we are not.  We need godly people in our lives that will ask us the hard questions about the goals we have set but also about the standards by which we should be living.

Second, we answerable in the key areas.  There is so much below the surface that needs to be examined and much of that tends to be the areas of highest risk in our lives.  That which is unseen and not carefully looked at can cause the greatest damage just like an iceberg.

Third, we must be held accountable regularly.  It needs to be frequent and somewhat systematic.  Studies have shown that when men do not meet weekly that eventually they stop meeting completely.

Fourth, we must be held accountable by qualified people.  People who love Jesus and who also have a burden to be held accountable themselves.  They want you to succeed and practice confidentiality.  Accountability in this kind of relationship is required to work properly.

R.E.A.L. men (Reject Passivity, Engage with God, Accept Responsibility, Live Courageously) refuse to be cultural Christians where we never go deeper than discussing the weather, news, sports, and our jobs.  We desire to go deeper with godly mentors who can hold us accountable for our spiritual walk in such areas as our faith, family, friends, fitness, and finance. Accountability takes friendship and fellowship to the next level where we intentionally and willingly decide to live in a fishbowl.  Accountability only works when individuals willingly submit to it.

Unfortunately, we are told that only about 15% of men in our churches will submit and follow through on biblical accountability.  Have a plan on how you can begin to connect them with one another.  The number four seems to be a good number of men in a group to ensure real accountability and that the hard questions are asked in love.  One-on-one accountability seems to fall prey to the stronger personality overpowering the weaker.  The stronger willed individual can convince one person far easier than three that they are not doing anything wrong.

Having three others walking this journey of accountability with you provides flexibility when one of them is unable to attend one week.  Remember that Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him.  A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”  There is great wisdom in looking for three godly qualified men who will on a hold you answerable on a regular basis in the key areas of your spiritual walk.  They ask the hard questions on the goals we have set and the standards we are called to live by in God’s word.

Men’s Discipleship

Much is being said today about a vacuum that has been created by the missing father in the home and rightfully so.  We see a leadership shortage not only in the home but also in the church. There is a great need to raise up godly men of courage who will step forward and be who God has called them to be. It should sadden us to know that all too often if we ask men in our churches to tell us what it means to be a man of God they struggle to give a clear and concise answer.  Churches need discipleship but maybe they need men’s discipleship the most.

Robert Lewis, one of the founders of Men’s Fraternity, says that if God were giving out the 10 Commandments again there would be eleven.  The eleventh would be, “Thou shalt raise up godly men!”  He reports that a study revealed several years ago that if you reach a child you have a 25% chance of reaching the entire family.  If you reach the mom you have a 29% chance of reaching the family but if you reach the dad you have a 95% chance of reaching the entire family. Churches need to make sure their men are going beyond the normal surface relationships.

Solving the problem of the absentee father begins by training up men to be the spiritual leaders of their families.  For that to become a reality they must have the spiritual walk that is necessary to be who God wants them to be.  A life of godly integrity challenges us to have a one-to-one correlation between our Bible, our beliefs, and our behavior.  The key is making Jesus Christ the priority of your life through devotion and study of Him.  Pat Morley describes a life of devotion as loving Him more and more while a life of study is getting to know Him more and more.

InSeven Seasons of the Man in the Mirror Morley says, “There is a God we want, and there is a God who is.  They are not the same God.  The turning point of our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want and start seeking the God who is.”  Are we willing to spend the time necessary in devoting our lives to Him and discovering who He actually is?  That commitment to a closer relationship with Him is required but well worth the effort and the journey.  The question must be asked, “What do men need?”  Robert Lewis offers six things men need for them to be able to be God desires for them to be.

  1. Men need a “safe place” where they can discover someone understands them, and they are not alone.  The temptation is to go it alone and accept a Lone Ranger approach but that is not the focus of community in the word of God.
  2. Men need is clear and compelling vision of biblical manhood they can take hold of.  Men need a discipleship process that challenges them beyond their comfort zones.  Safety in the brotherhood is crucial but it must also address the need to risk and step out in faith.  We must be willing to practice a tough love.
  3. Men need time with other men to effectively process their manhood.  All too often discipleship has an event focus but we need much more than just a pep rally. Who will make sure you follow through on your commitments at the event you attended?  Who will hold you accountable?  Event driven discipleship takes men to the mountaintop and exhorts them but does not provide the most needed component for actual growth, which is time with other men that make sure we do obey.  We need other godly men speaking into our lives.
  4. Men need the practical how-tos of tasting success in our progress as we grow.  There must be an implementation plan for men to grow and learn from the successes and failures of other men.  Nothing encourages us like success.  When we step on the scale and have lost weight that encourages us to keep working on it.
  5. Men need other men cheering them.  Do not underestimate the importance of finding 2 or 3 other men who will affirm their accomplishments and cheer their godly efforts.  There are not many cheerleaders out there for godliness and noble things.
  6. Men need sacred moments in a solid discipleship process.  They need to know when they become the man God wants He wants them to be.  Those moments can be some kind of ceremony at big moments in their lives at a certain age, graduation from high school or college, marriage, or some other worthy accomplishment.  Your band of brothers can develop very simple ceremonies of “manhood” that can take on a very epic proportion.  What accomplishments are deserving of a ceremony and what might that ceremony look like?
  7. Men need godly mentors.  (I know this is #7 but had to add it)  Look for other men who have a heart to put Christ first in their lives, desire to make that journey with other men who have that same passion, and want to hold one another accountable to that journey.  Pat Morley asks this question, “Have you really wanted to know God, or have you just wanted Him to know you?”  The difference can determine whether we see ourselves in charge of our lives or that God is in charge.  Unfortunately, all too often, Christians seem to have a respect of the scriptures but no knowledge of their contents.

Men’s discipleship should seek to study the word to discover the God who is not just the God we desire.  The focus must be to make Him King of our lives as we seek to advance His kingdom.  The kingdom of God can be defined as what the world looks like when King Jesus gets His way! It is surrendering to His rule and reign in our lives!

Ministry Placement System

We speak often of the great commandment (Matthew 22:37), and the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) but there is also the great charge given by Peter.

I Peter 4:10 says, “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God.”  This great charge must be the goal of every church regardless of its size. The goal is to involve every believer in ministry by using their gifts to serve others.  The truth is that saved people are supposed to serve people and willingly sacrifice for others.

Dynamic Church Planting International training says, “Every believer should be serving in their local church based on the Bible’s teachings about spiritual gifts. 
Peter says that everyone’s spiritual gift should be used to serve others. This is a means of imparting God’s grace to people. 
Paul lists seven different spiritual gifts. Concerning each it says, ‘let him use it: according to the grace given him.’ and ’let him use it in proportion to his faith.’  So, God’s design for the church is that it be led by leaders, taught by teachers, and administrated by administrators, etc.”

DCPI continues, “You must develop a system of inviting, observing, orienting, scheduling, equipping, developing and celebrating those who use their spiritual gifts in the church. 
As a church grows and attracts new believers, pastors must teach about: the importance of service, the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9), and the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts. 
The process of placing people into ministry can be quite simple. This is a key component of a discipleship process.”  The church has enough spectators and must continue to provide opportunities to serve.

Here are some ways to enlist volunteersand you can begin by listing ministry needs and sharing them with your people.

  1. onsider publishing a list of serving opportunities and spiritual gifts. 
You could also preach a series of messages about serving and spiritual gifts.  Then develop a way to invite people to sign up for a ministry that appeals to them. 
Consider offering a class about spiritual gifts and giveeach student a spiritual gifts test to help them discern where they might best be able to be a blessing to their church.
  2. Pray just like Jesus instructed us in Luke 10:2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Your first prayer should be, “Lord, who should I invite to serve in this particular area?” Before you approach someone about serving, ask God to prepare their heart and purify your motives. Your invitation should be based on a desire to see people find a fulfilling role in your church. You are inviting them to fulfill God’s agenda and purpose in their lives.
  3. Look for people who seem to be a perfect fit for a specific need. Identify a need and then as you pray look for the right person to invite to meet that need.  You desire to find the right person serving in the right place, in the right way, and at the right time.  Look for people who are not currently serving and you believe might be interested in that particular area.  Offer them an opportunity to observe before they have to commit to a ministry team. See this “first serve” as a way for them to kick the tires and see if this is a ministry fit for them.
  4. Cast vision for the importance of different ministries by emphasizing the benefits of their service.
Show them how their ministry will benefit the recipients of it and how their service will benefit the whole church.  Also, show them how their ministry will benefit them by being a blessing to them andhow their ministry will delight God.  Offer them an opportunity to observe.  Find ways people can observe a ministry before they commit to a ministry team and make sure they have a good time when they do check it out.
  5. You will want to debrief their experience within 48 hours. Once you have invited them, arrange for the potential volunteer to accompany one of the most enthusiastic and best members of that particular ministry team. First impressions last! You want the potential volunteer to have a good time so they will want to join the team. Discuss how they think the experience went.  Give the new volunteer a short-term commitment initially (for three months or so) to ensure that the commitment is doable.
  6. Do background checks and provide for them an orientation.  Make sure you use a service that will provide background checks with official documentation. 
Barnabas vouched for Saul (who later became the Apostle Paul) when he wanted to join the church in Jerusalem. (Acts 9:26, 27) 
The twelve apostles instructed the church to choose “seven men of good repute.” (Acts 6:3)  If they will be serving with children in any capacity this is especially important.  Do not over look this important step in the ministry placement system.
  7. Remember that all people who volunteer should have an orientation. They should never be thrown into the ministry unprepared. Ideally, new volunteers will be given good job descriptions. Those will include what is expected of them: when, where, for how long, etc. The orientation should also include the ministry’s purpose and values. People are waiting on someone to ask them to help. Most people want to do a good work and that is why you must develop a system that shows how to ask, when to ask, and who should ask.

A great big thank you to Dynamic Planting International and their training materials New Church Dynamics from which this article was adapted.  This training is worth attending for any size church and will be offered May 21-23 at the BMA of Texas offices in Waxahachie, TX.  If interested in attending let me know!

Reproduction System

We know that God is a God of systems because of His design of the universe (solar system) and of the human body. Is there a system you would be willing to live without for one day? You couldn’t make it without the circulatory system because you would die without your heart beating and pumping your blood to keep you alive. If you gave up the skeletal system you would just be a blob in the floor and survival would be very short lived. Without the respiratory system you would not be able to breath and without air your life would be over in minutes.

There is a time to get to get our bodies scanned to see whether they are healthy or not. There is much debate and difference of opinion over whether the benefits of a full body scan is greater than the danger of the radiation used while performing it. Could it be that many churches are afraid of what a full spiritual scan of their body of believers might reveal? It would be good for all of us individually and corporately to lay back on God’s examination table and allow Him to expose our areas of sickness, disease, and unhealthy practices.

There is one system you could survive without and that is the reproductive system. You could do well but only for one generation. When you did finally die there would be no one else to carry on. Maybe this is a picture of many churches today. We have focused on all of the systems to care for who we already have but have forgotten about the importance of reproduction and multiplication. The church can get by for a period of time and even thrive at times but it will not reproduce the fruit that God has challenged us to multiply.

We need this spiritual examination to expose any areas of darkness to His light. Ephesians 5:13-14 says, “Everything exposed by the light is made clear, for what makes everything clear is light.” We should go ahead and submit to this body scan now because I Corinthians 4:5 tells us that one day He will bring to light what was hidden in darkness and He will reveal the intentions of our hearts. Why wait? Schedule this scan of your body of believers now and determine how well you are reproducing disciples, leaders, and churches.

Creating systems and using God-centered techniques will ultimately expand your capacity to care for your people and reach out. Good systems save you stress, time, energy, money, and a lot of headaches. These systems should follow a process that enables them to be gospel-centered and effective as well. In the area of outreach there can be much frenetic activity while seeing very few results. We know the Bible says one plants, one waters, and God gives the increase…but how should that impact the system we develop?

  1. We should build our systems firmly on the foundation of what the scriptures teach. We are commanded to share His glory with all the nations and to be fishers of men.
  2. Then we need to determine if that is really something we truly value. Does our lifestyle show that we are committed to reaching unbelievers with the truth of the gospel? When is the last time we shared the gospel with anyone or even invited him or her to church, a small group, or an event in order to bring him or her closer to Christ? If it is a value it drives us to do something about it.
  3. You begin with a biblical principle that leads to a value, which becomes tasks and habits. These are the things you do to make the value a reality in your daily life. What could you improve on in order to have a better opportunity to share the love of Christ with unbelievers? Matt Perman puts it this way, “To be productive means to get the right things done…To be effective is to get done what God wants done.” Our tasks and habits should be focused in order to maximize the opportunities we have every day.

Systems are designed to enhance our effectiveness. It is the way we organize the tasks we are performing. These are focused on the goals we have which should be in obedience to the Great Commission and doing everything for His glory. Reaching that goal is what brings fulfillment by having discerned what pleases Him. The missing ingredient is strategies, which are the actual action steps needed to find that fulfillment. Many develop systems and the reality is that all of us function within a system whether it is a good one or a bad one.

Strategies are what connect the system to the goal but they must be driven by a desire to be obedient. Matt Perman continues, “If we aren’t abounding in good work, the problem is likely not a lack of opportunity but a lack of desire.” Do we not have opportunity to share the love of Christ everyday? When we are in the store and the salesperson accidentally gives us the wrong information how will we respond? When the waiter is forgetful and takes too long on our order how will we react? Will we be able to talk to them about the love of Jesus?

What strategies do you have to be a light for Christ daily? You don’t have to volunteer at the local soup kitchen or go on a mission trip to be a witness. Here is a full proof strategy; be ready to arise and shine for Jesus every single day knowing you will have the opportunity to either to bring people closer to Christ or push them farther away. God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves and we can display that in very practical ways every single day in very ordinary ways. Maybe the real problem is that our daily ordinary is far from God’s plan?

Never Been Exposed to the Truth

Jesus said that He came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” He clearly described what it meant to follow Him when He declared, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” A disciple, a follower of Jesus, is defined as a person who knows Jesus and has decided to follow Him. That disciple is being changed and transformed by Christ daily and has committed himself to the mission of Christ. We seem to do well focusing on being biblically sound and relationally connected but somehow fail miserably when it comes to living missionally.

A recent Barna Report has reinforced many concerns about our culture in America moving further and further away from God. Mike Huckabee offers this summary of that report: “The Barna Group just released a new study of Generation Z (current teenagers) that found they are the least-Christian generation in US history. Nearly twice as many claim to be atheists as Millennials (13% to 7%), and 35% of current teens say they are either atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with any religion. Just 59% say they are Catholic or Christian (a six-point drop from the Millennial generation), and only 4% hold what is considered a true Biblical worldview.”

He continues, “The survey places the cause of this change on today’s teenagers having been brought up in a post-Christian, post-modern environment where they’ve never been exposed to Christianity or church.” The phrase that stands out shocking and troubling me the most is, “never been exposed to Christianity or church.” Can that really be right here in our own backyards? Have we lost our passion and burden for the lost where most Christians are not even sharing their faith, ever?

J.D. Payne recently shared that as of October 2017 there are 207 Unengaged Unreached People Groups here. This is even of greater concern than just being an Unreached People Group because this means there is no (none) evangelical planting strategy being executed at this time to build a gospel bridge to these people. Before we pass this off as a metropolitan problem in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles we need to ask ourselves, “What am I doing to reach the unchurched, unengaged, and those far from God in my city and community?”

Mike Breen expounds upon a huge problem in the American church when he laments that in the United States, “96% of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of our enemy’s territory. We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing…but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss.” Research supports his claim because only 15% of all churches are growing and only 1% of that number is increasing because of conversion growth.

What is your church’s strategy to reach those who are far from God in your city and community? Ed Stetzer challenges us to discern whom the lost are, where do they live, and how will we reach them? Yet it seems that what dominates most church cultures today is attracting those who are already believers and attending church. Without even realizing it we have become enamored with having a better product than the church down the street, which perpetuates a spirit of competition where the church with the best music and programs wins!

First, we need to repent.

We need to ask God to forgive us for our lack of burden and concern for the lost that work and live next door to us. Then we need to recommit to being the salt and light that He has called each one of us to be. Is your light shining? Are you shining as you are supposed to be? Philippians 2:15 says, “We are to shine like stars in the world.” As we are praying we need to put some feet to our prayers through random acts of kindness and to love in word and deed. Can those living in darkness see our good works?

Second, we need to develop a strategy as an individual believer and as a church.

Give people a way and opportunities to share their faith. Dave Ferguson with Exponential and Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL, utilizes a 5-step plan that he has called B.L.E.S.S. Begin in prayer. Listen to them because no one ever feels more valued than when we listen. Eat with them to build relationships and get to know them personally. Serve them in a way that blesses their lives. How can you best serve them? Share with them what God has done for you and for them.

Third , we must place tools in our member’s hands.

This can be done at the end of the services and through your small groups to aid and help them in being light. It could be a card with the gospel message in one verse (Romans 6:23) or it could be an invitation to a special event. One thing here, though, is try to change your culture from a “come and see” (which is good) and add to it a “go and tell!” Think of multiple ways and multiple doors of how people can be connected and connect with others. It really is more a lifestyle of “as you go” being light and witnesses than a program.

Fourth, do the work of an evangelist.  

If we want to see God move in the area of evangelism then we must be ready to do the work of an evangelist in the same way Timothy was challenged. It is heartbreaking that the reality is that there are many churches that never see one person saved or baptized. This does not mean that anything goes just so we can get numbers and brag about the notches on our gospel belts. If we desire a movement of God it will require extraordinary prayer, abundant evangelism, a white-hot faith, and sacrifice with God giving the increase.

Be the Light of Jesus

Tony Dungy is well known as an NFL player, coach, and now commentator. In one of his books he shares that when he was still coaching he was often asked how he could justify working in the football “world” and be a Christian? They would point out how violent the game was, how bad the language used was, and that it was played on Sunday. His answer was, “I try to be careful to bring Christ’s light to that “world” without getting swallowed up by it!”

That is a great answer because God can only use us in the “world” if we are in fact “in” the world. There will be much debate and tension created in different scenarios of when we cross the line (and by the way, who determines that line?) and go too far. This will require godly wisdom that is only found in listening close to His leadership. Maybe we should focus on where we draw our own lines instead of judging and criticizing other people who seemingly cross the line. Check out Mark 3.

The world God has placed you in is exactly where you are to shine as His light. God gives you a platform from which you are to share Him as you allow your light to shine. Are you taking advantage of the opportunities you have to influence and add value to the lives of others? People need to see the light of what a person looks like who is abiding in Christ. Have we lost our focus on how God wants us to be His light? Have we even forgotten that we are called to be light?

Today’s reality is that so many churches seem to have forgotten why they exist and there is very little evangelism going on. It seems that all too often our focus, even in church planting, is finding those already in the family of God instead of those who are outside! In Barnabas Factors, J. D. Payne says, “Since biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches, team members will naturally spend the greatest amount of time with unbelievers prior to the birth of churches.”

Most agree that church plants need to see at least 50% of their growth come from new converts but all too often it is not even close. Before church planters think that this is an attack on them, the fact is that it is even worse in most established churches. We seem to be more focused on those we can get from other churches and who are already believers instead of pursuing the unsaved who are far from God. How intentional are you being in building relationships with unbelievers?

First, Pursue a passionate and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we are truly in love with Jesus then we will love others and have compassion on the multitudes as He does. It is out of our intimate and individual walks with God that we are able to minister to those outside the kingdom effectively. Unless we abide in Jesus, we really have nothing to offer others. Our inner life with Christ is what will determine what our outer work will look like.

Second, Begin building relationships and friendships with people who are far from God.

One suggestion would be for pastors and those on staff to spend one day a week hanging out with unbelievers. Where could you volunteer or what hobby could you develop that would put you in the middle of unbelievers? Start with your neighbors and invite people into your home for a meal.

Third, Make sure you are praying for unbelievers regularly.

Are you daily praying for 10-15 people by name to which you are personally trying to show the light of Jesus? Why not? Sometimes we just want to hang out with the believers we are comfortable with and already know. In Mark 5, a man who had been freed from demon possession wanted to stay with Jesus. But He told him, “Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you.”

Fourth, Just Do it!

One version of Mark 5:19 says, “Tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” Just do it and allow God to bless your efforts to let them know that Jesus loves them. The reality is that most will probably never feel ready to share Christ with others. The best news though is that God is bigger than all of our inadequacies, fears, and mistakes. So even if you cannot quote the Romans road just tell them how much the Lord has done for you!

Fifth, Remember that your light will only shine brightly as you walk with Him and abide in Him.

It is out of our inner lives that we do our outer work. Who you are on the inside is as important, actually much more important, as what you do. You cannot give what you do not possess and you cannot help but give others what you do possess. If you are full of anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness it will come out. But if you are full of grace, love, and forgiveness it will be given also!

Your light shines brightest when you are walking with the Lord. Abiding in Christ is the best way to insure that our best intentions turn into consistent action. Our close communion and connection with Jesus is what produces vibrancy and vitality. When we drift from Him we become spiritually dysfunctional and our lights begin to flicker. How we serve Christ and how we love others reflects what is tucked away in our hearts. It is a mirror that reveals who and what we really love.

Be the light that Jesus intended you to be! Bring Christ’s light to “your” world without being swallowed up by it! Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Just Check the Box

A couple of years ago my son, Matthew, asked me why I use to be so legalistic. My first reaction was to justify and emphatically convince him that I was not legalistic. Point made. There are a lot of reasons for leaning toward legalism such as your personality and/or your environment. In my case it was both. It is very easy to have a checklist of what makes you think you are spiritual and others unspiritual. We must, however, fight the temptation to add our specifics where the Bible is very unspecific. Unfortunately, I had drawn lines in the sand where God has not.

We do this in many areas of our lives such as dress, music, and others. Matthew likes to remind me of the time he asked me if he could listen to Phillips, Craig, and Dean and I told him we were not going to listen to rock music. Oh, by the way, I really enjoy them now and a couple of their songs are among my favorites. There are some who will see this as compromise and I have even wondered about that myself at times. When I asked one friend if we were compromising he wisely, I think, said, “Nope, we are growing up and maturing.”

J.D. Greear has written, “You’ve been waiting for the bottom line. Fallen human nature loves laws, because we love self-justification. But laws keep us from dealing with the real issue—the heart. The law is easier to preach too—. Laws preach nicely. But the gospel writers resist the temptation to reduce Christianity to laws. They focus on the hearts.” If we are not careful we can be like the Pharisees found in Matthew 23 who appeared beautiful on the outside but Jesus said that on the inside they were full of every impurity.

Legalism has been defined many different ways but here I am referring to it as a preoccupation with the obeying of rules and regulations. The tricky part is that my list might be completely different than yours. For example, there are cultures where if you smoke there is no way in their minds that you are born again. If we are not careful we become very judgmental and place all of the emphasis on obeying rules instead of a daily relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, there are commands we are to obey and we must never minimize what God is specific about.

Alistair Begg says it well, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” So often we get caught up on the things that are not plain in God’s word and we hold other Christians to our standards instead of God’s. My music, my clothes, or how many times I am in church each week makes me far more spiritual than you. Romans 14:1, “Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. Paul lists different preferences and then in verse 13 emphasizes that we should not criticize one another.

First, we must be honest about our nature.

We must never forget the total depravity of man. We are shaped from birth with the sin curse that causes us to naturally lean away from God and lean into sin. The power of the flesh in our life is real and if we are not walking in the power of the Spirit daily we will lean away from God’s best. This can cause us as Christians and churches to become hyper critical of anyone and everyone who does not have the same checklist that we have.

Second, we must not allow our freedom in Christ to be reduced to a set of manmade rules.

Then our faith becomes a religion of human achievement and we want others to notice how spiritual we are by how much we give, how much we fast and the rest of our checklist. Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food or drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are shadows of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.” The reality is that many settle for the cheap substitutes instead of Christ.

Third, remember that Jesus said the world would know us by the love we have for one another.

This has been referred to as the final apologetic. “The word apologetic comes from the Greek word apologia. The original idea was that it was a defense or an answer given in response to a charge…So in Christian apologetics, we’re making a case as to why what we believe is true and accurate and logical.” The world will know that what we have in Christ is real and true when the love of Christ for one another is evident.

Fourth, be careful about how you use social media.

It is sad to see many Christians seemingly airing their dirty laundry or pet peeves in a way that a lost world must be shaking their head saying, “And they are suppose to be all about loving one another?” Social media is a wonderful tool that enables us to share the good news and encourage one another to love and good deeds. The temptation seems to provide a venue where you can hide behind a keyboard and say things you probably would not say to that person if they were present.

Fifth, lets build churches that are gracious, longsuffering, and kind.

Nowhere did I mention being weak.  I love this quote a pastor tweeted recently, “I refuse to be a Christian who is generous with damnation and stingy with grace.” Am I more focused on my checklist than I am on knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection? Am I more disturbed by some things Christians are not doing on my checklist than people who are lost and far from God and headed to hell? Is my life characterized by love and encouragement for my church and the body of believers?

PRAYER AND WORSHIP

Worship exists for God. He is the only one worthy of our praise and adoration. We want His fame to spread throughout the world and for Him to be honored, adored, and glorified in our midst. Prayer is an essential part of our worship and should reflect this adoration and praise. Our prayers during worship should lift the weary soul up before God just as much as our music or any other offering we bring. That does not mean praying in our “God voices” but making sure that our hearts and minds are pure and focused entirely on Him.

In Matthew 21:13 Jesus said, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you have made it a den of thieves!” Someone has said, “If you really want to know where a person’s heart is – listen to his or her prayers!” Gary Rohrmayer says, “Our prayers can be a window to our souls that reveal our deepest motives, desires, and passions.” Here are some prayers we should all be praying from our hearts faithfully every day:

“Father, break my heart for the world you are seeking to save!”

Remember our prayer challenge from the beginning of this year, “Lord, I don’t ask for much today. I just ask that you give me Your heart for lost people.” Since God loves all people, desires the salvation of all people, and died for all people we should be praying fervently that He gives us His heart for the lost.

Missionary David Brainerd wrote the following words over three hundred years ago.   “I care not where I go, or how I live, or what I have to endure so that I may save souls. When I sleep I dream of them; when I awake they are first in my thoughts…no amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition of brilliant and stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep impassioned sympathetic love for human souls.”

“Father, give me a bigger picture of You and Your work in my life!”

Ephesians 1:18-19 says, “I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength.”

We should pray that we keep our eyes on Him and see the “weightiness” of whom He is. When we do that, the “weight” of other things will no longer pull us down nor be able to control us! J. D. Greear says, “When we see the size and beauty of God who speaks to us, the power of sin and idolatry over our hearts is broken!”

“Father, pour out a spirit of generosity in my life!”

One of the qualities and marks of spiritual maturity is that of a generous spirit. Acts 20:35 says, “In every way I’ve shown you that by laboring like this, it is necessary to help the weak and to keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Pray that your church will be a church that is dedicated to helping others and being a blessing to your community. God blesses us not so that we can have and accumulate but so that we can bless others. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “And the King will answer them, I assure you: whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Father, help me to empower and release others into your harvest field.”

Our vision is to have a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches. It begins with a discipleship process and developing a leadership pipeline out of that. If we are going to release people into the harvest we must first be reaching and winning them out of the harvest.

How much time are you spending developing leaders? If you say you value leadership development then there should be evidence of that on your calendar. Are you pouring more into your leaders weekly so that they can be leaders of other leaders? The natural flow comes out of our discipleship as we observe those who desire more and we focus on the three out of the 12 as Jesus did.

“Father, help my prayers during the worship service to be of the best kind.”

In Next Steps, Gary Rohrmayer writes, “Pastors and worship leaders must read and study Solomon’s blessing and prayer in II Chronicles 6:3-42. One of my concerns is that all too often public prayer in our contemporary service is added on at the end of a worship set or simply used as a transition between the different elements of the service.”

In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Let me therefore, very earnestly caution you, beloved brethren, against spoiling your services with your prayers: make it your solemn resolve that all engagements of the sanctuary shall be of the best kind.” We simply should come with clean hands and a pure heart crying out to God to do whatever is necessary for His presence to be known in our worship.

Matthew 6:5-6 says, “And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.

I Am Thankful for You

The message is pretty clear that church is a team sport. We are meant to work alongside each other and make this journey together. Spiritual maturity is seen in loving God well and loving others well. In studying the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 there is an overriding theme. You notice that the emphasis is on what our relationships with other people are like. The focus is not about how you have been treated but rather on how you treat others. No matter what someone else has said or done to you, you are always responsible to God for your response.

The real mark of a spiritually mature believer is engaging with others in meaningful relationships. God has given us three things to help us in our spiritual journey to become more like Him. First, He has given us His word. This is where our doctrine comes from that describes who He is and enables us to see who He is. We are not to worship the God we envision or imagine but the God of the scriptures who is described in detail through all of His attributes. We must be careful of manufacturing our own God and not recognizing the God of His word.

Second, He has given us the Holy Spirit. The word describes Him to us but the Holy Spirit delivers the power and the energy we must have to be transformed into His likeness. We know that sanctification is possible because of the power that works inside of us.

Thirdly, He has also given us the people of God who demonstrate to us how we are to love and to live for Him. Paul said it well, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” We should be thankful for all of the godly examples He has placed in our lives both in the word of God and in our daily lives.

Relationships give us a clear example of how to live out the information we are learning from the word of God and the Holy Spirit. True biblical spiritual maturity occurs in the dynamic of spiritual maturity and cannot happen apart from it. We are to be connected to one another and do life with together. Mature spiritual relationships are one of God’s means of pouring into our lives. If we do not have a spiritual family we will soon get off track or we will be running on empty. We should be thankful for those who lovingly challenge and correct our behavior.

This method of passing on what God is teaching Paul is very clear. Paul   taught Timothy, who was to teach other faithful men, who in turn were to teach others. Paul also tells Titus that the older women are to encourage and pour into the younger women. We need the church family, but it goes deeper than just attending worship. Jesus invited many, invested heavily into twelve, but was intimate with three. There is a big difference between being friendly and polite to people and developing real live-giving relationships.

We should be thankful for godly examples that are willing to invest in our lives and build deep relationships with us and hold us accountable. Here are a few characteristics that we should be thankful for in these spiritually mature examples God has placed in our lives. Christian author and counselor Larry Crabb observed that 90% of the problems he encountered with his clients could have been dealt with and solved by a good friend. This is why we should pursue honest godly relationships that connect us with those who are spiritually mature.

Be thankful for those who say what you need to hear not just what you want to hear. We need people in our lives that speak the truth in love. Those who are willing to tell us when we are about to make a huge mistake and challenge us to reconsider and spend more time in prayer about our decision.

Be thankful for friends who give us sound biblical advice and not just their opinions. This is very close to the one just mentioned but we need a word from the Lord more than we need public opinion. Look for friends who know the word of God are striving to obey it every day.

Be thankful for those who stand firm on the word of God without abandoning you when you mess up. Spiritually mature people stand strong on the word of God but they do not isolate themselves or withdraw fellowship from us. They are spiritually mature enough to not ostracize you even when they disagree with you.

Be thankful for those who help you to grow and become spiritually mature yourself. Spiritually mature people do not just feed those they are mentoring but they teach them how to feed themselves. The goal is to give you the skills to stand strong for the Lord.

Be thankful for those who help you bear your burdens. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry one another’s burdens; in this you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Then in verse 5 he says, “For each person will have to carry his own load.” They teach you how to trust in the Lord and lean on Him when the challenges and trials of life come.

Be thankful for those who teach you and prepare you to trust more in the Lord than in them. Remember, the real marks of spiritual maturity are loving God well and loving others well. Be thankful for those who are always pointing you to the Lord who is the real source of strength and the only One worthy of our worship. We remain centered on Him and we refuse to have any other gods before Him.

Be thankful for all of the people He has placed in your life to encourage and pray for you. We are blessed when people in our lives are always pointing us to Him and help us in our spiritual journey.

LEAN IN TO JESUS

Keeping your church focused on Christ will be an ongoing and unending pursuit. There are faith habits that you must show new believers how to develop. Also, the reality is that you should not assume that those who have been in church for years know what to do. Develop an environment that teaches how to “lean” into Jesus both personally, in small groups, and corporately as a church. When you study His word you are “leaning” into His presence to hear His voice and His direction for your life?

The total depravity of man means that in our natural state we will always lean toward sin and away from God. Yes, we are created in the image of God and even evil people are capable of doing a good deed but they remain far from God and without hope. The depravity of man means that even a saved man is capable of an evil act if He is not in the Word and walking with the Lord. That is why it is so crucial to develop a rhythm of praying and being in God’s word daily.

There are four habits that will help your church lean in toward Christ for His presence, power, and direction.

First, lean in by spending time in His word. Here is a great quote from Alistair Begg, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” Look for the obvious and begin to obey and follow those directions. Many are running around looking for a word from the Lord when all we have to do is open His word and begin to obey.

Determine how you will come along side your people to assist them in their spiritual progress. Consider publicizing a daily Bible reading and teaching them how to S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) through journaling. It is great to write down the verses and then circle the key words to consider what God may be saying to you. Suggest a great study Bible and other study tools they might use to go deeper in the word. Lean in and look at what He says.

Second, lean in by developing the habit of spending time with God. Show them what prayer looks like and how they can cry out to God and that He hears them. Four elements of prayer as seen in the model prayer are praise, repentance, ask, and yield.   One idea would be to meet with several of your disciples and teach them about prayer but more importantly show them what it means to pray by praying with them, for them, and over them.

In prayer it is also good to stop and listen for a time. When you pray remember that it is communicating with God and that involves both sides. It is wonderful knowing that He is listening to us but it is just as wonderful to know that He speaks to us also. In your quiet time develop the practice of having a pen and pad in hand. Stop and listen to what He is saying to you through His word and the Holy Spirit. Take 3-5 minutes and be quiet in His presence. Lean in and listen!

Third, lean in by developing the habit of tithing. This is far more than good stewardship but teaches them what God requires as a part of our worship. This principle is far more than the amount but teaches the Lordship of Christ through placing God first in our day, our finances, and in our relationships. The principle of putting God first in everything must be taught and reinforced regularly. We must be willing to give Him everything including time, talent, and treasures.

Philippians 4:18 says, “I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Paul thanked this church for their financial support and describes these financial gifts with worship language. Once again we know that giving is an act of worship not just a matter of stewardship. You lean into His presence by giving with the right heart and the right motive.

Fourth, lean in by developing the habit of fellowship. The importance of community cannot be overstressed. We need one another and the New Testament is written from the “we” perspective not “me.” Natural Church Development says, “Loving relationships are the heart of a healthy, growing church. Jesus said people will know we are His disciples by our love. Practical demonstration of love builds authentic Christian community and brings others into God’s kingdom.”

They go on to say, “Loving relationships is the area in which churches tend to extravagantly overestimate their spiritual quality…they fail to see how outsiders can have a hard time finding access to a clique. These Christians consider themselves as ‘warmhearted’ and ‘open’ toward newcomers, but they communicate-most unconsciously-the message: ’You don’t belong here.’” We need to lean into stronger, deeper, and authentic relationships. It is important to develop these four habits of leaning in toward the Lord in the context of worship services, small groups, leadership development, and our personal walks.

The attractional approach (come and see) will connect an individual usually through a worship service or an event that, well, attracts them! The incarnational approach (go and tell) focuses more on relational evangelism and tends to connect people in smaller group settings. Being attractional or incarnational is not an either/or decision but rather a both/and. As a member of my church reminded me recently, “God sent us a little reminder that our mission field is not where we go to, but where we take Him!” Hopefully, you will continue to lean into His presence through developing godly habits that will enable you to mature spiritually by coming to age in Christ. This process will keep you from leaning away, then drifting away, and eventually maybe even dropping out.

Help your church to lean in through worship, small groups, and personal discipleship!