Christ Over All: Put on the New Self

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Each Monday (This week Wednesday!) I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12–17, ESV)

As we’ve been walking through the book of Colossians, chapter 3 turns to the practical aspects of the Christian life. Paul has been discussing how our union with Christ by faith changes who we are. We are new people with a new identity. Therefore the old person who we used to be is now gone. Paul tells us in v. 5 to put to death our old self and to put off the vices of worldliness.

Here in v. 12 Paul is going to instruct us what the character of Christ looks like in the Christian life. We must not simply stop doing the sinful activities of our past, but we must put on a new character and a new heart that is birthed out of our new identity in Jesus.

One of the things that I think will surprise you as we study this passage together today is just how much Paul discusses putting on the character of Christ within the Christian community of the church.

Some will claim a “me and Jesus” faith that has no need for the community of the church. They may claim to be able to worship just fine on the fishing boat or may claim to grow just fine disconnected from community and membership to a local body. Yet, this attitude is not found in the NT at all. The writers of the NT always assume that a follower of Christ is always connected to the body of Christ.

If you hope to grow in your relationship with Jesus and if you hope to increase in Christ-likeness it will not happen if you are severed from the church. God has ordained it that we grow together in the loving community of the church. If we hope to put on the character of Christ as Paul instructs us here today, we will see that he assumes it is done within the context of the local church.

If you have a desire for holiness and if you have a desire to live your life for the glory of God than you ought to have a desire to belong and participate in the life of the church as well. The church is God’s gift to us helping us to grow in our faith. As we dive in to our passage for today we will see it over and over again. Putting on the character of Christ is meant to happen within the Christian community of the local church.

In Jesus, we put on the character of Christ and grow through the community of Christ.

1. The Character of a Christian (v.12–14)

Paul kicks off his command of “Put on then” by reminding us of who we are. Again that theme of indicatives and imperatives reoccurs here again. Before Paul tells us what we must do as Christian he always reminds us of who we are. And just who are we?

Paul tells us that we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. Paul reminds the colossians and reminds us that if you are a Christian who are the elect of God. Chosen to be a member of his family. You have been called by him to be set apart and you have been chosen by him to be a special object of his love as he unites you to his son Jesus Christ by faith.

Paul is reminding us again of our new identity in our Christian life. Our identity in Jesus is the source and power for any hope to put on the character of Christ. Because in Jesus we have been made holy, by the Power of God’s spirit we are able to live in holiness.

I must never cease in warning you of this: It is impossible to live the Christian life without first being made by God a Christian. When we come to Christ there is a fundamental change in who we are. We are made new. We are born again. We become new men and new women in Jesus. It is out of this new identity that we are able by the Spirit to not only put off our former way of life, but put on the character and love of Christ.

Five Virtues

So Paul describes the character of Christ in which we are to put on. Just as Paul gave us a few verses earlier of 5 vices to put off, here he gives us a list of 5 virtues that are to radiate from the Christian life. He tells us to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Jesus transforms our very personality as he brings about the character of Christ in our life. In our Christian life we should seek to be growing in each of these areas.

Our ruthless merciless hearts should be growing more warm and compassionate towards others. The rudeness and selfishness that dominates our speech should be replaced with the kindness of Christ. Our sefl-suffeciency and pride should be replaced with a God given humility and meekness. Our irritableness and frustration with others should be replaced by divine patience for others struggles and weaknesses.

Bearing with One Another

Paul goes on to tell us that we should bear with one another, and be patient with one another. Here already you see the importance of community in growing in christ-likeness. It is easy to get frustrated with one another as church members isn’t it? We all have annoying little quirks and we all have areas of sin in our life and blindspots. Some of us are a little thick-headed and stubborn than others.

Yet maturity in Christ means that we are patient in bearing with one another. For those who are slow to learn we show humble patience. To those who hurt us and harm us we offer forgiveness. To those struggling with sin, we come along side and help them bear their struggle.

The immature Christian is a one who sees the weakness of his brother or sister and gets filled with self-righteous frustration. The mature Christian is the one who sees the weakness of his brother or sister and is filled with compassionate and loving patience.

For those of us who struggle with our weaker brothers and sisters perhaps we are not as mature in Christ as we’d like to think.

Forgiving One Another

Paul even tells us that those who have put on the character of Christ should make us forgiving people. A forgiving spirit is a sign of maturity in Christ. Those who hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness in their heart not only hurt their own soul but bring destruction and disunity on the church. The forgiveness of God changes us.

How has God forgiven us? Well he has forgiven us in the most costly of ways. That while we are sinners God sent his son, born in human flesh to absorb the penalty for our sin at the cross. Jesus stands in the gap and takes on our shame so that we could receive the favor of God and be adopted into his family. Our horrific, vile, and detestable sin has been forgiven by the blood of the lamb! The forgiveness of God is costly, it wasn’t cheap, and yet God generously gives it to all who might believe in his son Jesus Christ.

Again, I must urge you if you do not know Jesus and if you have yet to be forgiven by God, he is generous and merciful to receive all those who would turn from their sins and place their faith and trust in Jesus as their savior and Lord. Christians are not perfect people, but forgiven people. And God’s forgiveness shapes us and molds us into forgiving people.

So when you have conflict with other members in the church it is vital that you go and seek reconciliation and forgiveness. A church filled with gossip, bitterness, grudges, and tension is not a church that is growing in the image of Jesus Christ. We should be so quick to offer forgiveness when we fail each other and we must be quick to offer grace just as God in Christ has offered to us.

Paul says that above everything else that should define the character of a Christian, a Christian must be defined by love. As recipients of God’s love we love one another. Why is it that we refuse to forgive one another? Why is it that we are not humble or compassionate or patience towards others? It is because our hearts have not been filled with God’s love. Harmony in the church is achieved when the people of God genuinely and deeply love one another. It is the love of Christ that binds our hearts together and puts us together in perfect harmony.

2. The Community of a Christian (v. 15–17)

Paul tells us that the one of the distinguishing marks of the body of Christ should be one in which the peace of Christ rules. The church is to be a group of people growing together in christian maturity. We live under the rule of Christ and under his authority, and we live under the rule of his peace. In col 1:20 we are told that Jesus made peace by the blood of his cross. As we live our life under his Lordship that same peace should be evident in our churches.

The church should not be known for its back-bitting, grumbling, and complaining, but joyful peaceableness as we live under the rule of Jesus together, and for that we should be incredibly thankful to God that he allows us to be apart of this wonderful community of peace called the church.

But a question remains. How can our church became a community living under the peace of Christ? Why is it that most churches seem to be places of hostility not of peace?

Let the word of Christ Dwell in you richly

Well, I believe Paul gives us the answer of how that peace within the body is attained. We live under the peace of the rule of Christ if we allow the word of Christ to dwell within us richly. That’s what Paul says isn’t it in verse 16.

As we think about Forest Hills Baptist Church none of us can claim any sense of ownership to this body. Even though I’m a pastor, this isn’t my church. Even though you might have been born and raised in this church, Forest Hills is not your church. The one who owns us, who controls us, and who rules over us all is Jesus Christ himself. After all, he is the one who bought us by his own blood.

This is hugely important for us to grasp. If Jesus rules over us as his body, then that means that his Word is the final authority when it comes to our church. It means that every member of this church should submit our lives to the Scripture not only our personal lives but also in our church.

The reason there is so much hostility in some churches is because their is a conflict of authority. The church is not the place for you to come and exert your own influence, control, and your own way of doing things. When people begin to act like this, conflict ensues and rivalries develop. When Jesus’ word is replaced by our own personal authorities we cease to be His church.

So let me make it clear in case there is any doubt, as pastors of Forest Hills Baptist Church we will only lead our church under the rule of God’s word. God’s word will be our authority, not the opinions and preferences of our members. Why? Because we want the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts, therefore we want to allow the word of Christ to dwell within us richly.

Corporate Worship

v. 16 has a lot to teach us when it comes to cooperate worship. One implication is that it means that the word of God takes the primary seat in all we do, particularly in our corporate worship.

This is why there is such an emphasis on the teaching of the Bible here at Forest Hills, because we want to let the word of God dwell within us as a body. As a result, it gets the lions share of time as we come together. The preaching of the word of God and the teaching of the word of God are essential and primary in the life of the church.

In every generation there seems to be an attack on the preaching of the word, but in our own day preaching is especially attacked by a focus of shifting our church worship towards entertainment. There is great pressure for churches to make their worship services something that will attract a large crowd through large scale musical productions, skits, videos, flashing lights, fog machines, and overpowering decibels of volume. The preaching of the word is being reduced to a 15 minute sermonette in which preachers become less like prophets heralding the truth of the Gospels but stand up comedians who tickle itching ears.

Some will doubt that the word of God will be effective in reaching this next generation. The Bible isn’t enough, we need to bolster it with our own ingenuity or we need to come along and bolster the Bible. Some may say that the Bible isn’t enough at all that it should be jettisoned and replaced in the church with something new and fashionable.

Let me tell you something, the word of God is enough. Whenever a man of God stands before a church with the Scriptures miracles happen. Why? Because the Spirit of God works to save the lost and grow the saved through the faithful preaching and teaching of the word.

May God forgive us for making worship about our own entertainment than about God’s own glory. At Forest Hills we are committed to treasuring Christ in worship by seeking to fill our hearts with the word of Christ! Does this mean worship is only preaching? No, not at all.

In the same focus of letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly Paul tells us to use psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to admonish one another with the word of God. Music can be a powerful way to instruct one another with the word of Christ. This is exactly what Paul tells us to do, to admonish one another with the word of God.

When it comes to music in our worship we must always make sure that we are singing towards God in worship but also singing to one another. The point of music isn’t to set a mood, draw attention to soloists or the musician ship of worship leaders, but rather it should function as admonishing one another with the word.

There are few principles of how I think Colossians 3:16 gives us guide when it comes to understanding our singing.

  1. Our songs should be dripping in Scripture.
  2. Our Songs should be directed towards God.
  3. Our songs should be admonishing one another.
  4. Our songs should be sung with thankfulness to God.

The summation of the Christian life both individually and corporately has one aim and one aim only, the glory of God. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, so everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” v. 17.

As we put off our old way of life and as we put on the character of Christ in the community of the church may our life’s purpose be to the glory of God. In whatever we say and whatever we do may our ambition for God’s glorious name be the driving motive in it all. The Christian is one who lives his life wrapped up entirely in Christ. There is no such thing as being to committed or to devoted to Jesus. Christ is our life. He is Lord over all. His peace rules over us as we live in our community of love together allowing the word of God to dwell in our hearts and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Don’t you want to be a part of a community like this? There are some of you that are incredibly connected and invested in the community of Forest Hills Baptist Church, but there are many of you that are not. You come to an event on Sunday morning but you are not engaged in the community of the saints. Your not a member of our church, you are not connected to a Sunday School class, or you are not engaged in serving the body in any way. Let me challenge you today to get connected to what God is doing here in us. If you want to grow in your faith and put on the character of Christ you need the body. You can’t do it on your own.

If you are interested in joining in membership to our church I’d love to talk to you about that after the service. We have our membership class starting again in just a few weeks and we’d love to get you learning more about what it means to be a covenant member at our church.

For some of you who are members perhaps you need to pray today about investing in this community with your time and with your resources. Maybe you need to recommit to pursuing holiness by committing to regularly participating in the life of the church. We need one another to grow together in Christ. Will you join us as we come together as a church to put on the character of Christ together for the glory of God.

6 Ways You Can Create Authentic Community in Your Church

The church is not a building or an event, but a people. The Church is the called out people of God, a holy community made up of redeemed sinners. Unfortunately often the emphasis of church is on the Sunday event or the building itself and not on the community. In many churches it is not hard to show up incognito, hide out in the back, and leave as soon as the service is over all the while remaining completely unknown. It is possible to go to church without participating in the community of the church. For those who do seek to build relationships with other church members, often those relationships are on the superficial level. We may talk about the weather, how our favorite college football team performed over the weekend, or some hobby interest, but rarely to we break through the brick wall of superficiality. Isn’t biblical community more than this?

We wall tend to long for authentic community. We want it. We need it. Yet, a culture of authentic community in the church can be hard to foster. There is the great pressure to present your life as an ideal Christian, so we hide our struggles and slap on our plastic smiles. The pressure to have it all together has turned the church into an actors guild perfecting their religious masks. But play acting is the death of authentic Christian Community. When vulnerability is replaced by a hypocritical masquerade the church is lost. The church is to be a bastion of hope for redeemed sinners not an elitist ivory tower for the self-righteous. The church is made up of self-confessed sinners who have been made righteous in Christ Jesus. If any people on the planet should have the freedom to be authentic, it should be Christians. For their sin has been covered by the blood of the lamb.

So how can you help create a culture of authentic community in your church? How can you help build meaningful relationships with other Christians for the mutual building up of the body? Let me share with you six ways.

1. Be Intentional

Go deeper through perceptive questions. Rather than a quick “Hello! Pretty cold weather today”, ask questions that encourage people to open up. “How have things been going this week?” or “How is your mom who has been fighting cancer?” or “What can I be praying of you this upcoming week?” or “What has God been teaching you recently through His word?” Ask questions that allow you to dig deeper that creates opportunity to encourage and remind one another of the Gospel and its implications.

2. Be Hospitable

Find opportunities to invite others into the rhythm of your life. If you are running to the store, invite someone to go along with you. If you are making a delicious apple pie for dinner, invite someone over to enjoy it with you. Invite people into the routine of your life, all the while being intentional in your conversations, going deeper together in your relationship with Jesus Christ.

3. Be Available

Community cannot be manufactured through planning. Sometimes there may be a friend who needs you to drop what your doing an pray with them. There may be a crisis such as a death in the family that they need your support. Someone may have had a terrible day at work and they need a friend to talk to that night sharing their sorrows. If we are going to foster community in our lives and in our churches we must learn to be less busy. We must learn to not so over schedule ourselves that we don’t have time to be available for those who need us. Intentionally leave time open and unscheduled so you can drop what your doing and be there for others.

4. Be Teachable

Some people seem to think they have it all together. You start talking about an issue, and they seem to have it all figured out. Yet, in genuine Gospel-community everyone should take a posture of humility and teachability. We have a lot to learn from one another and others may be able to see blind spots that we are missing. If we come across as unteachable and prideful, than community will be non-existent. Go to others for advise or counsel. Ask others how they would handle the situation your facing. Not only will your conversations be richer, but God may teach you something through your brother or sister that you might not have known had you keep yapping your mouth.

5. Be Forgiving

When we enter into deep and authentic relationships with other believers, we leave ourselves exposed to be hurt. Often times other people may say something that deeply wounds us. When those times happen it is vital that we be quick to offer forgiveness. We we sit an allow others offenses to fester, the poison of bitterness creeps into our hearts, eating away at our soul. So when others hurt you be quick to forgive and quick to seek reconciliation.

6. Be Vulnerable

You have to be willing to let down your guard and open up. It is scary, its risky, its terrifying, yet essential for Gospel community. Be courageous enough to let people see the real you. Share with a sister in Christ about a struggle you are facing. Be aggressive in asking for prayer from a good friend. Share the struggles of your heart or encourage another with a difficult lesson God has taught you in the past. When we let down our guard and are vulnerable with one another, authentic community is the result.

May these six things help you as you seek to foster authentic community in your life and in the life of your church. May we as Christians not settle for anything less than authentic, honest, and vulnerable community. May we be so bold as to find our identity and worth in Christ that the fear of man that so often hinders true community be put to death. As we throw our religious masks to their graves we will find the joy of that wonderful community of grace with which God has gifted us, the local church.

What other things would you encourage others to find authentic community? What does community look like in your relationships and in your church?

How to Foster a Culture of Vulnerability in Your Church

Vulnerability is frightening. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being exposed in our sin or confessing it to others.  We feel the pressure to hide our true selves, even from the church.  There is nothing worse than encountering a fake. Yet, as we look around our churches there are many who force smiles and hide their struggles behind a religious mask.  Many feel a fear of being judged in the church, and think the church as the last place in the world to find forgiveness and grace.

  • Shouldn’t the church be the most grace filled place in the world because we believe that their was a savior who was judged in our place?
  • Doesn’t the Gospel free us to be authentic and vulnerable with each other?
  • How can we remove the religious masks of our congregations and encourage them to be vulnerable and authentic
  • How can we create a culture of grace within our churches where it is ok to struggle with sin and fight for joy in sorrow?

As a pastor these questions plague me, because I want my people to be vulnerable with where they are.  I don’t want them to fear that if they share their struggles or doubts that they will be gossiped about or out casted. I want to create a culture so saturated in the grace of Jesus Christ where each member is bearing the burdens of others. After all, we are all pilgrims seeking Christ together.

Maybe you are a pastor or a church leader and you want to develop this sort of culture within your congregation, how do we do this? How to we encourage a foster of vulnerability?

1. Know, Preach, and Counsel with the Gospel

One of the reasons a culture of hiding develops in a church is because the Gospel ceases to become central in all the ministries of the church.  When the Gospel is taken for granted or even lost, the religious game begins to happen. People begin to feel a need to conceal their sin, less they are thought less of. We take our fig leaves and begin to cover up our nakedness and hide from our creator and his body, the church. We need to integrate the Gospel in everything we do from our children’s ministry to our preaching. We must remind ourselves daily what Christ has done for us.

How does the Gospel free us to be vulnerable with one another? Because the Gospel tells us that we are far more wicked than we ever thought, but at the same time we are more loved that we ever dreamed to hope. We aren’t ok, in our sin we might be able to impress others with religious games, but we are certainly not impressing God. Our self-righteousness is offensive to him.  This means that nobody takes your sin as seriously as God. Before him, left to yourself you are under his righteous judgement.  We are exposed our religious fig leaves do not hide anything from God.

Yet, at the same time we are loved with an unbreakable and never-ending love. God showed us his love by sending Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin. It doesn’t matter how terrible our past or how detestable our actions, Jesus has paid for it all. In love, God has reached in your filth and washed you white as snow.  This happens totally by the grace of God.  As a result, the love God has for his children will not be taken away though we struggle with sin and doubts. Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? Who is going to snatch you from his hand?

Because we are secured in the mighty hand of God, it frees us to be vulnerable to with one another.  The true preaching of the Gospel begins to develop a culture of vulnerability, because the Gospel teaches us that we are broken and in need of repair. So in your ministries and in your teaching, center it on the Gospel.  Remind people the horrors of their sin and point them to the merciful savior whose Spirit makes our adoption secure. As a result we are free to be honest and vulnerable to those around us, because when we are justified before God why would the opinions of mere men concern us?

2. Share Your Own Struggles

One of the best ways to foster a culture of vulnerability is to begin to model it yourself as a leader.  Lead by example sharing your struggles with sin – your fight against pride, your struggle for obedience, your grasping for joy in sorrow. Many people put pastors and other church leaders on a pedestal.  Many think that they do not struggle with sin or with following Christ.  When we begin to drop down our own religious masks and begin to share how the Gospel helps us in our struggle, it will encourage others to do the same.

3. Create Small Groups that Foster Biblical Community

People need to have an environment to share their struggles. They need to have a community that come around them to voice their heartaches and ask for prayer.  They need accountability that asks tough questions, while at the same time pointing each other to the hope and identity we have in Christ.

How your church does this can vary widely. This can happen in a sunday school class, small groups, or one on one discipleship.  What these groups need to foster is a community of grace that encourages each other to follow Christ.  When people have friends and relationships who know them and who love them, it makes it easier to be vulnerable, confess sins, and share our struggles.

4. Get out of the Christian Bubble

Many churches are completely stuck in the Christian bubble and they have forgotten what the real world out there is like.  There are a lot of hurting people out in the world who need hope.  When a church begins to reach out to those far from Christ, the messiness of people's lives will begin to be met face to face.

Over the course of my life I’ve led two different youth groups.  One was with a wild group of kids far from God knowing little about the church or Christianity.  The second was a group of kids who were largely raised in the church.  Which one do you think was easier to foster biblical community? The first one by far. Why? Well because they had no problem sharing their struggles.  It would come out in Bible study publicly that a girl would struggle with cutting or that a guy was sleeping with his girl friend.  These kids were lost and apart from Christ, but nobody was hiding anything.  It was all out in the open, and made it much easier to share and apply the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Many of those students came to know Christ over the years and the vulnerability that those students begin with continue to this day in their Christian fellowship.

When you begin to reach out to people who are hurting outside of the church, it begins to foster a culture of vulnerability within the church.  The secretiveness of sin is brought into the light of the Gospel.

 5. Pray for the Spirit to Work

Finally, we must remember that whatever our strategies or methods, we are dependent upon the revival and renewal of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our people.  You simply cannot make people be vulnerable.  You cannot make them take off their religious masks. You simple preach the Scriptures and the grace of God until the Spirit works.

Labor for a culture of vulnerability and seek to create a church of grace, but at the end pray the Holy Spirit will bring this about through the faithful teaching of His word.  God is faithful, and the Gospel still has the power to transform people's lives.  A truly vulnerable and Christian community cannot be fabricated but must be birthed by the Spirit’s power.

By God’s grace, may our churches become a place where it is ok to hurt and struggle. May the church be a group of broken, poverty-stricken sinners who have found hope, joy, and salvation in Jesus Christ.  I hope these five things encourage you as you seek to create a culture of grace and vulnerability in your church.

 Does your church have a culture of grace and vulnerability? If so, how would you encourage us to foster this sort of culture? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Thanksgiving for Cross-Generational Community

This past Sunday the young adult class at Forest Hills Baptist Church hosted a huge thanksgiving lunch. It was a huge spread with some amazing food at the house of a young hospitable couple. This lunch made a lasting impression on me, not because of the food, but because of the amazing, beautiful picture of the body of Christ. Although the event was hosted by young adults there was a wonderful diversity within that house. There were college students, young professionals, young married, a baby crawling around, children playing with toys, some empty nesters, and two senior adults. It was a ecclectic group of people who were all having the greatest time eating, talking, and encouraging one another in the Lord. As I looked across the house and saw all the amazing cross-generational conversations, I thought to myself "This is the body of Christ!" What could have brought this diverse group of people together under one roof other than Jesus? One of the great holes in our modern method of doing church is hindering these cross generational relationships to develop. We age segregate everyone into such small categories that there is often very little if any interaction between age groups.

There is great wisdom that can be gained from across the generational gulf. Yet often in most churches there is generational tension between these groups rather than encouraging community. Discipleship happens within community and when we cross the generational gulf. When older men disciple younger men and older women disciple younger women (Titus 2), the church is built up as the beautiful body of Christ.

As I enjoyed that wonderful meal with good friends, for a moment I saw the glorious beauty of the body of Christ. I got just a small visible glimpse of the unity we have in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This unifying Gospel can cross even the widest generational gulf and bring the most unexpected people together.

We Live in a Fantasy World of Christian Community

We often get so caught up in a fantasy world, that we fail to see things as they really are. Many of us have done this when we think about Biblical Community. When we think about community in the church we often idealize it and romanticize the concept. We long for community and we long to be a part of a people who always get along, always listens to us, and always encourages us. Anyone who has spent even the slightest amount of time in a local church knows that this fantasy world we've imagined is just that, fantasy. Even Pastors fantasize about a utopia church community. We read about the early church in Acts 2 and we think, "Why doesn't my church look like this community!" Yet we often fail to see the incredible conflict in the early church. Their community was far from perfect. From sexual scandal, false teachers, intense church conferences, authority issues, and fundraising, the early church by no means resembled the fantasy world we think it is.

Yet strangely, it is the imperfection of our community which makes biblical community so sweet. The church is made up of redeemed sinners and it is expected that we will sin against each other. Many have been hurt by the church, wounded by other Christians. The church is a defunct group of people, yet God has miraculously brought this ragamuffin group together, despite all their differences through the blood of Jesus Christ.

In Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book Life Together, he addresses this fantasy world we live in when we think about community. He writes,

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live in a dream world... A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

So often we are more in love with the fantasy of our personal utopia vision of community that we don't actually love the community God has placed us in. Community is messy, yet God has called us to love these other redeemed sinners around us despite the mess they may make. There is no such thing as a "perfect church" and that is a good thing. Because as soon as you or I joined it, it would cease to be perfect. God in his wonderful plan brings sinners together and unites them through Christ.

Your illusion of christian community may have been recently shattered. You may have been greatly hurt by people within your church. You may be so frustrated with the hypocrisy in churches that you just want to abandon Christian community all together. But take heart, God has not redeemed you and saved you in Christ so you can live in a fantasy world. He has redeemed you to love and serve other sinners, real people, just like yourself. Bonhoeffer would go on to say, "We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily". God has given you your local church, a messed up sinful group of people to be your community. It is a gracious thing to be a part of the body of Christ. Cherish your community and love them for who they are now, not for who they may one day be. Love them well without expectations and when we stop seeking an ideal of community of our own creation, we just might very well find true Christian community.

Two Vital Relationships for Leaders

2779598066_647f7ae6d5_o It is often said that it is lonely at the top, especially in leadership. Often times this is very true, but most the times it is lonely because we want it to be that way. Many pastors and leaders intentionally alienate themselves from other leaders who can encourage them and love them. Often times leaders fail to make connection with other leaders outside of their organization for accountability and learning. In addition, most leaders tend to distrust building deep relationships with the leaders in their own organization out of fear of betrayl.

Isolation is a terrible thing for anyone, especially leaders. Many leaders build an emotional wall protecting themselves from the community and felowship that would bring them life and vitality. Isolation is the breading grounds for sin which often manifests itself when we are devoid of community. For a leader's own health and effectivness he must learn to surround himself with community outside the organization and inside the organization.

Developing Community Outside of the Organization

A leader must build relationships outside of his organization. For a pastor, it might mean meeting weekly or bi-weekly with other like-minded pastors for prayer and encouragement. For a business person it might mean networking and learning from people from other industries.

In my own life I've done this by meeting with a group of other student pastors every Tuesday morning for breakfast. These are other men in my city who have a passion for the Gospel of Christ and who are in the trenches of ministry dealing with many of the same issues I am dealing with as a leader. In addition to the plethora of wise counsel I receive from these men, we pray for each other and ecourage each other after a tough week.

People outside of our organization can perceive things that we are unable to see. They can be a neutral third party in dealing with a leadership dilema. They can be a sounding board of your latest idea or even a punching bag to vent about your latest frustrations. Devloping relationships with people outside of your organization is a key component to thriving as a leader.

Developing Community Inside the Organization

As a pastor, this one can often be very difficult to do. As a leader there is a tension between a courageous privacy and a humble openess concerning those in our own organization. We don't want to seem weak as a leader by laying all our junk on the table, but at the same time it is perlous to think of yourself as super man and present yourself that way to the leaders in your organization. No matter how hard you try to convince them you have the emotional callousness of a Vulcan and the Physical Stamina of Super Man, the people you lead know that is not true.

As I've become the Interim Senior Pastor of Forest Hills Baptist Church, there have been a wonderful group of men, our deacons, who have been a constant source of encouragement to me. They take care of me and minister to me in ways I don't even know I need. Even this past Tuesday at our meeting these men gathered around me, layed their hands on me, and prayed for me as I lead our church. Wow! That meant the world to me and it made me aware of this reality: We need leaders in our own organizations who can be our source of community and encouragement.

A Leader is Not an Island

You are unable to do everything on your own.  A leader cannot be effective as an island that is stranded all alone in the chaos of the seas. There is something beautiful about humanity in that we continue to need and depend on one another. A leader is not a solo-dicator robot walking around without needs or cares. No one wants to follow a robot, but they do want to follow a human being. They want to follow a courageous man who is willing to be served by other leaders. If you are a leader, look to build community outside your organization but also within your organization. You may be suprised just how life giving these relationships can be to your own leadership and your persuit of your vision.

How have you developed community outside of your organization? How have you developed it from within your own organization? Love to hear how you do this in the comments so we can learn from each other.

Rethinking Discipleship

We use programs to replace discipleship. Programs are distant. Discipleship is up close and personal. Programs are organized and planned. Discipleship is unpredictable. Programs are neat and clean. Discipleship is messy. What do I mean by discipleship? I mean imitating the model Jesus followed as we read the Gospels. Taking a few people inviting them into the rhythms of your life as you teach them, encourage them, and pour yourself into them, all in hopes of strengthening their spiritual maturity. Discipleship is personal. It is relational. It can't be done with just a program. It can't be done only through a sermon on Sunday morning.

Most churches make the false connection that discipleship and programming are the exact same things. It isn't. Churches do a lot of programs that don't produce disciples of Jesus. However I think there is a reason that most of us prefer awesome church programing rather than getting involved in each others lives in relational discipleship. The reason is, programs are way more comfortable. With a program I don't have to confront a brother or sister in sin. With a program I don't have to take a friend by the hand and pray for them. With a program I just have to sit and watch. I just have to sit in a bubble of my own personal spirituality.

We have such an individualistic understanding of discipleship. In our culture today, that makes the individual supreme, we've seriously forgotten how to live in community. While we are the most connected generation in the history of the world, we are also the most isolated. Most of us think that my relationship with God is exactly that, me and God. It is me and God versus the world. We think, "I don't need the church. I don't need anyone to grow in the faith. It is just me and God, and that's all I need!" Although that sounds incredibly good, and even righteous to us, the New Testament calls us a liar. We absolutely need each other. Community is essential to the very essence of what it means to be Christian! We are not chosen in Christ as individuals, but as a people, as a holy nation, and as a royal priest hood. We are a body. We are the bride. Notice that when the New Testament describes the church, the church, although it involves as many people, is a singular entity. The many Christians are one bride. The many believers are one body. The followers of Jesus are one nation.

As we think through discipleship in our local church, may our programming not hinder us from developing the sort of intimate and personal relationships with one another that foster discipleship. Older and mature believers grab a hold of a younger believer and disciple them. Meet weekly for coffee, invite them into the rhythms of your life, and pour yourself into them. Discipleship is messy. It is hard work. But if we are going to be faithful to the New Testament and the people God has called us to be, we can't keep doing what we are doing. There are many in our churches who are heavily involved in programs but completely unknown in their churches. This should not be the case. May we grab hold of one another, get involved in each others life. May we encourage each other, rebuke each other, and press on together as we seek our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Are you a Lone Ranger Christian?

As Christians we need real community.  So often we think of ourselves as the lone ranger of the Christian faith, out riding on the horizon and staying completely self sufficient.  In fact, we live in a world that prides itself on self-sufficiency.  Unfortunately, many Christians have brought this dangerous attitude into the church.  We show up on Sunday morning and maybe are even involved in the ministries of the church. All the while, we are living isolated and self sufficient from the body of Christ.  Do you not think this is you? Here is are a few signs to see if you live as a self-sufficient Christian:

1. You see, talk to, and hang out with other church members only when you are at church.
2. You refuse to get involved in discipleship such as a Sunday School class or a small group.
3. In those classes you remain closed off and private with what's happening in your life.
4. If a church member loves you enough to call you out in your sin, you angrily get rid of that friend and move on from that church.

Here is the dangerous thing I see, particularly in my context, the bible belt.  We have so many who think of church as an activity rather than a community. The body of Christ is a living, breathing community made up of those who have been saved by Jesus Christ.  So many live their lives as self sufficient Christians ignoring their need for biblical community.  As Christians, we desperately need to surround ourselves with other believers who can encourage us, disciple us, and yes, even call us out in our sin.  We need to develop deep friendships and relationships like this in our church.  Instead, we show up at 11 AM, say hello to the people in the pew behind us, and sneak out before we actually have an opportunity to engage in community.

We forget that church is a gift, given to us by Jesus for our own maturity.  This is why Paul tells us that each Christian has been given gifts and abilities to be used in the church for the building up of the church.  Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-16:

     And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 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. (Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV)

Does your church look like this?  The church is to be the unified community of God's people living life together to encourage and spur each other on towards Christian maturity.  God sanctifies his saints not in isolation but in community with other saints.  We need each other as we seek to live for Jesus.  We need friends to teach us the Word.

We need friends who can pray for us in our struggles.
We need friends who can hold us accountable.
We need friends who can speak the truth to us when we need to hear it.
We need friends that can call us out in our sin and beg for our repentance.

As Christians we absolutely need this kind of community.  There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian.  You need the body of Christ.  Therefore, find a church and invest yourself there.  Don't just show up on Sunday mornings or just go throughout the motions, but really give yourself to the community of the church.  Be vulnerable.  Be honest about your shortcomings.  Open yourself to friendships and community.  Then watch how God matures you and grows you as you are connected to authentic Godly community.