Grace or Truth?

NASHVILLE. In one of my all-time favorite movie scenes, Cuba Gooding Jr plays a mentally challenged young man nicknamed “Radio” who is being mentored by a high school football coach played by Ed Harris.

Coach and Radio are eating in a diner. When they finish their meal, the waitress politely and slowly addresses Radio, “Do you want strawberry pie or apple pie?”

Radio answers, “I wan’ boff.”

Radio was not the smartest movie character ever, but he understood that he could choose both.

Unfortunately, many of today’s church leaders have a difficult time embracing the concept of both. In our confused and polarized Western church world, we think have to choose between grace and truth, as if the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

Jesus choose both. We should choose both.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (‭John‬ ‭1‬:‭14‬)

According to this passage, Jesus was “full of grace AND truth.” The idea of grace and truth is not a multiple choice question. It is not an either/or decision. This is one of those both/and situations.

But we prefer to pick one or the other. Then we build a camp. In time, our camp becomes our identity. Then we start a blog. And a twitter account. Eventually we vilify people in other camps. I’m not sure why we do this, but we do.

Preachers in the “grace camp” are accused of ignoring certain Bible texts that seem to condemn politically correct lifestyles and culturally protected sins. On the other hand, preachers in the “truth camp” overemphasize a few sins and are stereotyped as hateful religious bigots and religious Pharisees.

Why can’t we just be like Jesus and embrace grace and truth?

My guess is that everyone reading this wants to be filled with grace and truth, but how? In today’s crazy out-of-balance ministry world, when we want grace we listen to a Joseph Prince podcast or watch a Joel Osteen broadcast. When we want truth we read a John MacArthur book or a John Piper tweet.

Question: What if we want to be filled with both grace and truth?

Answer: If we want both grace and truth, we have to go to Jesus.

The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)

 

 

Healthy Church Growth: Measuring What Matters

TOKYO. Earlier this week I was in Kuala Lumpur speaking to Asian mega-church pastors at the 2015 Asia Leaders Summit. With all due respect to my mega-church pastor friends, I would much rather spend three days with regular church pastors. Three days with mega-church leaders reciting huge numbers reminded me that some numbers matter more than others.

Every time I am asked to teach discipleship, at some point I have to talk about numbers. I always do so with some reluctance, but not because it is necessarily wrong to count and track numbers. My reluctance is due to people’s common tendency of attributing all kinds of virtue, worth, and wisdom to individuals and churches based on how many people show up at their meetings. By those same calculations, there is a tendency to diminish the efforts of other leaders and churches because their attendance numbers don’t have as many digits.

This is simply not fair. Growing a church to 100 in Tokyo or Teheran takes more work and is a greater accomplishment than growing a church to 1000 in Singapore or Manila. Some cities are ripe for harvest. Some are not. We cannot judge the quality of a church or a pastor’s ministry simply by how many people attend the weekend worship service because raw numbers do not account for soil conditions.

Judging pastors and churches by attendance numbers completely misses the main point of ministry. Weekend worship attendance numbers without context are totally unreliable indicators of church health.

Jesus did not call us to gather crowds. He called us to make disciples. In Matthew 16, Jesus said He would build His church. A few chapters later in Matthew 28, He told His followers to make disciples. His job is to build His church. Our job is to make disciples. When we make disciples, He takes those disciples and builds them into a church that the gates of hell cannot overcome.

Last week I received the Victory-Manila 2015 second quarter report. As you might expect, the report contained numbers, graphs, and charts. My eyes quickly sought the two numbers that matter more than all other numbers, the two numbers that give context to all the other numbers.

Those numbers were 3039 and 7166.

The first number is the number of new believers who were baptized in Manila in the first two quarters of 2015. (Plus, we baptized another 5248 in the provinces for a total of 8287 nationwide.) The second number is the number of active Victory discipleship groups that meet weekly in Metro Manila.

Why do these numbers matter more than all others, including the attendance number and the offering amount?

The first number (baptisms) matters because lost people matter to God.

The Parable of the Ninety-nine and the One (Luke 15) presents a radically different way of looking at numbers. Many pastors today focus all their attention on the ninety-nine. Pastors feed the sheep in their flock; pastors serve the sheep in their flock; pastors occasionally recruit sheep from other flocks. We celebrate the ninety-nine and ignore the lost one. No matter how great we are at caring for the flock, Jesus calls us to pursue the lost.

The second number (Victory discipleship groups) matters because lost people matter to us.

The more Victory discipleship group leaders we equip and empower, the more opportunities we will have to engage the lost in every area of culture and community. Since lost people matter to God, they should matter to us.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to help lead a small Every Nation church in the Nashville area. When I received the first year-end report, my eyes immediately went to the two numbers that matter most: 12 and 27. Twelve new believers baptized and twenty-seven discipleship group leaders equipped and empowered in the first year. Like in Manila, those two numbers mattered more than total attendance and offering amount. Those numbers were worth celebrating because evangelism and discipleship matter to God and to us.

What numbers do you celebrate?

 

 

 

Greed

MANILA. What is repentance and does it still matter? Luke 3 records John the Baptist’s message to religious people who wanted to be baptized. As usual, John boldly and unapologetically demanded repentance.

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance… Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

As was often the case when John (and Jesus and Paul) preached, the crowds not only got answers, they also walked away with questions. Here’s the big question prompted by John’s blunt call to repentance.

What shall we do?   (Luke 3:10)

That’s always a good question to ask when one wants to repent.

As you read my summary paraphrase below, see if  you can spot the common theme in John’s answer to their question about repentance.

Verse 11 Whoever has extra clothes and food, give to those who have none.

Verse 13 Collect no more taxes (money) than authorized.

Verse 14 Do not extort money and be content with your salary.

No matter the audience (tax collectors, soldiers, random people), the answer to their what shall we do question was basically the same: reject greed and embrace generosity.

At some point, real repentance will confront our greed and demand generosity. This might not always be the first step in repentance, but it will be a step or two or two thousand on the lifelong journey of walking with God.

I love the way this passage ends: So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. (Luke 3:18)

This passage describes repentance as rejecting greed and embracing a lifestyle of generosity. When John preached about repentance and generosity Luke said he preached good news to the people!

The message of repentance and the call to generosity is good news!

 

Pride

NASHVILLE. Good to be back in the office writing the final chapter of my parenting book, after ten productive days in South Africa and Nigeria. The wholehearted full volume African worship made my otherwise exuberant home churches (Victory Manila and Bethel Brentwood) feel rather Anglican in comparison.

While reading the tiny book of Obadiah this morning, I encountered a huge and terrifying truth.

The pride of your heart has deceived you.  (Obadiah 1:3 ESV)

Two simple points:

1. Pride is a heart issue. If we are proud it is not because of our accomplishments, culture, education, nationality, or family. It is because of our heart. The only way to deal with pride is to deal with the heart, not the external circumstances.

2. Pride is deceitful. It always makes us see self, others, situations, sin, anointing, and everything else in a distorted way. It tends to downplay our failures and exaggerate our accomplishments. It always tries to write self into the story and push self on center stage. But we rarely realize what pride is doing to us, because it is deceitful.

One simple (but difficult) solution: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God. (1 Peter 5:6 ESV)

 

 

Empowering Discipleship Explained in 500 Words

“Our most important growth number is 10,144. That’s the number of people leading small discipleship groups each week in Metro Manila.”

TAMPA, FLORIDA. Tomorrow, I get speak to 5000 church planters and church plant advocates about discipleship at Exponential East in Tampa. Thank you Dave Ferguson for the invitation, and thank you for equipping and empowering church planters. As soon as my Tuesday afternoon session is over, I will drive directly to the airport to catch my flight to the Middle East where I will catch up with our Every Nation Asia Leadership Team who are doing a seven day Israel study tour.

Here’s a 500-word summary of what I say every time I get a chance to talk about church-based discipleship.

———-

Most Christians agree that discipleship is important, even essential for Christian maturity; few understand biblical principles and even fewer apply a biblical process when it comes to discipleship. Biblical discipleship principles are universal and timeless, and they enabled the church I helped start in 1984 in Manila, Philippines to experience thirty-one consecutive years of growth.

For those interested in numbers, our most important growth number is 10,411. That’s the number of people leading small discipleship groups each week in Metro Manila.

Discipleship isn’t complicated, but it is often difficult. The difficulty lies in applying four biblical principles to each specific context. Simply put, here’s how anyone and everyone can make disciples.

 1. Engage Culture and Community. When Jesus told His original twelve to go and make disciples, they did not interpret His command to mean, “Find people who are already following me and help them become better followers.” They interpreted his “great commission” to mean that they should go and find people who were not yet followers and help them know and follow Jesus. Evangelism and discipleship were not two separate departments in their church. Rather, evangelism was the beginning of the discipleship process. Today many people see discipleship as a program to help church members become better church members. As long as the evangelism department does the outreach and the discipleship department does the discipleship, both will be ineffective. The starting line of the disciple-making process must be evangelism that engages our community and culture.

2. Establish Spiritual Foundations. If we want our disciples to survive the storms of life, we must help them establish strong and deep biblical foundations. This essential groundwork includes repentance, faith, water baptism, the Holy Spirit, and church community.

3. Equip Believers to Minister. We hear the phrase all the time: Every member a minister. Yet often, because of our performance-driven culture, we have little tolerance for the messiness of the equipping process. We do church as if only professional preachers are qualified to do ministry. Yet the biblical job description for professional ministers is to equip the “non-pros” for ministry, then get out of their way.

4. Empower Disciples to Make Disciples. Jesus expected all of His original disciples to make disciples. He empowered them, knowing they would make mistakes. Too often we act like only full-time pastors or people who have been believers forever can make disciples. But we must not forget it is progress, not perfection, that qualifies one to disciple others. Because Jesus expects all His disciples to make disciples, we must not only equip them, we must also empower them.

Conclusion. Two thousand years ago, discipleship was so simple that a carpenter explained it to uneducated fishermen in one sentence: “Follow me and I will send you out to fish for people”. Those simple fishermen followed, fished and changed their world. If modern discipleship is confusing or complicated, it is because we have strayed from biblical principles and the simple biblical process that Jesus lived and taught His disciples.

Sometimes the Spirit Leads Us Where We Don’t Want to Go

NASHVILLE. For many of us who have been around the church world for a long time, the phrase “led by the Spirit” conjures up all kinds of strange and bizarre behavior, and maybe a lot of bad memories. That’s why we need to look at the Bible, rather than YouTube, to learn what led and empowered by the Spirit actually looks like.

Matthew says that after Jesus was baptized by John, he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” where He was tempted by the devil.  Mark’s account says, “the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.”

Being led usually implies the one leading is in front of us and we are following, maybe holding the hand of the leader. Being driven usually implies someone is behind us pushing and directing us.

Matthew says the Spirit led Jesus. Mark says the Spirit drove Jesus. Which is it? I think it is both. At times I have certainly sensed the Spirit in front of me leading me where I should go, and at the same time I have felt Him behind me driving and directing me from behind, and occasionally giving me a bit of a push.

Mark and Matthew both mention that Jesus ended up in the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil. This was not a fun and joyful experience for Jesus. Rather, it was quite stressful and painful.

Sometimes in the tough seasons of life, we wrongly conclude that we must have wandered out of God’s will. This mistaken idea is rooted in the faulty teaching that God’s ultimate will is for us to be happy. We reason, “the wilderness is not a happy place, so it must not be God’s will. We must have missed God or we would be in a place of perpetual happiness.”

Jesus was in the center of God’s will, He was led by the Spirit, He did not take a detour, yet he ended up in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. He ended up in an uncomfortable place.

Lest we wrongly conclude that tough places are signs that God is not pleased with us, take a look at the previous verse, just before Mark says, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12)

Jesus was baptized by John, then, “a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son;with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11)

A voice from heaven said, I AM PLEASED! Then the Spirit immediately leads him into the wilderness to get tempted by the devil. The fact that God is pleased with us does not mean that life will not take some difficult turns.

We should never look at our painful circumstances and conclude that God is not pleased. Instead, we should look at His word and His sacrifice on the cross and conclude that He is pleased.

——-

NOTE: Our Every Nation Nashville office is doing a sixteen week discipleship journey through the book of Mark. Every Tuesday in our weekly staff devotion, we will look at one discipleship lesson from each chapter in Mark.

Our discipleship lesson from Mark 1 is: Following Jesus means being led by the Spirit (even if He sometimes leads us where we don’t want to go.)

 

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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