Stepping into GREATNESS

The crowds were made curious by his unconventional clothing and daily diet of raw locusts.  They were intrigued by his teaching, and they marveled at his bold message.  Word of his ministry spread like wildfire – causing multitudes of people to travel great distances to see this man who preached repentance, promoted the greatness of God’s kingdom, and claimed to be preparing the way for Christ.  By the time Jesus started his ministry one year later, John the Baptist already had a strong reputation, large number of disciples, and the forefront ministry in the region.
 
It wasn’t long, however, before the ministry of Jesus surpassed that of John in popularity and prominence.  This was an obvious concern and threat to John’s disciples who saw their ministry market share slipping away.  Before loosing it all, they addressed their leader with the apparent stagnation of their ministry: “Rabbi (John), that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him.” (NIV)  Listen to their concern:  “Everyone is going to Jesus.”  What was their problem?  Their personal kingdom was shrinking; their personal image was being deflated; their personal greatness was melting away.  A new ministry in town was outgrowing theirs!  These guys where perplexed with a personal and organizational dilemma!
 
Can you see the picture?  John’s closest friends, his disciples, his ministry partners for God’s kingdom had become disillusioned by the growing greatness of God.  They, more than anyone else, should have understood the mission of John’s ministry, but they missed it!
 
Listen to John’s passion, as his words cut straight to his followers’ hearts to address their concern and sin:  “A man can only receive what is given him from heaven…. He must become greater.  I must become less.”
 
Does this send a chill up your spine?  It should.  With these few short words, John re-defines greatness.  Greatness is realizing that I don’t build God’s church – He does!  Greatness is realizing that I don’t win the lost – God does!  Greatness, in God’s kingdom, is about God and others becoming greater as I become less.  Greatness is not obtained through personal drive, skill, or gifts, nor is greatness measured by building projects, financial capital, weekend attendance, or ministry prominence.  Greatness is obtained when we blaze a trail for God’s greatness as we fade into the background of His glory.

John 3:27,30
“A man can only receive what is given him from heaven….  He must become greater.  I must become less.”

As Christian leaders, we often find ourselves in an awkward position:  we desire to build God’s kingdom but in doing so we get distracted by our own kingdom – a kingdom of personal image, personal prominence, and personal greatness.  Whose kingdom are you building?
 
Reflection:
Do you feel a silent competition with other churches in your area for larger ministry market share?  Do you partner with other ministries to build God’s kingdom, or do you remain relatively isolated?  Do you silently compare your ministry to the strength and weaknesses of other churches or ministry leaders?  Do you expect your children to live at a higher standard than other children because of your position?
 
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you may struggle with the pursuit of personal greatness.  Ask God to search your heart and check the motives of your ministry and leadership.
 
Prayer:
God, it is so easy for me to pursue my own greatness while serving to expand your Kingdom.  I find myself depending on my personal drive, skills, and gifts instead of on you to win the lost and build your church.  Please help me set aside my personal image, prominence, and greatness that you might become greater as I come less.

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Protecting Jesus’ Mission

Recently, I sat through a not-so-monotonous pre-flight preparation. In this comic presentation, the flight attendant prepared her passengers for flight by saying, among other things, “If you don’t like our service today, then our aircraft has six exits – two in the back, two in the middle, and two in the front.” After I stopped cracking up, I realized what she was really saying, “We are going to care for and serve you well today. If you don’t like how we serve you, that’s okay. We’ll be glad to show you the door.”

What lesson should church leaders learn from this as it pertains to perpetual complainers and critics who sit in their seats?

Fighting for the vision of the church and mission of Jesus is critical. Sometimes it takes straight up confrontation. Perhaps the church back door should be left open for those who try to change the vision and mission to suit their own desires.

Leading Change

Luke 5:37-38
“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.”

Letting go of an old wineskin can be difficult when it is all we know and what we are used to! With our fingers clutched, God offers us a new wineskin with fresh wine. Now is the point of decision, do we hold on to the familiar ­ systems, structure, strategy, and ministry that have always worked before ­ or do we dare loosen our grip and allow God to give us ministry dreams and strategy that are seemingly impossible without His personal intervention.  Only as we release the old and embrace the new, will we experience the full blessing of God and move into His perfect plan for the future.

However, the old wineskin does have one purpose — it serves as a reminder of God’s provisions earlier in life which provides that motivation to continue accepting new wine and wineskins from our Heavenly Father.

Endnote: I originally wrote this blog in 1998, but feel it is worth reposting.

God’s Calling

How do we determine God’s calling on our lives?

First, let’s recognize that God is not trying to keep our calling a secret. He wants to reveal his calling to us.

Second, let’s understand that God’s calling on our lives can never be contained by an occupation.

Why?

Because our calling is the thumb print of whom God has created us to be. Our doing must flow out of our being which is why we long to know our calling. Our calling is embedded in who we are and can be found in our desires.

But how can we know if our desires are God’s desires?

By delighting in Him.

As we delight in God, His desires, which reveal our calling, become our desires. And God longs to give us the desires of our hearts.

But how are our desires fulfilled?

By committing them to God.

The course of our lives should flow from our desires, which are really God’s desires, His calling, if we delight in Him.

Psalms 37:4, 5

Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:

For more on these thoughts read “Listening to Who YOU Are“.

Endnote: These thoughts formed by listening to the “Calling” by Gary Barkalow with Ransomed Heart Ministries.

Be a Disciple; NOT a christian – part 5

Hear are some of the BIG IDEAS our students caught in this class (I have not edited the grammar – they appear just as they where submitted). Keep in mind that these BIG IDEAS are being pulled from a far larger conversation on discipleship:

“I don’t want to be considered a Christian if all we are is titles. I am not a title; I am a person who is trying to live her life of God. I need no title. All I need is to follow wherever God leads me and do his will not matter who tries to persecute me or mock me…. Throughout my life I am going to try and be a disciple instead of a Christian. I do not want to be defined as a Christian; rather I want to be defined as a disciple, putting my belief into practice.”

“If we are not willing to give up everything,… we cannot be one of Jesus’ disciples (Luke 14:25-35).”

“‘How many Christians go to hell, and is it possible?’ The answer to this question is as many who don’t repent. And it encouraged me to be more conscious of my actions so that those who aren’t disciples or Christians aren’t turned off by Christianity because they think we’re all hypocrites.”

“One of the major things I’ve learned is that faith and discipleship means action. A person cannot sit back and say I’m a Christian, and not it’s all God’s job, because that is just not true. Jesus says that if we are Christians-with the better word being disciples-we will go and make disciples-however that manifests itself in our individual lives.”

“I’m continuing to learn now that we need to become disciples not just Christians. By doing this, it means to put full faith in yourself and God (believing without seeing) – devoting your whole life to God, to His word, His teachings, and wanting to follow Him. I’ve also learned that being a disciple involves risks, sacrifice, and service and also being ready to tell others about God’s unfathomable love.”

“Jesus picked nobodies to be his followers. He has faith in all of us that we can be just like him, so we should never doubt ourselves.”

“When God calls us to be his disciples. He calls us to follow Him in everything we do. He calls us to be just like Him.”

“Spiritual Disciplines are a training tool for growing in a relationship with Jesus.”

“A disciple is someone who loves God, loves others, and makes disciples.”

“Discipleship means carrying on under all trials and suffering, first because of the incredibly powerful words in James which say that the testing of our faith develops perseverance-perseverance that means we will be mature and complete, not lacking anything. More than anything in my life, one day I want to stand before my Redeemer and hear the words that come after that maturity “well done, good and faithful servant.”

My life has been enriched by the insight and integrity of these students to grow as disciples of our Rabbi (Jesus).

To read more about our journey from Christianity to Discipleship… click here.

A STRONG word to Parents – part 2

I love this quote! You will know why if you read my original blog titled “A STRONG Word to Parents”.

“Transformational parenting entails adopting a leadership position when it comes to fostering a child’s faith; leaving the job to the religious professionals is an inappropriate transfer of authority and power to people and organizations that God never intended.” George Barna in his new book Revolutionary Parenting.

Self-professing, non-Christian, and non-Disciple

Every week, I meet with a friend who is a self-professing, non-Christian, and non-disciple of Jesus (note: I would love ideas on how to say that in a positive way). At the end of our last conversation, I asked, “How many Christians do you think are going to be in hell?” He immediately responded, “All of them!” I was caught a bit off guard by his emphatic response; so I inquired as to why he thought all Christians would go to hell. He thoughtfully answered, “Unless they repent of their sin, they won’t access heaven.” After pausing for a few seconds, he finished, “right?” I told him that we would talk more on this next week over breakfast (we were standing outside in the pouring rain). He went on to say, “Unfortunately, all of these people think they are going to heaven.”

Is it possible that a self-professing, non-Christian, and non-disciple of Jesus understands more about the repentance that leads to redemption than most self-professing Christians?

I can’t wait for our breakfast conversation this week.