Kingdom without a King?

We just keep shooting prophets. Prophets show up and say some outlandish things straight from God. They say things like, “Many claim to appreciate the greatness of Jesus so much that we will give our life to him, but actually few reject culture enough to have margin – time or resources – to do much for His renown at all.”

What is our response? We shoot the prophet. Or, in today’s vernacular, we cancel him. I mean after all the church is like an optional choice of where I get my spiritual dinner, and it may not be needed at all since we believe we can be our own prophet. Prophet here is used as one who speaks with enough authority that we believe for a life that matters, we should listen to him and obey that which he says once we are convinced his words are from God. So, if he speaks things that would cause me to lose something really important to my kingdom, he must be cancelled.

Why? Because, in the name of individualism, we have rejected all authority. In actuality, that request from the prophet was simply a restated version of Jesus in Luke 9, a call to come and die,

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23–24 (ESV)

God’s design for humanity’s flourishing is that we would be a people of humble submission to those whom God has gifted us with for own good. Here is a list of the authorities that we reject if we choose not to follow Jesus on a minute by minute basis in this passage. 1. God, the Father — Jesus was submitted to the Father completely when he said it. Refusing Jesus is refusing the Father. 2. Jesus, the crowned King of the Universe, the One who spoke and all creation leapt into being. We call him our King, our Lord, and function like he is a suggestion-maker on a TikTok post. 3. the Holy Spirit, who gave this to Doc Luke to write down for our benefit — to our benefit, not our enslavement — to our freedom. 4. our shepherd elder, whatever Spirit-filled human that gave the understanding of what Jesus is asking for here, who has been put in charge of your understanding and believing that this “giving all” to Christ is the path to Christ receiving just glory AND your benefit.

If, in this moment, there is a bristling at the thought of giving over our entire life in humble submission to that list, then my point is proven.

The church in our western culture is on life support. Not because the unbelieving world out there has rejected its hero, but because those claiming Christ have wanted all the benefits of Christ’s kingdom without the King. We have a church that does not understand what it means to have a king. Therefore, we are, in our rebellion, rejecting the Kingdom.

How Big is Your Plate?

James 4:13–17 (ESV)

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. 

Our most precious commodity is not money; it is TIME!

We all have a certain amount of capacity, a certain metaphorical size plate, and sometimes there is room on it for something new.

Availability is rare for Americans.

So most often, before we put something new on, we have to scrap something else off.

Sadly, most Christians fill their plate with no prayer whatsoever. Whatever culture or our sin nature tells us to fill it with is what goes on there. Just because that is the norm does not make it right.

According to the Bible, our life should be receiving from the Lord what goes on our plate.  

He says “go be a part of this.” “Do this.”

And, if we have room on the plate, fine, we add it.  If we do not, the solution is to take something else off and do God’s will, OR we are in sin. James just called it downright evil.

Everybody has a certain size plate.  I had a large platter my whole life, and now I have a large dinner plate.  In 5 years, probably a salad plate — hopefully. My life cannot look like it does right now as I handle those limitations, but we never retire from obedience to call.

So, two questions: 

What is your plate size?

And, do you have room for God’s call on your life?

If not, something has to change……….

Trust – Can We?

As just an observation, I see 20 examples a day of people struggling in our current culture to trust anything. Christians and non-Christians are struggling to trust any authority, any people, any structure. Let me clear – I am not writing to throw anyone struggling to trust into guilt and shame. As a matter of fact, I would encourage a deep look at the why the struggle instead of just yelling, “YOU NEED TO TRUST AGAIN OR FOR THE FIRST TIME!” I would actually like to take a different route, and that is simply suggest that it is very stressful not to trust because trust allows us defray pressure. If the only entity that I trust is me, then I am RESPONSIBLE for everything. If I can let go of some responsibility to entities that I trust, stress comes down, and I believe, joy goes up.

As I listen to people’s stories, I understand their hesitancy to trust. I think some things that are called abuse don’t actually rise to the level of earning that term, but folks existing in environments where God has not created a sense of comfort for a long time have been abused to the level where it is difficult for them to trust. The question is – “Do we just give up the attempt to trust and cocoon away from risk of relationship and risk of community and risk of trusting and enter a joyless existence full of responsibility stress?”

You are welcome to disagree with these statements, but I don’t think that this swirl of depression and anxiety that we are in will change until folks begin to agree with these statements and risk trusting them.

  1. The God of the Bible is still trustworthy.
  2. God has developed some people that are trustworthy.
  3. There are people that you meet that genuinely have your best interest at heart.

I believe these three are a progression. I will never trust enough to risk if I do not believe that there is a supernatural power that can instill a goodness into the relational risk. If the Bible is correct and there is NO good in people without the grace of God instilling His goodness into them, then a hesitancy to trust is actually a wise thing. However, God’s grace does flow with goodness. I believe He is perfectly good and we only begin to question that when we are confused about who causes evil and negative. So, if we can start with a trust of Him and progress to a belief that He puts into people enough of His character that when we trust to a lesser degree than we trust Him, we are actually still just trusting Him.

The definition of a cynic is someone who questions #3 automatically. However, God has flowed His grace all around us, so to avoid cynicism which is the death of risk and joy, we can have faith that there are people who have our best interest at heart. We can trust God in them.

Christian, you can release stress as you have the ability to trust God in all areas. The question is, “WILL YOU?”

Independence Day and the Gospel

OK. Let’s start with an overarching theological premise.

Jesus can make America better.

America cannot make Jesus better.

If you disagree with that, I hope you disagree without being disagreeable.

Second logical premise —

If things are NOT mutually exclusive, they can be true at the same time.

Conclusion — If we allow the Holy Spirit to steep the first premise into our souls, we can be humbly proud of America and feel blessed to live in America without letting our “love of country” become a part of the Gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ as sovereign King over all earthly nations. While many aspects of America are exceptional, American Exceptionalism reflects a sinful superiority that the Bible says cannot be the way of a Christ follower. Said another way – Anything good about this nation is a result of the Gospel, not a part of the Gospel.

Let’s talk about the two things being true at the same time. If we imagine that metaphorically our souls are trees that are fed by a root system, whatever is flowing through that root system is what we worship. Christ demands the He be the only thing flowing through those roots — THE ONLY THING — not Him PLUS anything else. If that is true, then what do we do if we have positive feelings about this place that we live? Well, good feelings about what HE has done here CAN come out as fruit in the health of the tree, but it will always be presented in this fruit: LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GENTLENESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, and SELF-CONTROL. In addition, what about folks who feel they have not been given a fair shake In America and historically actually have not? For the oppressed and/or damaged soul, balm and healing to the wounds come through that same Christ-alone root system, not just looking away during the National Anthem. And, if we want to see change, the effort for Christians will show up in that same fruit, not a wicked keyboard.

Two things can also be true sometimes because we live in the NOW and NOT YET. Somehow Jesus has completely defeated sin for those who believe and yet we still sin (two things that are simultaneously true). In me, this quandary shows up in desperately praying for the above fruit to show up in me, “Be my only living water through the root system, Jesus.” “Fill me with your Spirit, Jesus.” And then, in the same day be overcome by stress, sin, and past wounds, and not treat people with ANY of that fruit. How can that be? Does that mean that I am false? Nah, it just means that Jesus work on the cross has forgiven me from the penalty of sin, and given me a superior “water through the root system” to the power of sin, but I am still in the presence of sin. And, if I am not worshiping and seeking things from above (you know, Colossians 3 things that we are to set our minds on), that inferior, but powerful, presence will rework the source and I will function for a time out of the old system. Example: How can Jonathan Edwards be one of the great theologians and preachers of the Gospel EVER, and not get the issue of slavery completely correct? Well, because two things can be true at the same time. He can be functioning with a flow of the Spirit to correctly divide the Word of God, and yet the presence of cultural idolatry sin kept him trapped in being a slave owner. We don’t need to praise Edwards or cancel him as Jesus is quite capable of figuring that out. Being released from being judge and jury allows us to guard against over-praising his good work or cancelling him from his sin. Why? Because we need to put the mirror in front of us because we all have cultural idols – just different ones – that Jesus will work through on our Day – capital D.

Along those lines, I watched the movie Selma the other night and took note of how many of those fruit characteristics that come from the Spirit of Jesus showed up in Dr. King. Yet, some would want to cancel him for the alleged sin side of his sexual ethic and not pay attention to his correct approach to how to “face down the negative” side of our history. You know that side that contains the building of large sections of our economy on the backs of oppressed slaves, leading into Jim Crow, and systemic racism that still exists today.

What does all that have to do with Independence Day and the Gospel?

Well, we have to get the right water source through the root system, or we will risk idol worship.

Please allow me to walk you through some of my journey. First, I have American blood running deep. Also, I am about to describe a lot of crying, but because of some abuse from peers early in my life, this is pretty much of the extent that I cried over a period of about 25 years. So, when I say I cried, something touched the depths of my soul, and most of them had something to do with that deep American blood.

I have been to Gettysburg three times: The first was in the 5th grade. As I stood by a cannon on a foggy morning and pictured Pickett’s charge up that wide open slope, I got real quiet, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by emotion and I snot-cried. I think God was teaching me about the devastation of the curse and the brutality of the souls of sinful men, but also I just got a sense of what it has cost to keep this Union going of which we reap so many blessings. Went back in my early 20s and had the same experience – quiet, BIG tears. Went back with my son 20 years later, Same…

I went to Bunker Hill and the green lawn of Lexington and the North Bridge at Concord. Pause – Quiet – Teared up.

But, nothing like Gettysburg until these experiences:

— Pearl Harbor and the Arizona memorial will still your soul; it stirred mine. I did not speak for over 2 hours; hard for me to do. Even folks who are not American find it eerily sobering — looking down through the oil-stained water at at an underwater tomb. Swear I heard screams of brave men who believed in something. Contemplating those moments – quiet – cried.

— My father received medals for his work in the back of a B-17 in WW2. I got to tour a B-17 at an air show in Chesterfield, MO, and when I saw that little cramped space back there where he put his life on the line for multiple missions into Nazi Germany to stop evil gone wild, I froze. The space forced him to spend hours on his knees because there was nowhere else to go — very little between him and bullets and flak. Quiet, contemplative, & to the person behind me, “don’t rush me; this is a moment” – cried.

— I had the honor to represent our country in international competition for USA Basketball. Flag went up behind and the “Star-spangled Banner” was blaring. Hand over heart — Didn’t care that folks would eventually want to cancel Francis Scott Key — contemplative – quiet – eyes closed – tears FLOWED.

— In a non-American moment, I saw the chains that supposedly held Simon Peter as he was put on a cross upside down in a cathedral in Rome. Was a moment, but I did not cry until a later time when I physically saw and touched some similar chains that held millions of slaves in this country – the same country that has been the conduit for God to provide me so MUCH. Still wrestling with this -Two things true at the same time.

— In another non-American moment, I openly wept when I toured the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Oh my – never have I seen such evil more on display. However, I also cried when, on a tour of the Smithsonian, I studied the treatment of Native Americans for the purpose of accessing the lands that this country called so free. It has hit my soul that those events were really not that different. Quiet – cried.

— I cried when I toured the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis that ends on the spot where Dr. King was assassinated. Appreciative of brave men and women who believe in something. Quiet – contemplated – cried. Just stayed there for a moment praying that things would get better.

Those six or so caused what Jesus did when he discovered Lazarus’ death — WEEPING.

There were also some that are maybe a little less momentous, but stirred me to some moist eyes:

— When Neil Armstrong took “one giant leap for mankind,” and we beat the Soviets to the moon.

— When my brother walked in the door from the Vietnam War. Partially because I was glad to see him, but also because I was pro-USA.

— When USA basketball got cheated out of the gold medal at the ’72 Olympics. That one also caused an American pride temper tantrum. I tore up a room in protest!!

— When Justin, my son, experienced his first Independence Day fireworks display while in my arms.

For a non-crier, this place called America that we celebrate our Independence Day on Sunday sure does stir a lot of emotion in me. The real question is, what, as a follower of Jesus, do I do with all these emotions and strong feelings about this place called America? The key is to have the root system that is feeding my soul which determines what I believe in being fed by the correct source. Jesus called himself living water and when I am receiving THAT water, I can work these things out in a healthy way.

When healthy, and the root system is fed by Christ alone and faith alone,…

…we can celebrate and praise God for the blessings of things like freedom to worship without making those freedoms the object of the worship. Did you hear me in the back? Our blessings cannot become the object of worship. If we keep the flow of living water through a healthy root system correct root system, we will land in being involved in America as an ambassador from another Kingdom, so we are involved in our culture while walking as salt and light and in the positives that come along with fruit (peace, joy, patience, etc). Both things can be true at the same time. I can praise God for the blessings, AND realize that the blessings are not to be worshiped.

However, If the blessings of America or some of that aspects of a democracy like a particular political party or candidate become the water source or if we mix the two together,…

…sinful anarchy. either just inside us or with sinful activity, will become the result. On a small scale, we will lose our joy and peace if our party or candidate are not successful, and on a large scale when the misguided object of our worship loses, evil could come out and some church member storms the capitol building with a Jesus banner in his hand and a pipe bomb in his pocket. Remember —

Jesus can make America better.

And, therefore if we allow Him to be the total root system for our lives, it is okay to be hugely appreciative of the blessings that we receive to live, work, worship, and play here. We can humbly flourish. But —

America cannot make Jesus better.

It is a short trip into our appreciation of American or degradation of America for it to become our root system or even a part of our root system and water supply and therefore attempt to depend on it for only what Christ can bring, or allow our frustrations with it to drive us to despair.

We can enjoy all the blessings of living in America, but at no point can Christians dilute the water in the root system with patriotism. It must be Christ alone. Honestly, the two have been mixed together by many pulpits for so long that a well-meaning American Christian might be a little more like Jonathan Edwards than they know. I am sure that I am there more than I know.

May we get the source right, and then enjoy our holidays with Christ at the center and American human flourishing for all people as the fruit up in the tree plops down all over the place. I would think that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control when dealing with the frustrations of our living in a blessed (and cursed) place would be preferable to the alternative of a faulty root system and water source leading us into some form of anarchy.

— Spurgeon on the Sermon on the Mount and a man (or woman) who seeks righteousness — “He hungers and thirsts after righteousness. He does not hunger and thirst that his own political party may get into power, but he does hunger and thirst that righteousness may be done in the land. He does not hunger and thirst that his own opinions may come to the front, and that his own sect or denomination may increase in numbers and influence, but he does desire that righteousness may come to the fore.”

Remember, we can look on America and see some things that reflect the beauty of Christ; however, we can never look on it and see anything that enhances the beauty of Christ.

May we get this right. It is time for renewal!

It is good to read the Bible; It is better to know how to read the Bible!

Reading the Bible has value.  Reading it correctly has power.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17 (ESV)

In context, this passage is about the declarations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ getting past ears and to the heart.  So, the WORD OF CHRIST must be the goal.  THAT is what penetrates and brings hope to hopelessness.

So, one of the metrics at City on a Hill to determine if we are making disciples who make disciples is — Have we increased the ability to correctly read the Bible to where the Word of Christ is the centerpiece and therefore, as promised, faith is rising?

If not, is it lack of training or lack of practice?

Here are some concepts that are taught on a constant basis around our church that hopefully have helped:

  1. The entire Bible is about Jesus.  Not me – primarily or initially.

When we teach preaching, we train that if Jesus is not the hero of the sermon, please stay home and don’t show up to preach as the result actually going to be self-help and not a sermon and more destructive than helpful.  It takes practice to find the Gospel-bridge (where Jesus is the hero) for every time spent with the Word of Christ and we may even need to get help, but we will not be empowered for life until we find that bridge.  This makes us see that the Bible is about the glory of God, and how that glory affects us; not I am the center of the universe so I am seeking how the kingdom of me can be advanced by this reading and studying.  This is the difference between consumer Christianity and ACTUALLY being a follower of Jesus.  The Bible is for us, but not about us.  We get better when we see the whole thing about submitting to Christ in us – the King of Glory. We are important to God – his shining creation – but we are the recipients of the letter, not the subject. The protagonist of the story is most definitely Jesus.

  1. God wrote it all; it is from Him and is true for His glory and for our good.

Before we begin to read, we need the Holy Spirit to convince us that Sola Scriptura is SO.  Then, I am not experiencing “hearing from the Word of Christ” as a skeptic, but instead in anticipation of a glorious experience of faith-building as much is made of Jesus. 

  1.  Context! Context! Context!  

Check for immediate context, chapter context, book context, and context of the whole Bible.  Historical context and genre matter.  Saturate has provided a larger discussion on context.  https://saturatetheworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Basics-of-Bible-Study.pdf

  1.  Indicative ——> ; then, Imperative  

Imperatives are commands. Indicatives are empowering truths about God that make obeying imperatives possible.  If you read a command, go find the truth that makes it possible. Then, trust Jesus, who will be the source of the indicative, for the ability to obey.

  1. Repenting of American “Do better, try harder” as opposed to trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ.  

This is difficult as we are so trained to take counsel and try and work it into our rebellious independent way of life, our trained performance-based life.  We must read the Bible to increase our faith, our trust, not to increase our effort.  We study so that we may REST in Him, and then work out of His power.

  1.  Can you track the side streets to be able to see the ‘Arch’ in the passage?

In St Louis, there is a street that looks right down the heart of the Gateway Arch – Market Street.  Therefore, we have created a teaching metaphor that the Arch is Jesus, and Market Street are passages like the four gospel accounts that look right straight at Him.  However, there are many passages of Scripture that do not look at Jesus, so a lot of teaching how to read the Bible is teaching how a street out in the suburbs connects to an interstate that connects to another street that connects to Market Street and a clear look at the finished works and the clear Word of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a Spirit-directed skill that takes a LOT of practice and study.

  1. Americans read the Bible as independent individuals, but the whole Bible is written to an interdependent people.

This is a big one that culturally comes to us and must be acknowledges and repented of.  Otherwise, those discipleship killers — the secular/sacred divide and “our Christian experience is a private matter” — begin to show up.  We are designed to experience every aspect of the Word of Christ together, as a people, a holy people, a people created to reveal the glory of God.

Are you experiencing the Word (the Bible and then, therefore, Jesus) of Christ?  I don’t know.  But, I would like to help.  Why?  Because faith is what saves you, saves you from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and someday, the presence of sin.  And, hearing – deeply experiencing – the Word of Christ is what grows faith.  So says the Word of Christ.

Hey Christian! Social Media is Powerful like the Tongue!

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think <write> about these things.  Philippians 4:8 ESV

A few weeks back, I used this passage to give our leaders at City on a Hill a guide to disciple folks in their use of social media. The general premise is that the tongue, what we say, can be a roaring fire that either brings God glory or burns the perception of His glory down. Let us be the former, not the latter. The keyboard is like the tongue.

Whatever is true…..

Let’s start with, “what is truth?”  

We want to start by asking the question, “can this post eventually land in a conversation about Jesus (the TRUTH)?”  If not, why are we posting anything serious that does not have to do with our “first love?”  Or, at least have the opportunity to land there?

There can be some reasons.  “It is just FUNNY, and we need to laugh.” It is just informative with no chance of causing a fight.  “Great restaurant!!” However, it is going to be obvious that those things are not trying to influence someone’s soul.

Of nearly equal importance, Christians have a duty to make sure that whatever we share in any format, but in this case social media, is accurate and true.   I see Christians constantly posting propaganda memes and posts that are just plain fabrications.  This must stop.  

We must learn what is a quality source and vet things carefully before posting.  We sometimes get in a hurry because this post we want to share supports some way that we love to think, but it actually hurts our cause if it is a fabrication.

Vetting has gotten more difficult since in the past we could count on many news agencies to do some of this hard work for us by vetting their info carefully, but this has become very sloppy since they have become so politicized.  So, if you are not COMPLETELY SURE, do not share it.

Whatever is honorable…..

What do we want to honor? Well, there are some natural things.  Our first responders, our soldiers, our children??? Those are commendable things, but, with those, we want to do so in a God-honoring way. Here are a couple of examples:

“Lord, so thankful for those first responders whom you have tasked with keeping us healthy and safe, so that we can bring honor and glory to your Great Name!”

“So thankful to the Lord that he has stirred an interest in education in our children — So much so that they all made great grades this semester.”  

This honors God’s sovereign work in our children, rather than just how awesome they are. Our hearts are SO full of sin that we will avoid giving God credit for His kids, so that we can claim credit of any goodness due to our great parenting. We don’t do that overtly, but quite covertly.

We always honor the Lord above all!

We should honor the fruit He produces in us.  Sacrificial giving, mission leading to salvations — these are honorable.  Describing all these things must be written in a way that is not haughty towards ourselves, but praise-worthy toward Him.

Whatever is just…..

All pure justice comes from God’s law, so whatever we post must line up with God’s Word. How does the good news of Jesus, which fulfills the law rather than abolish it, bring about true justice in this subject that we are posting about? Answering that in a winsome way is the only way justice is served. To claim justice without supporting Biblical backing is a fallacy!

Whatever is pure…

Watch your language and level of purity decorum. There are types of jokes and sexual connotations that the world uses that Christians don’t.

We are not puritan, but we are pure! Let’s represent the righteousness that Christ brings. Post while walking in the Spirit, not the flesh!

Whatever is lovely……

I love when people point out the beauties of God’s creation on social media.  Many folks cannot afford to travel to some of these places because they are funding God’s Great Commission. Be careful with this though. It is very easy to produce an arrogance of soul that proclaims how “blessed” we are to be able to experience while “you poor suckers stuck at your house don’t.” Our hearts are capable of producing an evil caste system while claiming blessing. So, once again, be careful — not haughty, but praise-worthy.

Most of all, whether exhorting not-yet-believers to repent and believe the Gospel for their salvation, or a believer to repent and believe the Gospel for his/her health and sanctification, we do so in LOVE.

1 Corinthians 13:1–3 (ESV). If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

This chapter from goes on to state that we must GROW up and stop acting childish.   Petty arguments and philosophizing can be quite childish.  Let’s grow up and be LOVELY.

It is honorable NOT to demean your detractors while posting.  Honor those that disagree with you.  Love those that disagree with you — that is lovely.  Our culture has lost or never had this ability; we MUST not.

Whatever is commendable…..

This is where we get into the weeds. It is okay for your post to be thought-provoking.  It is not okay for it to be divisive within the Body of Christ..

The Gospel divides naturally between not-yet-believers and God’s kids. We don’t want to distract from that healthy division with other divisions that are not nearly as important as the redemptive good news of Jesus Christ and his cross and resurrection, his restoring the world, and coming again.  Jesus said that declaration would divide as our sinful hearts do not want to acknowledge who HE IS, so we need to pick and choose our wars carefully or we may unnecessarily divide the Body of Christ.  

Inside the family, we are called to be unifiers around HIM. If we have spent our relational capital on a war that does not have a chance to bring him glory, we should leave it alone.

Questions that need to be asked:

  1. Is this necessary?
  2. Is it helpful?
  3. Is it honest?
  4. Is it kind to the entire audience?
  5. Does it divide the body of Christ unnecessarily?
  6. What is the purpose?  Why am I posting it at all?  Similar to #1

Other really important questions: 

What here is personal preference and what is Biblical mandate? We must be clear when we stating a personal preference and hold that in a light hand. Then, the Biblical mandate must still be delivered in love and should only be directed to believers. Can the reader see obvious love off a computer screen? If not, you might want to have this conversation in person.

Who is my audience?  It is futile to express the importance of Biblical mandate to folks who have not been filled with the Spirit of God.  They have neither the inclination INCLINATION nor the POWER to do anything about what you are talking about.   They need Christ.  When they have been filled with the Spirit, you can exhort them to repent or exhort them to seek healing from the same Spirit.

It is commendable to exhort AND encourage. Exhort is to ‘urge; to advise earnestly toward repentance’ by pointing out what the Word of God says about this issue — while encourage is to ‘mentally support; to motivate, give courage, hope or spirit by promoting Christ.’

So, many times I will send an exhortation to the members of City on a Hill and not to the general public because the public would mock or be powerless to handle the exhortation.  I believe those that we have discipled well can handle the discipline well.

It is ok to have fun also.  Laughter is great.  Just be careful that the fun is lovely and commendable, and not at someone’s personal expense.  Better to be self-deprecating than to slam someone else. 

….if there is anything excellent; anything worthy of praise…

The world needs HOPE.  It needs LOVE.

  • Our posts should be driven by our desires to promote that which we are for (the Kingdom of God with Christ as its King) rather than what we are against.

This will accomplish all that is written above.

BE CAREFUL WITH EMOTION….!!!!!!! None of this will happen if we post while EMOTIONAL. It is not that we can’t be emotional – God gave us these feelings – it IS that the emotion may override our wisdom sensibilities.

Emotion often will not allow a slow tongue, or in this case, a slow keyboard.

James 1:19–20 (ESV). Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Let the emotions subside, then if there is righteousness to produce, post. 

James 3:5–12 (ESV). So also the tongue <keyboard> is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. 

Our commission is a Christ to proclaim, not an argument to win.

Mission, Discipleship, Evangelism – Creating Environments

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” John 4:7–15 (ESV)

There are two roles of mission going on here. The disciples went to town and got food. Was that mission? Well, Yes. Valuable? Yes. It is much easier to make disciples after being fed sustenance, and sometimes the gathering of food is the access point to deep conversations. Was Jesus a missionary as he engaged this conversation? Yes! By the power of the Holy Spirit, he was walking this Samaritan woman into regenerative faith in Him. Both the practical and relational parts of mission are valuable and need to be trained and encouraged. However, as I watch the development of missionaries today, I see many jump at the task of going to get the food, but not as much effort to develop the skill of deep conversation. As relational, incarnational mission becomes more and more necessary in the post-modern, post-Christendom world, we must encourage folks to develop their spiritual gifts and their skills in the art of conversation.

There are three things we can focus on to make this happen: 1) Practice the Word of God in community, 2) Practice Spirit dependence, and 3) develop confidence from modeled practice that these deep conversations can lead to fruit. There are many other traits that we train like listening and asking transitional questions, but I want to focus on these three.

What do I mean by practice the Word of God in community? To be frank, it is simply not enough to just study the Bible. As we study the Bible, we must practice what we are experiencing. Just as crucial, this must be done in community. We must create environments where the Word is not only understood, but obeyed in modeling and practice with a small group of other Spirit-filled believers in everyday life on life. That way we are practicing these deep conversations with the Holy Spirit and each other in love. If our first engagement is with a not-yet-believer, that is like trying to hit a 95 MPH fastball without practicing against some in the 80’s.

Have you ever taken a moment before meeting someone for the first time and prayed this? “Holy Spirit, please guide every word of this meeting so as to create a climate where this person would want to have a second and third conversation so that eventually You can lead us to conversation about the greatness of Jesus.” That is practicing Spirit-dependence. The Holy Spirit has promised to set our course and get us where we need to go; our role is to trust Him and invite Him. The reason that we walk in fear is that we tend to trust ourselves to get the mission done, and we don’t actually believe in ourselves. That is actually accurate because we have NO power. When the Holy Spirit starts coursing through our voices, our confidence soars.

One of great practices that leads to confidence is to hang out with folks who are good at this because they are dependent on the Spirit AND have been practicing for a while. It is up to the newbie to desire to hang out in these settings though. This modeling is how Jesus discipled. He was essentially setting up these environments constantly, “Watch me trust in the Spirit and engage these conversations, then we will engage the Word, then, I will watch you practice what we are teaching.” Then, there is an exhorting session of correction and encouragement. This studying, modeling, and reviewing is time consuming. Without creating time margin in our lives, it will not happen.

Our next leadership training at City on a Hill will be practicing such things. If we don’t train it and practice it, we will not actually do it. The consequence of that is that our culture will never have the opportunity to have conversations of eternal value at a well just outside the city. If not there, where? Our next challenge is how do we meet folks at the well during a pandemic?

What Would Jesus Ask of Us if We Were the Rich Young Ruler????

Most of us have chosen heaven over hell, but not many have chosen heaven over earth.  Reed

Every once in a while, a rant shows up. I always pray that these are from the Holy Spirit because my rants in the flesh usually require months of mop up repentance.

However, many American Christians, including me, have bought into love of SELF over love of God, His church, and His mission toward love of others. So, I listed some potential additions to things Jesus might ask Americans to give up and come follow Him as though these Christians were the rich, young ruler of Mark, chapter 5.

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Mark 10:21 (ESV)

If he looked with love at you, what would he ask for?

So, I ranted a list of some typical idols that Americans endure that hopefully will stir your soul.

Are any of these for you?

For the American parents who think that God has blessed their family with wealth but said wealth has actually has dragged them into a world of self-centered busyness with all its toys and schedules, 

Jesus says give all that up and follow me.

For the pastor who wants a big church, Jesus says, “If I keep it small because your heart cannot handle the success,

give that up, and follow me.”

For the person who dreams of being married and actually is being called into a life of singleness to serve the Lord, 

Jesus says come follow me.  

<Note: And, Church, capital C, may we repent and celebrate lifelong singles. The pressure we put on folks to get married is abhorrent.  Biblically, singleness to pursue God’s mission with vigor may be more celebrated than marriage.>

For the person giving 60 hours a week to his career and will be a hollow soul in 20 years,

Jesus says, lay that down, and come follow me.

For the same-sex attracted person, Jesus says, ‘let me help you not act on these desires and commit to a life of holiness, and come follow me.’

For the church leaders who require more than said repentance from this beautiful same-sex-attracted person before welcoming him/her into the leadership fold, Jesus says, ‘quit seeing your holiness due to a bloody cross as superior,

and come follow me.’

For the lustful or porn addicted straight person, ‘you also are not owned by your sexuality or your addiction,

come follow me.’

For the person who thinks family is king, ‘you must leave father and mother and brother and wife and son and daughter as your primary family and follow me.’ <Obviously, the leave there is figurative language of Scripture>

For the person who worships American exceptionalism, 

‘you must see all my image bearers equally and follow me.’ 

For the white person who sees their white privilege as a God-given right & the only exceptional, acceptable norm, ‘you must give up your majority identity, be humble, teachable, love your neighbor, and follow me.’

For the person who sees their personal rights superior to the Christ-driven “die to self for the good of the whole,” 

Jesus says lay down your rights in the tomb just like HE did, and follow me.

The were the ones that Jesus put on my heart for a sermon. There are literally hundreds, so Martin Luther is correct that “all of life is repentance.” However, I did want to include two more as Bryan Chappell may be correct that “ageism is the new racism.” That quote is a little hollow in our current racism climate (overstatement for effect), but this gaffe between those over 45 and those under (he divides it at 40; I subtly disagree) has to end or God’s church may have its equal division to the its race segregation issue.

For the person who is over 45 and sees everyone under as a soft “snowflake” who cannot handle emotions and makes jokes about commitment and mom’s basement, Jesus says, give up the self-righteousness and follow me. <When that happens, the honor you seek will come through a life that looks more like Jesus>

For the person under 45 who finds the leadership of those over so unfulfilling that they actually are “just waiting for them to die so they can take over and do things right,” Jesus says, “be humble, teachable, and follow me. <When that happens, the respect that you seek will come through a life that looks a lot more like Jesus>

And, we are in an election cycle, so — For the political ideologue who looks down on members of the opposite ideology as inferior image bearers, Jesus says,

“take that into the tomb, and follow me.”

Here is what I do know. The world is looking for new solutions right now. And, the church is answering questions that hurting people are not asking (masks, civil disobedience to meet, isolation, trust a voting block, etc). People want to know if they matter. Well, Jesus created them to look like Him, and He died out of love for that to happen. How about if we follow Him?

Why do we discourage one-on-one mentorship and encourage 3-person DNA discipleship?

  1. If a piece of counsel is given in the forest with just two people, and it is wrong, who is there to correct it? The ability to correct to true gospel fluency and NOT allow worldly wisdom or self-help counsel go unabated is by far the #1 reason to have a 3 person DNA and not a 1 on 1 mentor/mentee teaching. Our hearts are devastatingly more consumed by big business, big porn, big self, etc than we even know, so sometimes in the flesh — and often not consciously, we butcher our counsel — sprinting away from the Gospel to worldly wisdom. With a DNA setting, if a hint of bad counsel or manipulation comes out, a third person is there to hopefully catch it. And, must.
  2. After months of just one-on-one, who is the mentee more likely to look like, Jesus or the mentor? Well, there are exceptions, but my observations over the past 25 years say that two people spending a lot of time together, discussing the deep truths with no outside accountability, usually the mentee looks more like the mentor than anything else. Wives will ask the mentee, “Where did you get that idea?” and 40-50 times a year, the mentee will say, “Well, that is what ____ <mentor> says.” We want the third person to be reminding, “That may be a personal preference, but that is not what the Bible says or means.”
  3. What are we actually going to do for 90 minutes to 2 hours? Three folks can avoid DNAs becoming a gossip OR a special interest group. It takes focus for DNA not to become the place where we just talk about our kids, or the pandemic, or rumors, or sports, or tech, or bad-mouth someone who is not present. It is to be strictly about Jesus and His ability to heal and redeem. Three can help to set that focus easier than two. Lots of other times to talk about special interest. That is NOT what DNA is for. It is the highest application of the Works and Words of Jesus into our souls that we have. All of the sermons, all of the trainings, all of the silence and solitude come to the forefront here. No time for those other issues unless those issues are the focus of Gospel-fluent application.
  4. Wasn’t it a disaster to have three friends when we were kids? Yep. But, these three have been filled with the Spirit. Three presences of the Holy Spirit, three temples, are just better than two. Mentoring — one-on-one, relationships are not sinful. They can be great. This is a matter of good, better, best for us. We think mentorship can be good; we believe DNA is best.

Why Has Covid 19 Not Affected City on a Hill Drastically?

Before I talk about the virus, let me give you a little history. I remember back in the 90’s when Rick Warren kinda changed the church landscape with 40 Days of Purpose, there were some tidbits in his work that were quite valuable and needed to stick.  One of his lines that affected my early church planting was, “Every member is a minister.”  Not a new concept as the “priesthood of all believers” is very Biblical and I believe is how Jesus actually designed fulfilling the Great Commission by creating ALL disciples to be able to serve and care for all other disciples.  In addition, when some faithful disciples joined with me from all kinds of faith backgrounds to plant a magnificent church called The Bridge, the idea of decentralizing the church from CEO lead pastors and bishops to “every member is a minister” was one of the founding principles.  We knew that to provide the level of care and discipleship that Christ called for in His Word that daddies and mommies were going to have to learn to Biblically produce children that could reproduce as a shepherd because of a trust of THE Shepherd, and small group leaders would have to learn to do the same. We began to understand that ground level discipleship is at its best when it goes on without the church staff even aware that beautiful changes were happening to people away from programs and committees and classes. That common men and women could learn to focus on the Gospel – the finished WORKS of Jesus and the profound WORD of Jesus.  Instead of just jumping in and trying to do all the shepherding in a rapidly growing church, the leaders encouraged those next levels of leadership to learn to do it themselves in small groups that many functioned like little churches with elder oversight and guidance.  There were some train wrecks, but we even learned in the midst of those.

As City on a Hill was planted in the fall of 2014, we had been working with the folks at the Soma Family of Churches for a while on this decentralization, and what they did for us was give us great language trellises and training for what we were already doing.  One of those trellises was the name missional community for the ramped-up home groups.  Here are some truths about missional community life at City on a Hill that has kept Covid 19 from dismantling disciple-making and worship:

The MC is the primary disciple-maker, not the gathering.  This in no way communicates that we think the corporate gathering of God’s people is not important.  We believe it is hugely important, but it is just one of three trellises that we spend time and money on, and the goal is for it to get the least of the three.  However, we were maybe the first church in the St Louis area to announce our return to public worship gathering because we believe everything else we do is driven by a strong preaching and teaching of the Gospel and Gospel fluency. However, having to move the gathering to a livestream did not radically affect our process because our folks understand that while the Sunday gathering is a major cog on the wheel, it is not the disciple-making wheel. As we return to gathering in person, we can relax because we have never counted heads in a building as one of our metrics.

Missional community life is very fluid.  It is not based on a weekly meeting like a traditional Bible study, so to quickly adjust how it operates on a day to day basis was really simple for the folks who had bought in to all that.  It is not a second gathering. It is life on life, life in community, and life on mission.  To adjust to the isolation of Covid 19, it is not a matter of missing a meeting or two – it is a matter of disciples of Jesus figuring those three things out.  Here is a fact that may surprise.  A true missional community may have fewer scheduled meetings than a traditional Bible study.  The goal is to actually do life together, so the question was not, “how do we meet?” The questions were, “How do we do life together, and how do we do mission together?” Those things went hand in hand as these folks began to just meet needs all over our city TOGETHER, and yet not in the same car.

Missional community embraces technology.  This does not mean that we think that technology is replacing face-to-face human interaction, but it does mean that MC life is used to a lot of tech interactions because it is so much more than saying hello at a Sunday gathering and getting together again on Wednesday for Bible study.  It is the sharing of resources; it is the parenting counsel of a partner disciple; it is shopping for the MC members who should not get out in public and for the folks that the group is on missionally loving.  Life on life sounds incredibly time consuming, but much of the relationship development can happen over technology, so we had to tweak, but we were ready..

Our primary discipleship tools are DNA groups.  This has made deep care and community so much possible even in physical isolation as these DNA groups met easily by Zoom for a few sessions. Then, when appropriate and the participants could social distance, they moved move to face to face because it is easy for three people to get a safe distance and keep intimacy.  DNA groups are same-gender partners of 3-4 who meet quite often to move each other to a high view of the trust of Jesus to handle all issues of life.  There is a high level of life-on-life for these groups and they find a way to love each other with the love of Jesus regardless of circumstances.  Training them to a high level of Biblical understanding, shepherding care, and discipleship handles a lot of the decentralization of the church, and it has huge potential to keep the wheels of disciple-making over the next year even through a lot of uncertainty.

We don’t claim to have everything figured out, but not being overly-reliant on a weekly worship service to move the saints toward amazing mission and worship has been a joy to watch. The church’s job is to teach folks who love Jesus to build environments where that love gets expressed, and ‘love your neighbor’ gets done out of Christ’s love for us.