God Is Closer Than You Think #4 – What Is The Bible?

by JT Holderman

Our Topic: “God is closer than you think.” This is the title of our twelve week series on the basics of biblical doctrine, theology, what we can know about ourselves and God. This morning I have the privilege of addressing the topic: “What is the Bible?” And I am so glad to, because the Bible has transforming power. Scripture gives us wisdom, it reveals who God is, it reveals who you are, and it will transform you. Do you believe this? Gregg has taken us through “What is Man” and “What does God look like” and Jeff has taken the tough task of “what is the Trinity.” But how do we know the answers to these three sermons. Through Scripture, what God has revealed. Let’s ground our discussion of Scripture in a couple of verses.

 Scripture Reading: If you have your Bibles this, please open them up to 2 Timothy 3:14-17. Listen to the Word of God…

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Context: We have this morning and incredibly rich passage of Scripture before us to study. Verse 16 is perhaps one of my favorite verses in the New Testament. What we have before us is a letter from the Apostle Paul, the same guy who wrote Romans and Corinthians. This letter is unique in one major way, it is written to a specific person, Timothy. Most of Paul’s letters are written to churches, to a large group of people. But here we have a unique glimpse into the correspondence between Paul and his young disciple and student in ministry Timothy. It’s a personal letter, from one friend to another. And here in our text, at the beginning of verse 14, we see that Paul is contrasting Timothy to someone else, but as for you. From the beginning of chapter three Paul lays out those who are living a godless life, those who are opposing truth and wisdom and virtue, those who are corrupted in mind, heretics. And in verses 10-13, directly preceding our passage, Paul commends timothy for being steadfast in his life as a Christian. So in v. 14 here, when Paul says but as for you, we must read him as an example in contrast to those who were against the Gospel. It is here in our passage that Paul therefore instructs Timothy, his young disciple, how he can continue to live in accordance with Jesus.

Purpose: And Paul instructs Timothy with one overriding point, really the whole purpose of this passage. Timothy is to become a mature disciple, to grow in the faith he has been brought up in. And Paul says this is primarily done through the power of the Scriptures. And this is the purpose of the text to you and I this morning, we are to become mature disciples by trusting God’s Word. I mean this is the reason that you and I come to church right? We sit under people who preach the Gospel to us for a reason don’t we? We don’t just come to have our ears itched and to hear funny stories, we come to be transformed. I think if we really ask ourselves, “Am I satisfied with who I am?” Most of us would say “no,” I would say “no.” We long to be the person God wants us to be. We are never complacent with who we are. On my drive this morning to church, I passed a pond. This was a stagnant pond, it had no fresh water flowing into it and it had no water flowing out of it. It was covered in green algae and looked disgusting. If the pond had moving water, it would become clearer. The same is true for you and I. If we are not being transformed by the Gospel, by what Jesus has done for you and I, we begin to look a lot like a stagnant pond. Think about why you came to church this morning. For many of us I’m sure it was because “well it’s just what you do on Sunday, or my wife wanted me to come, or I wanted to see friends, or I have to preach.” Think about why you came. Church is a place to worship God together and it’s also a place to grow together. We come to church because we love Jesus and we want to be transformed to be like him. If this isn’t why you come, check your heart.

Trusting in His Word: So Paul tells you and I that we grow and become mature disciples, we become more like Jesus, by trusting in His Word, in the Bible. Look at vv. 14-15. Paul instructs Timothy to become more mature by continuing to know the reality of the Gospel through Scripture. There are people, like his mother and Paul, who have instructed him as they themselves have been instructed by the Scriptures. So our call this morning, what we are primarily looking at, is the call to become mature disciples in Christ. What pictures in your mind do you associate with the word “maturity.” We think of an aged woman who simply exudes wisdom, we picture an old tree by the ocean that has withstood the trials of time, we think of a boy’s voice transitioning from really squeaky to deep, we think of composting and how it takes time for the soil to mature. I think the image of the tree is profound. The prophet Jeremiah uses an image of tree to talk about maturity, he says in Jeremiah 17:8.

And I’m sure we all have pictures of immaturity. I can remember going to a wedding once. It was a beautiful wedding. A few rows behind my wife and I there were a couple boys, maybe 8 years old. During the service I heard this sound that every 8 year old boy knows. I creaked my neck around to see them blowing on their arms like this, making fart noises. There’s something that has taken place between when we were 8 and where we are now that we know this is immature to do at a wedding. Our hope as disciples is that every day we live with our faith in Jesus that we would become more mature. This isn’t always the case. For every three steps forward we often take two backward right? I had a dry period in my faith a couple of years ago and it felt like I backslid and lost years of growth. So what is Paul’s encouragement to you and I that we may become mature? We are to trust the Scriptures. But in order to trust them, we need to look at two questions:

  1. Are the Scriptures trustworthy?
  2. Why should I trust them?

1) Are the Scriptures Trustworthy? This last year I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. It has been a tough transition learning how to change my diet. It was frustrating to hear, but I trusted the doctor’s diagnosis. Why? Because the doctor has an authority that I don’t have. Years of schooling, years of diagnosing health issues like mine. She had an authority that I trusted. In the same way, the Scriptures have an authority that did not come from man, like my doctor’s diplomas for med school, but from God alone. Look at v. 16a. We see here that Scripture, the Bible, attests to its own authority as being literally breathed from God. If God is real and if God is good and loving and if God has spoken, has breathed out this word, it has authority that is unparalleled. If the God that the Scriptures describe has Himself made these words come into being, there is no greater authority. Do the Scriptures have authority in your life? If God spoke them, they are worthy of our trust. It is God’s revelation to you and me of just how much He loves us. The Gospel, the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for you and I, is contained within these pages. In them we see a God who became man, forsaking His Godly powers. We see a God who in becoming man suffered and died for our sin, a God who loved us enough to die for us. It has authority not only because it is God breathed, but because of the character of God Himself.

And because God’s words are authoritative, they have power. Power and authority are synonyms. One of the most powerful pictures in Scripture that illustrates the power of God’s words is found in the Gospel of John. In chapter 11: Lazarus come out! PAINT THE SCENE. God’s words have authority, they have power to simply create life, to do things!

2) Why Should I Trust the Scriptures? We have already answered this a bit, we laid a foundation with authority. But really, of what value is the Bible to me? We should always be asking this question, it prevents us from just reading the Bible out of routine. There is a purpose God has for His Word, and we should seek it. There are two reasons we should trust the Scriptures personally.

  • First, we should trust them because they are necessary. The Bible is a necessary component in coming to love and know God. We cannot know God, as He has revealed Himself to us as a good, loving, gracious father, without seeing it in Scripture. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in natural revelation. As a Christian when I see a sunrise or sunset, when I’m hiking with my wife, when I put my feet in the sand on the shore of the ocean, there are certain things that bring me to my knees in wonder and cry out “God made this!” There is a certain knowledge of God we can gain from the world around us, his beauty, his power. But we cannot know specific realities of who God is, or what he has done for us, apart from Scripture. It is necessary.
  • And secondly, theologians say Scripture is sufficient. Sufficient for what? If Scripture is necessary to know what God has done for you in Jesus Christ, then Scripture is sufficient for bringing you on your knees in faith, to trust in Jesus. Scripture is sufficient for salvation. Look at v. 15b.. Scripture brings about the reality of salvation, God uses it to touch your heart and reveal to you your sin and great need of redemption. But not only is it sufficient to save you, Scripture is also sufficient to mature you as a disciple. Look at vv. 16b-17. We see Paul list a few things that Scripture does, it doesn’t just fall idly by, it does stuff! Here are a few things the Bible says that it does: the bible initiates faith (Rom 10:17), the bible gives new life (1 pet. 1:23), it helps us grow spiritually (1 pet. 2:2), it searches the heart and convicts (heb 4:12), it liberates you (john 8:31-32), it refreshes and renews (ps. 119:25) and it revives and enlightens (ps. 19:7). These are just a few things the Bible says it does.

What Do I Mean By “Trust?” So remember, Paul is encouraging Timothy and You and I to become mature disciples, to become spiritually mature. He longs for us to live as a reflection of Jesus, to be like Him. And he tells us we are to do that by trusting in His word. But what do we mean by trust? Trust involves three things:

  1. For us to trust Scripture we must know it. This one is kind of a no brainer right? We can’t put any trust in the authority, necessity and sufficiency of Scripture if we haven’t read any of it, right? It would be like trying to say something intelligent in class about a book you have never read. You have to read it first in order to know what it is talking about. Now do we need to have read the entire Bible cover to cover, no, but we need to have read enough of it to see what it is about. So in order to trust the Bible we must first know it.
  2. Secondly, we must believe it. Now I think this is the most crucial step in trusting the Bible. Without a faith, a deep seated belief in what God has done for you in Jesus Christ, the words in the Bible are simply that, words on a page. They have no life. They are black pigment on a piece of paper. Our faith ignites the words on the page, bringing them to life, bringing them to reality as something worthy of our belief. Jesus Christ taking your sin on the cross and giving you a new life is something worthy of believing. A vital part of trusting the Bible is believing that in it God is speaking truly to you so that you might be transformed, you might be mature. This makes me think of the greatest theologian this world has ever known, a man named Augustine. Augustine lived in North Africa. He was a womanizer and self-confessed perverse man. He sought the comfort of women, not God with his life. But slowly over time God began to chip away at his heart. He knew the Old and New Testaments, but they were just information, literature. One day Augustine was sitting in a garden in Milan, Italy. On the bench next to him was a bound letters of Paul. He opened it up and read the first verse his eyes came across, “not in wantonness and drunkenness…” As soon as he had read this verse, he believed. The Word of God had such power in that moment to transform Augustine and give him faith. The Bible is nothing more than a textbook without faith in Jesus. It is our faith that brings this book alive!
  3. The third thing trust involves obedience. Trusting your parents when they tell you not to touch the hot stove means that you obey them, otherwise your hand is blistered and your parents are asking you why you didn’t trust them. Football season started a few weeks ago, thank goodness! Next time you watch a football game, when they cut with the camera to the coaches, look at them. What is in their hands? They hold their guide to the plays their team has learned. Many QB’s have this guide in short form on their forearm. These are the plays they have practiced and learned, the plays the team knows. When Tom Brady calls blue 42, it means a certain play. And when the team knows what to do with this play, their chances of success are much greater. But what if the players don’t obey? The play often falls dead. It doesn’t work. Likewise, obedience is a key factor in trusting what is in Scripture with our faith. But we have to be careful whenever we talk about obedience. Obedience that doesn’t first stem from love is legalism. We are not for this. Instead we should view obedience as the overflow of our heart to love and know God. Love should drive any obedience.

Conclusion: And Paul this morning wants you and I to be mature. He wants you to be continually transformed into the person God desires you to be. Maturity requires one thing from us this morning: response. Maturity beckons response. A mature person is someone who takes responsibility for their actions. And our call to be mature is grounded in our action, a call to respond to what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. Paul here specifically says that if you want to be mature, if you want to be the person God longs for you to be, trusting Scripture is essential.

Some of us need to know Scripture in order to respond to it. Some of us need to believe in what God has written for us to respond. And some of us need to simply be obedient to Scripture. Which person are you? Do you have trouble knowing what’s in the Bible? Do you have trouble believing it? Do you have trouble obeying it? I would guess we would say “JT, I have trouble with all three.” Me too. Trusting this book is difficult. But when we realize that God wants us to know Him, that He died for us to be able to know Him, it gives us a strength to grab hold of this book and love Him. Every time we read this text we are saying, “I love you God and I want to know you as you know me.” And isn’t it true that the more we love someone, the more we want to make them happy? The more I have loved my wife, the more I have realized what makes her happy and the more I want to do those things for her. And so we become mature by responding. We read the Bible not because we are supposed to, but because we love Him and want to be the person he wants us to be, mature, just like Paul wanted Timothy to be mature. Our love of God beckons a response.

I would encourage us all this morning to think deeply on our love of God. Do you love God? Do you want to grow in your relationship with Him? Then take this book and never let go. Love the Word of God and He will transform you into the person He and you long to be. “So what does this mean for how I live this week JT?” Maybe this week as you are at work, you take 5 or 10 minutes over your lunch break and you decide to work through an entire book of the bible. Maybe you choose the letter of James in the New Testament. Maybe you wake up 15 minutes earlier and spend some time reading and praying over it. Maybe when you are at school with a break you pull out your Bible and ask God to transform you, to make you a mature disciple. Maybe you think about reading through the Bible in a year, there are many great plans out there to do that. I’m doing it right now…though I’m definitely failing. If you and I do not see the value, but even more, if we don’t feel a burden of love to read the Bible, I have failed this morning. My prayer is that God would awaken you and me to a love for his Word. We must love Him in order to truly love and trust His word. Long to be mature disciples. Long to love God. And long to trust the Bible so that God may transform you into who you long to be.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – Pt 2 (Teens Are Listening To Us)

It is easy to get caught in the trap of moralism.  You might be asking, “What is moralism?”  Moralism seeks to achieve growth or “Christian maturity” through behavior modificationConsider the following descriptions:

  1. One of the most seductive false gospels is moralism, which can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this — the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.
  2. Moralism is a religious attitude that tends to look down on unbelievers from a self-righteous position by comparing our supposed moral superiority to theirs. It is as if we believe our entrance into Christianity is by grace but that our growth in Christ is due to maintaining a (NT) moral code.
  3. Those who believe this fall into the trap (perhaps subconsciously) of believing that grace alone (Sola gratia) is insufficient for sanctification. The New Testament authors invite us to bear in mind that God’s commands for us to be holy and love our neighbor etc. are not there to show our ability, but to reveal our inability (e.g., Rom 3:19-20) and to remind us of our continual dependence on the grace of God to do in us and through us what we cannot do (accomplish) on our own.

The pursuit of all things Christian must be anchored in the grace of God or it will be doomed to failure.  Grace is at the heart of the gospel, and without a clear understanding of the gospel and grace we can easily slip into moralism, which bears little resemblance to what the gospel offers us.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, writes the following about a disturbing and discouraging trend in American Christianity, which adds to the false gospel of moralism

The “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”[1] that these researchers [sadly] identify as the most fundamental faith posture and belief system of American teenagers appears, in a larger sense, to reflect the culture as a whole. Clearly, this generalized conception of a belief system is what appears to characterize the beliefs of vast millions of Americans, both young and old.

This is an important missiological observation–a point of analysis that goes far beyond sociology. As Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton explained, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism “is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.” In a very real sense, that appears to be true of the faith commitment, insofar as this can be described as a faith commitment, held by a large percentage of Americans. These individuals, whatever their age, believe that religion should be centered in being “nice”– a posture that many believe is directly violated by assertions of strong theological conviction.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also “about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents.” As the researchers explained, “This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers [according to the study] is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. [Good insight!] It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.”

In addition, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism presents a unique understanding of God. As Smith explains, this amorphous faith “is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs–especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance.”

Smith and his colleagues recognize that the deity behind Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers. This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. “In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

Obviously, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an organized faith. This belief system has no denominational headquarters and no mailing address. Nevertheless, it has millions and millions of devotees across the United States and other advanced cultures, where subtle cultural shifts have produced a context in which belief in such an undemanding deity makes sense. Furthermore, this deity does not challenge the most basic self-centered assumptions of our postmodern age. Particularly when it comes to so-called “lifestyle” issues, this God is exceedingly tolerant and this religion is radically undemanding.

As sociologists, Smith and his team suggest that this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism may now constitute something like a dominant civil religion that constitutes the belief system for the culture at large. Thus, this basic conception may be analogous to what other researchers have identified as “lived religion” as experienced by the mainstream culture.

Moving to even deeper issues, these researches claim that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is “colonizing” Christianity itself, as this new civil religion seduces converts who never have to leave their congregations and Christian identification as they embrace this new faith and all of its undemanding dimensions.

Consider this remarkable assessment: “Other more accomplished scholars in these areas will have to examine and evaluate these possibilities in greater depth. But we can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually [only] tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

They argue that this distortion of Christianity has taken root not only in the minds of individuals, but also “within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions.”

How can you tell? “The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, . . . and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward.”

This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.

All this means is that teenagers have been listening carefully. They have been observing their parents in the larger culture with diligence and insight. They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture. They sense the degree to which theological conviction has been sacrificed on the altar of individualism and a relativistic understanding of truth. They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life. 

This research project demands the attention of every thinking Christian. Those who are prone to dismiss sociological analysis as irrelevant will miss the point. We must now look at the United States of America as missiologists once viewed nations that had never heard the gospel. Indeed, our missiological challenge may be even greater than the confrontation with paganism, for we face a succession of generations who have transformed Christianity into something that bears no resemblance to the faith revealed in the Bible. The faith “once delivered to the saints” is no longer even known, not only by American teenagers, but by most of their parents. Millions of Americans believe they are Christians, simply because they have some historic tie to a Christian denomination or identity.

We now face the challenge of evangelizing a nation that largely considers itself Christian, overwhelmingly believes in some deity, considers itself fervently religious, but has virtually no connection to historic Christianity. Christian Smith and his colleagues have performed an enormous service for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in identifying Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as the dominant religion of this American age. Our responsibility is to prepare the church to respond to this new religion, understanding that it represents the greatest competitor to biblical Christianity.


[1] This quote is from the book: Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith, with Patricia Snell, Oxford University Press, Sept 2009.

The Gospel and the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10)

This is a sermon I spoke at three services at Shiloh Community Church in Orleans MI last weekend (Palm Sunday).  I focused primarily on poor in spirit, mourning, and peacemaking

It’s Palm Sunday and we are remembering and celebrating the triumphal entry of The Servant King Jesus – arriving into Jerusalem to the praise and adulation of the multitude — and less than a week later, he is to be brutally and shamefully murdered…

  1. Next week is the high point of the Christian calendar as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
  2. Jesus triumphed over death and hell and bridged the gap between our utter depravity and God’s standard of holiness. (To miss the mark by even a little is still to have missed the mark.)
  3. We call this sacrifice the Gospel – or Good News.

I believe it is Tim Keller who reminds us that the Gospel is not advice, it is news.  It is the ultimate Good News.  He suggests that weekend services are not primarily the place to give advice… Gospel-centered (or Christ-centered) change is rooted in remembrance. We are to remind one another of what Christ Jesus has done, not what we must do.

We cannot commend what we do not cherish.  -John Piper

The essence of Christian maturity is when the Gospel – or, what Christ has done — gets worked in – and then through our lives, which is what I’d like to spend our remaining time considering.

Turn to Matthew 5 where we will take a look at the Beatitudes.  While you’re turning, allow me to offer a few introductory thoughts.

What is Christian conversion? Christian conversion, or salvation, occurs when genuine repentance and sincere faith in Jesus intersect.

  1. These are not two separate actions – but one motion with two parts:
    • As we turn to Christ for salvation we turn away from the sin that we are asking Jesus Christ to forgive us from. (Rom 3:23 – All have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard.)
    • Neither repentance nor faith come first – they must come at the same time.
  2. They are two sides of the same coin.[1]

Contained in the Beatitudes are eight qualities that characterize the life of Jesus Christ, and therefore, through conversion, they begin to characterize our life in Jesus Christ.  Jesus calls us to follow him through life and to depend upon his strength and power.

The word beatitude comes from the Latin word meaning “blessed.”

  1. More specifically the word means exalted joy, or true happiness. (Joy is calm delight in even the most adverse circumstances.  Joy fueled Paul’s contentment.)
  2. With the beatitudes, Jesus dives into our innermost being probing the heart and raising the question of motive.
  3. What made Jesus a threat to everyone and the reason He was eventually killed was that in His encounters with people (particularly the religious leaders), He exposes what they were on the inside.  Some people find it liberating – others hate it.

The Beatitudes, I have come to see, are our surrendered response to the Gospel.  I view the Beatitudes as a step-by-step spiritual formation process that moves us toward spiritual depth and maturity.  This becomes cyclical as we grow deeper and deeper in our faith.  The Beatitudes become the outworking of the Gospel in and through our lives.

Matthew 5:3-10…

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 5“Blessed are the meek (gentle), for they shall inherit the earth.

 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

 10“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Following is an overview and how one unfolds into the next…The first two are foundational to the Gospel blossoming in and through our lives…

1.  Blessed are the poor in spirit…

a.  “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (MSG)
b.  Another translation renders this verse, “Happy are those who know their need for God.” (JBP)
c.  What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?  A desperateness of soul that is weary of living in it’s own strength and longs for God’s mercy and grace to come and refresh the soul.  In a word, it is DESPERATION.
d.  Consider the Prodigal Sons (Lk 15)…

2.  Blessed are those who mourn…

a.  I have a river of sin in my life – with 3 primary tributaries…

#1 – Original sin (Adam & Eve traded the presence of God for the knowledge of God – and that’s been our core tendency ever since…

#2 – Family of origin issues

#3 – My own dumb choices.

b.  As we are honest about the sin that has infected us there will be a transforming grief and accompanying repentance, that surfaces – not only for our own lives, but also for the injustice, greed, lust, and suffering that grips our world.

c.  I want to own my sin everyday.[2]

d.  This is counter intuitive (paradox – seeming contradiction).  We go down to go up; death precedes resurrection; we get to joy by traveling through grief.  Our soul wants to find a way around grief, but God says, “No, you must travel through grief – and the good news is, He says, “I’ll go with you and we will do it in My strength and power.”

e.  The way of the Gospel is a death and resurrection cycle…

f.  The gospel has the greatest potential to captivate us when we understand that we are more depraved than we ever realized and simultaneously more loved that we ever dared to imagine.

g.  I don’t mind inviting you to question your own salvation today.  If our default mode is, “I’m basically a good person…” then we simply have not understood the gospel.

3.  Blessed are the meek…

a.  Rick Warren would say, “Meekness is not weakness, but the power of your potential under Christ’s control.”

b.  The concept of meekness describes a horse that has been broken.  We can either surrender to Christ and invite the breaking, or remain the undisciplined and wild stallion.

c.  Grieving over sin and suffering grows meekness in us and delivers us into a humble learning posture (disciple means learner).

4.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Spiritual hunger and thirst is the growing desire to be empty of those things that don’t reflect God, and initiates a deep longing for wholeness in our lives.

5.  Blessed are the merciful…

a.  Mercy is entering into another persons feelings – attempting to see things from another person’s perspective – all with understanding AND acceptance…just like Jesus has done for us.

b.  As we receive God’s mercy we begin to give mercy – to ourselves and to others.

6.  Blessed are the pure in heart…

a.  Mercy cleanses our heart and restores purity to our lives.

b.  Did you know that your (spiritual and emotional) virginity CAN be restored?

2 Cor 11:2For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

7.  Blessed are the peacemakers…

a.  Purity gives way to a personal serenity and peacefulness.  Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of anxiety in the midst of inevitable conflict – and when others encounter it, they want it too.

b.  Our Western concept of peace needs to be considered in the light of the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, which is SHALOM — and means more than our limited understanding of peace (i.e., the lack of conflict).

Biblical SHALOM speaks of a universal flourishing, wholeness and delight; a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied, natural gifts a fruitfully employed — all under the arc of God’s love. Shalom is the way things ought to be.

Neal Plantinga – “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in equity, fulfillment, and delight.”

c.  There is a difference between a peacemaker and a peacekeeper.

To be a peacemaker does not mean peace at any cost.

Peacekeeping creates a false peace.

Many of us live out our lives with this false peace and say nothing or do nothing to change it—in churches, homes, work places, and our marriages.

Examples:

(i)  A family member makes a scene at a family gathering.  It embarrasses you, the rest of the family, but you say nothing.  You keep the peace because to go there would unearth a lot of stuff that you just aren’t willing to deal with.

(ii) Your spouse makes insulting remarks to you or humiliates you publicly through critical tone of voice.  It grates on you.  But you keep silent because you want to keep the peace.

d.  We struggle with this false peace because the conventional wisdom of the day is that its better to keep the peace than to make the peace and there is a very real difference.

e.  Keeping this false peace insures that real issues, real concerns, and real problems are never dealt with.

f.  A façade, or veneer, of peace in that there is calm but the reality is the tension is still there.

g.  True peacemakers will challenge and disrupt the false peace.

h.  Jesus didn’t have a problem disrupting the false peace of his day.

i.  The whole history of redemption, climaxing in the death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s strategy to bring about a just and lasting peace between rebel man and himself and between man and man (Eph 2:14-22)

j.  Colossians 1:19-20 puts it like this,

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

k.  True peacemakers will give people the benefit of the doubt while graciously bringing up concerns

l.  But true peacemakers will deal with what is real.  FIRST IN THEIR OWN LIVES…

m.  True peacemakers will steward the conflict they find themselves in because God will often use conflict to develop things in our lives that are developed in no other way.

8.  Blessed are the persecuted… Living life from a kingdom of God perspective will place us in conflict with those that oppose it (often times it’s “religious” people!).

Without the knowledge of our extreme sin, the payment of the Cross seems trivial and does not electrify or transform.

But without the knowledge of Christ’s completely satisfying life and death, the knowledge of sin would crush us – or move us to deny and repress it. By walking the way of the Beatitudes we hold our depravity and the Cross in a healthy and dynamic tension that will lead to transformation and renewal.


[1] Wayne Gudem, Systematic Theology, p. 713.

[2] “None is righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:10 (ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Eph 2:1-2 (ESV)

Developing Leaders Through Building Healthy, Proactive Teams

For a leadership training I’m facilitating tomorrow…

“Apollos and I are working as a team, with the same aim, though each of us will be rewarded for his own hard work.” 1 Corinthians 3:8 (TLB, emphasis added)

Leadership and team development are two sides of the same coin. It is nearly impossible to have one without the other. Additionally, there is a difference between a minister and a leader. Effective ministers build people; effective leaders build groups, or teams, of people. The following exercise will focus on developing our leadership capacity through building healthy and proactive teams.

Simply stated, leadership means influence. Within the church context our aim is to influence people for the (subversive) cause of Christ – to build and grow the kingdom of God. That is always the goal. The fruit, or effect, is that new ministries will be started in the local church context and existing ministries will undergo a constant transformational process through regular renewal and teambuilding. Effective leaders know how to maximize influence opportunities by intentionally equipping and empowering others. Ephesians 4:11-13 clearly calls leaders to equip people so the body of Christ can grow to maturity. (Biblical equipping includes both repairing and preparing people.)

In Developing the Leader Within You, John Maxwell states: “The one who influences others to follow only is a leader with certain limitations. The one who influences others to lead others is a leader without limitations.” Equipping, or empowering, people change ministers into leaders.

While most leaders see the importance of equipping others, many leaders struggle with how to put biblical principles into practice. Following are 10 thoughts on equipping people and developing a healthy and proactive team.

1. Define and communicate responsibilities that challenge. Communicate the big picture and how people fit into it. It is much easier to put a jigsaw puzzle together if we can see the completed picture on the puzzle box. It is important for people to have a clear picture of the goals and objectives and how they fit into the plan.

Next communicate specific responsibilities to the team members. What do you expect from them? Provide a clear ministry description and allow their input. A good ministry description states specific responsibilities, how much authority the team members have, who they are accountable to, what benefits they have, and the length of time they are to serve. I generally employ three overlapping criteria in generating ministry descriptions:

  • Spiritual gifting
  • Holy passions
  • What needs to get done

Help people take ownership of the goals, tasks, and responsibilities. Encourage their input and provide the opportunity for them to set their own goals as part of the total plan. Help people to develop life skills, not just “church” skills.

People who are challenged to become great — and are given the opportunity to do so — usually succeed.

In The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Edward Lawler III and Patricia Renwick list several factors that contribute to people’s excitement and motivation:

  • The chance to do something that makes you feel good about yourself.
  • The chance to accomplish something worthwhile.
  • The chance to learn new things.
  • The opportunity to develop new skills.
  • The amount of freedom you have to accomplish your responsibility.
  • The chance to do the things that you do best.

In the same book psychologist David Berlow speculates that people find meaning and enthusiasm when opportunities provide the following:

  • A chance to be tested, to make it on one’s own.
  • A chance to take part in a social experiment.
  • A chance to do something well.
  • A chance to do something good.
  • A chance to change the way things are.

2. Give authority commensurate to the responsibility. One of the most frequent complaints of team members is that they are given responsibility without corresponding authority. Leaders need to be willing to trust those they ask to do a job by giving them the authority necessary to do the job. How much authority should be given? Enough to get the job done. This authority should be communicated to those with whom the leaders work.

Once we have given the job and the authority, we must not short-circuit the process. Do not permit those relating to a different team member to come directly to you. This will only frustrate team members and set them up to fail.

Increase authority when performance earns it and responsibility requires it. As people increase in skills and effectiveness, increase their authority. This will raise morale and increase the effectiveness of the overall team.

3. Establish standards for excellence. It is most helpful when every team has a set of realistic operating standards. Some specific standards that will increase team effectiveness might include these:

  • We see ourselves, first and foremost, as servant-leaders.
  • We see ourselves as “inviters and includers” at all-church events – creatively serving and recruiting people into ministry opportunities.
  • We honor our commitments.
  • We believe in being people of developmental character and integrity.
  • We are faithful to our responsibilities.
  • We are wise stewards of our time, talents, and resources.
  • We agree that conflict and disagreement are inevitable, but that we can disagree agreeably.
  • We work together as a team (basic stages: forming -> storming -> norming -> performing).
  • We are committed to life-long learning (disciple means learner).
  • We are committed to results, not just performance.
  • We aim to respect the property of other ministries at the church facility and go the extra mile to communicate &/or seek permission – and return the property after use.

As leaders, we set the example (for better or for worse). The standards will become team standards only when others see us maintaining them.

4. Make training and mentoring a priority. Train first-and-foremost in basic life skills as defined in Scripture. We want to equip and train people in spiritual, social, intellectual, emotional, ecological, and physical health practices. Training is the key to an effective team. No team is effective without proactive training and practice (i.e., mentoring/discipleship). An effective leader never does the job alone. Churches that are in decline have leaders who see their jobs as doing the ministry for the people. However, in growing churches, leaders equip and mobilize people for the work of ministry.

Use a variety of methods to make training an ongoing process. Training can be accomplished through several distinct methodologies: intentional mentoring, on-the-job training, in the classroom, online, in team meetings – to name a few. The essence of an effective training process is the same process Jesus employed to train the disciples (sometimes referred to as the “discipleship loop”):

  • I do it.
  • I do it, and you watch.
  • You do it, and I watch.
  • You do it, and I give feedback (commonly referred to as a “debrief”).
  • You do it, and begin training someone else.

5. Provide the skill training and the proactive communication people need to succeed. People need pertinent and timely information about organizational goals, plans, and changes. Workers are motivated when they know what is happening in the organization. It makes them feel respected and valuable, helps them desire to do a better job, and empowers them to do a better job. Without skill training and proactive communication people cannot take responsibility, will not be as creative, and will not be as productive.

6. Provide thoughtful and appropriate feedback (positive + negative). Regularly reinforce positive performance. Compliments, cards, notes, emails, rewards, and additional opportunities and advancement are some ways to reinforce excellent performance. Feedback should be tailored to the person, performance, and situation. Morale and effectiveness increase when people receive regular feedback.

When it is necessary to confront or clarify feedback, keep in mind these guidelines:

  • Confront privately, not publicly.
  • Deal with a “situation” as soon as possible.
  • Address only one issue at a time, and be specific.
  • Ask clarifying questions (help me to understand…).
  • Allow for the person to take responsibility.
  • Discuss only what the person can do something about.
  • Direct your critique to the action, not the person.
  • Avoid sarcasm and anger.
  • Sandwich criticism between compliments.

7. Recognize and reward efforts and achievements. We get what we reward. Make heroes of the people you work with. Public recognition and rewards are essential. Shine the spotlight on accomplishments. Coffee shop gift certificates, awards, speeches, plaques, and recognition in newsletters are just a few ways to show gratitude for accomplishments. It’s been said that everyone has an invisible sign hung around our necks that says, PMMFI (pum-fee) – an acrostic for: Please Make Me Feel Important. Recognition does that and builds a better team. Guidelines for recognizing and rewarding efforts and achievements include:

  • Tailor recognition to the person and the achievement.
  • Make recognition timely.
  • Recognize people, as well as their accomplishments.
  • Recognize them as members of a team, as well as individuals.
  • Make sure the recognition conveys sincere appreciation.

8. Trust your team. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Trust [people], and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great.” Building trusting relationships is essential. A leader can demonstrate trust in many ways:

  • Be sensitive to needs, interests, and concerns.
  • Listen to ideas, dreams, and plans.
  • Delegate, or trust, with significant assignments or responsibilities.
  • Share your dreams, visions, and plans.
  • Allow the team to be a part of the goal-setting and problem-solving process.
  • Be honest and open about your own mistakes and vulnerabilities.

Distinguish between trust in character and trust in ability. Some have strong, mature character but little ability. Others have less mature character by great ability. Trusting people at the highest degree possible helps them develop a higher level of both character and ability.

9. Give permission to fail. View failure as a growing experience – it is the fodder of innovation. True failure is when we don’t learn from the experience. Establish some guidelines for failure: It is OK to make a mistake. It is OK to fail if we are doing our best. When we fail, we can talk about what went wrong, what we can learn, and how to do better. Knowing what NOT to do is just as important as knowing what TO do. J

When team members know they are expected to succeed but that it is OK to fail, they are more creative and willing to risk. This creates a positive environment for a team. When people experiment and take calculated risks in their responsibilities, morale increases and results are greater.

10. Treat others with respect. Treating team members with respect increases motivation. People work best when they feel valued and respected. Demonstrate your commitment and loyalty the same way you expect others to be committed and loyal to you as the leader.

In Diane Tracy’s 10 Steps to Empowerment: A Common-Sense Guide to Managing People, J.C. Staehle lists — in order of importance — primary causes of discontent among workers that leaders can avoid:

  • Failure to give credit for suggestions.
  • Failure to correct grievances.
  • Failure to encourage.
  • Criticism of employees in front of other people.
  • Failure to ask employees their opinions.
  • Failure to inform employees of their progress.
  • Favoritism.

A leader can show respect for team members by asking for their suggestions, keeping them informed, treating them fairly, encouraging them, and acknowledging their accomplishments.

Begin today to put these 10 thoughts into practice, and your team will become a team that is healthy, holy, and powerful to accomplish MPVCC’s full redemptive potential.

Reflection Questions (to be the basis for dialogue at this Saturday’s LT meeting):

  1. What would you strongly affirm or emphasize in this training document?
  2. Is the idea of a difference between a minister and a leader new to you? How do you feel about it?
  3. Of the 10 thoughts, in which are you currently most proficient?
  4. Of the 10 thoughts, in which are you currently not proficient?
  5. What would you add to this training document (what’s missing)?