How to Experience Real Joy This Christmas (and into the New Year)

People talk and sing a lot about joy, especially at this time of year, but as you look around, is there much joy to be found?

Most people in the world find joy in sentiment and circumstances and stuff, but the Christian has a different sort of joy—a godly joy.

Let’s look at some of the songs of the season and use them to compare the world’s definition with the Christian’s definition of joy. (I’ll admit up front, I love listening to all kinds of Christmas music this time of year, and I especially enjoy the classics sung by folks like Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Jimmy Durante, Perry Como, Mannheim Steamroller, and, of course, Burl Ives. But while I enjoy those songs, I don’t define my worldview by them!) Let’s look first at how secular Christmas songs define joy:

  • “Here comes Suzy Snowflake; Look at her tumblin’ down, Bringing joy to ev’ry girl and boy; Suzy’s come to town.”
  • “For every year the Christmas tree brings to us all both joy and glee.”
  • “Down thru the chimney with lots of toys all for the little ones Christmas joys.”
  • “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas. Only a hippopotamus will do . . . Oh what joy, what surprise when I open up my eyes to see a hippo hero standing there.”

Compare those with how our Christian hymns define joy:

  • Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
  • “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”
  • “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.”
  • Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With the angelic host proclaim Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

See the difference? Real joy is found in God’s loving gift to the world, not in stuff. It has less to do with what Jeremiah the bullfrog said and more to do with what Jeremiah the prophet said:

This is what the Lord says: “You say about this place, ‘It is a desolate waste, without people or animals.’ Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joyand gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 33:10, 11, my emphasis).

Circumstances could not have been worse for God’s people at this time in history, yet, in the midst of such desolation, somehow the people would experience joy and gladness. How could this be? From where would such joy come? The only way to understand it is to know—really know—the “Lord . . . who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it” (v. 2). God is the source of true joy; it cannot be found aside from him. “Call to me,” he says to the prophet, “and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (v. 3). The Lord then goes on to show Jeremiah what he would do that only he could do. God’s power and provision for us are, most of the time, beyond our human understanding. Joy comes as “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

God is the source of true joy; it cannot be found aside from him. Click To Tweet

The apostle Peter had seen and literally walked with Jesus, but many of the people to whom he wrote years later had not. “Though you have not seen him,” Peter said, “you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8, my emphasis).

To experience that glorious joy, we must understand the nature of God—the all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, perfect Creator—and the nature of man. The chasm between us is so wide, his holiness so awesome, we might wonder how we could ever have a relationship with him. Yet this same God left heaven for us, lived in a human body for us, suffered and died for us. But even more incredible, he now lives in us. He sits at God’s right hand and intercedes for us. He listens to our prayers and answers us. He works all things together for our good. He regards us as his body. He loves us though we are sinners. He has prepared a place for us in Heaven. He provides life to the full and to overflowing for us and those around us. He considers us his ambassadors, as his ministers called to partner with him in reconciling the world to him. He considers us his friends as well as his bride.

I’m already feeling more joyful and triumphant! How about you?

This kind of “inexpressible and glorious joy” will not fade away on December 26 or when your new toy loses its luster or someone gossips about you, when you can’t pay your December bills or are struggling in a relationship, or when the doctor has bad news.

I find it difficult even to describe what this glorious joy looks like or feels like, because it’s, well . . .  inexpressible! It’s a presence, a power, a purpose for life that goes beyond this life. It’s a profound mystery—the joy that comes from being united with Christ as his bride (Ephesians 5:29-32).

Real joy is a lasting joy—something only God can give and has given to us through Jesus Christ. No, I don’t often see that kind of joy on cable news, but that doesn’t mean there is no joy in the world. We just need to look in the right places—internally, not externally. The Lord is our source of joy and we can see it in those who follow him; we can hear it in“the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord.”

Real joy is a lasting joy—something only God can give and has given to us through Jesus Christ. Click To Tweet

This Christmas, regardless of the circumstances, be filled with this glorious joy, express it as you worship the newborn King and proclaim that the Christ is born!

Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”

 

 

The Disgrace of Segregated Small Groups

Small groups can either divide us or bring reconciliation.

We can’t deny that a level of racial divide exists in the U.S. (still) today. I’m not pointing fingers for who is responsible for this and I hope you don’t either. But I want to move beyond that fact and look at the state of our small groups. Are they places that mirror the racial division of our country or are they examples of real community, real unity, and real integration?

I’ve seen enough groups (and churches, for that matter) that look nothing like the beautiful scene of heaven: “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). Why can’t that become the reality now? I think it starts with us.

Small Groups: The Best Place for Reconciliation

I believe that small groups can be the very best environment in our society for bringing about racial (and every other type of) reconciliation. Yes, more than the government. Yes, more than one party or candidate. Yes, more than the church at large. Why?

  1. Healthy small groups are, or should be, environments of radical, authentic Christian community. By “authentic,” I mean real, genuine, unbiased, others-first, listening-to-understand, ministering, unconditionally loving, sacrificial community. It’s in that environment that reconciliation will best occur.
  2. Small groups are small enough to look each other in the face, hear each other’s stories, and know each other’s hearts. I’ve been in racially integrated small groups, and they have grown me as a person and as a Christ follower. In this kind of group, each person is a friend, a person I’m doing life with, a brother or sister in Christ whose story I know and care about. In that environment, like no other, I can hear and understand and affirm their stories. And they do the same for me.
  3. Because of these first two reasons, a small group is the perfect environment to discuss what’s going on in our country and in our churches and in our lives, and better understand the perspectives of people who are different from us.

The Undeniable Facts about Segregation

Here’s the fact according to God’s Word:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too (1 John 5:1, NLT).

I’ve heard sermons and read articles by Christian writers over the last several months on this and other similar Bible passages. And this is true. As God’s dearly loved children, as people with new lives in him, we are to be known by our radical love for everyone. There is no difference for a Christ follower between color of skin, country of origin, culture, sexual preference, or any other “difference” that tends to divide us. We are simply to love each person as God loves us: genuinely, unconditionally, tangibly and sacrificially. Yes, it takes some GUTS to do that, but most of us understand this. But let’s go one step further. These are God’s words, not my own:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. … Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister (1 John 4:8-21, NIV).

This is serious business! If we do not love our brothers and sisters, whom we can see and talk to and, more importantly, listen to, it calls into question whether we really love God. Discuss those passages as a small group!

What about Jesus’ Small Group?

The members of Jesus’ small group may at first seem to be the same—they were all Jewish men—yet they each had a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and passions. More importantly, Jesus constantly pushed these 12 men out of their cultural comfort zones to face their societal prejudices, preferences, and presuppositions, mostly by Jesus’ own examples of crossing cultural barriers. And what they learned from their time with Jesus continued to an even broader extent as the Church spread after Jesus returned to heaven.

In fact, it was this cross-cultural love that enabled the church to grow and expand from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

Like Jesus and his original followers, we must choose to cross cultural barriers. Imagine what God would do through us if we all did this!

What This Means for You and Your Group

All of this has specific implications for your group. Here’s how I think this calls your group to respond:

  • Get out of the comfort zone of people just like you.
  • Pray that God will give you opportunities to be reconcilers. He will!
  • Watch for the opportunities God gives you to invite people who do not look like, act like, or think just like you.
  • Seek to fulfill Jesus’ prayer: “I pray also … that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are oneI in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23). Do you see that? We can change the world by the way we unite a divided world!
  • Seek racial and every other kind of reconciliation. God has given us the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
  • Seek to radically love people who are different from you.

What would happen if the rest of the world looked to us in small group community as the place that crosses racial and other cultural divides and radically loves people as no other element of society can? If we don’t, that’s a disgrace, because we have the opportunity to do so. If we do, we can change the world, just like that first group of Jesus followers did.

Is your group a segregated group or a reconciling group? What’s your story? Please tell us by clicking the “Comment” button below.

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Kim Davis: What Would Jesus Do?

Like you, I’m reading and listening to people who don’t understand why a Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on her religious beliefs. This is a clash of worldviews. Some see their religious liberties being violated. Some see their rights, as upheld by the Supreme Court, being violated. Some see this as religious intolerance and evil. Others see it as intolerance of religious beliefs and long-held values.

My brother-in-law (who describes himself as “anti-religious” and may be surprised that I describe myself the same way) recently asked some questions on a Facebook post that I have considered seriously and am trying to use good reasoning and biblical insight to answer, at least for myself. Before I get to those questions, I want to encourage my Christian friends to do the same. We absolutely must listen to those who are asking questions about what we believe and why. We must try to respond with both love and truth. We must be humble and caring in our communications. I see a lack of that from some of my fellow Christians today. To my non-Christian friends and family members, I’m sorry for all the unkind rhetoric that’s out there. I don’t believe it represents the hearts of true Christ followers. Please try to differentiate between the “religious” people and real followers of Jesus.

The Initial Questions

One of the questions my brother-in-law asked was this: “Does she issue marriage licenses to religions that she doesn’t agree with such as muslims and jews? Does she not sign off on divorce papers?” I don’t know the answers to those questions. But I do think the questions are legitimate. Where do government employees draw the line in regard to where their biblically based beliefs conflict with the nation’s laws and the contemporary culture? I don’t have answers for those questions, but I also don’t believe it is our primary role as Christians to hold rallies and constantly fight against our governing authorities. We can transform society through the power of God by helping people know him and believe in Jesus. Christians, please read Matthew 28:16-20 again. That’s our mission.

The BIG Question
My brother-in-law asked another great question in his post that I think is the main issue: “Is this what Jesus would support?”
Let’s tackle that one from the Bible and with sound thinking.
I’ve seen social media posts recently quoting Peter and the other apostles in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” That sounds like a good reason for the county clerk to refuse to issue marriage licenses, doesn’t it? But that’s what we call proof texting, that is, finding a Scripture verse to prove our point of view and then twisting it or taking it out of context. But as always we must use good biblical interpretation. Peter and the other apostles were not responding to a government edict here. They weren’t refusing to do what the Romans were telling them to do. The group they were in conflict with were the religious leaders, specifically the Sanhedrin and the high priest. So this biblical instance would be more akin to a Christian today being told by a head religious leader such as an elder or the Pope to refrain from preaching about Jesus. That’s not at all the case for Kim Davis.
So let me get back to the main question: Is this what Jesus would support? In other words, what would Jesus tell Clerk Davis to do? I don’t want to guess on this. I’d like to go to the source and see what Jesus actually did in situations like this.
Two Examples from the Life of Jesus
I can think of three times when Jesus dealt with people who worked for the government: Levi (Matthew), Zacchaeus, and the Roman centurion. Jesus treated all three men with great love and respect. I’ll look at the first two of them in this post. Both Levi and Zacchaeus were tax collectors who worked for the Romans to collect taxes from their fellow Jews who lived in Roman territory. Let’s look first at Levi and what we can learn from his situation to answer this question.
Jesus saw Levi sitting at his tax booth and simply said, “Follow me!” The tax collector responded immediately: “Levi got up, left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:28). The next thing we read is that Levi threw a party and invited Jesus, all the disciples, his tax-collector friends, and other “sinners.” They all were eating a banquet meal together. Jesus was building relationships with them. I imagine him laughing with them and telling stories . . . with “sinners.” The fact is Jesus was the only non-sinner in the place. I don’t see judgment here. But I see lots of grace. This was Jesus’ way. Just then the religious leaders showed up to spoil the party. They just couldn’t understand why Jesus, a rabbi, was hanging out with these people. Jesus explained that this was why he came to earth: to love and to call and to reach out to those who need him the most.
Seems to me like this scene is being played out today. But what about the issue of marrying same-sex people? This wasn’t the issue for Levi, of course; his issue was extorting money from his fellow Jews for his own gain. Nothing is mentioned in this passage about what Jesus told Levi about how he should conduct his business. All we know is Levi left his tax booth behind to follow Jesus. Jesus changes us from the inside-out when we decide to follow him.
Perhaps the other taxman, Zacchaeus, can help us out here (see Luke 19:1-9). He was not only a tax collector, but the chief tax collector in the region of Jericho and a very wealthy man. For whatever reason, he wanted to see Jesus, and more importantly, Jesus saw him, and invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner. Again, don’t miss the relational aspect here. Zacchaeus decided to become a follower of Jesus too, and during dinner, he stood up to tell Jesus he would make everything right. He’d give half of his possessions to the poor and repay up to four times what he had cheated people of. This passage does not say Zacchaeus stopped being a tax collector. Unlike Matthew, apparently he continued working for the Roman government, carrying out his legal duties, but he did so with integrity as a follower of Jesus.
One Application for Kim: Two Choices
What can we make of these two biblical cases in relation to Kim Davis? Here’s my application. If she can continue to carry out her legal duties as a government employee and Christ follower, she should do so. But she then must do what her job description entails. If not, she can quit the job, because her duties conflict with what she believes is the right thing to do as as Christ follower who believes that marriage is between one man and one woman. I believe those are her only choices.
I think Romans 13:1 applies in this situation: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” (see also Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:13-14). If you work for the governing authorities, you are subject to their laws and rules. If you cannot in good conscience carry out those rules, it seems to me that you leave the job, which itself can make a statement about your priorities.
One Vital Question for the Rest of Us who Follow Christ
The big question in all this is, How do Christ followers live in a culture that is increasingly based on beliefs other than the Bible? Christians live with a specific standard for truth: the Scriptures. But much of our culture does not. Truth is relative, not absolute, in the minds of many people. We are living in a society very much like that of the early church, which means our beliefs are no longer the vast majority view. We live as they did as “foreigners and exiles” on earth (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13), looking forward to “a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).
While I live in this world, in this culture, I believe my purpose is to live for God and to allow him to make an impact through my life. As a follower of Christ, who humbly modeled for us how to live (read Philippians 2:1-11), I want to extend as much grace to others that I can. I want to speak God’s truth in love.
My prayer is that God can change each of us, from the inside out, to reflect his love for the world. He lovingly wants what is best for humankind; and I believe that’s why he has provided his truth through the Word. People don’t need the law; they don’t need for us to correct them. They need God’s unconditional love, which transforms lives.

OTHER POSTS ON SIMILAR SUBJECTS

Is Your Small Group (or Church) Ready to Go Underground?
Christians and Religious Knowledge

Is Your Small Group (or Church) Ready to Go Underground?

What will happen to the church and to small groups if (or when) it becomes illegal for Christian ministers to publicly hold up biblical values? What if your testimony became “hate speech”? These are the questions Francis Chan addresses in this three-and-a-half-minute video. The video, I believe, is actually misnamed. While politics is the backdrop of his comments here, Chan’s focusing on the church being the church it’s supposed to be. Take a look:


Francis Chan on Politics from Nate Hanson on Vimeo.

The church that Jesus imagined and founded, the one that is at its purest state, the church the early believers developed and grew under God’s guidance, was an empowered church. God empowers leaders who empower others who continue empowering generation after generation of Christ followers to share the simple and life-changing message of the gospel.

I’d like to think, and I pray it’s true, that if church buildings were closed and church leaders were jailed, the church would not only keep going but would become better and stronger.

It’s sad to me that it would take those kinds of extreme measures to get us to do what we were suppose to be doing in the first place. 

Perhaps we need to stop fighting so much for our “rights” and start empowering others and proclaiming the gospel as we should. Let’s start with prayer, recognizing God’s power, presence, and purposes. May his will be done!

In our small groups and churches, it’s time to share leadership! This is one of the 7 signs of a healthy small group and the one that is the biggest catalyst for a group growing, bearing fruit, and reproducing itself. (See Chapter 3 of Small Group Vital Signs.) It’s time to empower everyone in our groups and churches and to share ownership with every person.

Is your church and your small group ready to go underground? What are you doing to prepare? 

MORE ON THIS TOPIC

10 Stupid Things That Are Keeping Your Small Group from Growing
The Fool’s Gold of Group Discipleship: 6 Small Group Elements Easily Mistaken for the Real Thing
Seven Steps to Share the Leadership of Your Group

Larry the Cable Guy, Nike, Frank Sinatra, Burger King, and How We Think

Today: Proverbs 19 

 
“Get ‘er done!” – Larry the Cable Guy
“Just do it.” – Nike advertising slogan
“I did it my way.” – Frank Sinatra
“Have it your way.” – Burger King 
 
These are the ways our culture teaches us to live. They say … 
    You da man! 
    You are the master of your own destiny. 
    Only you have the capacity of change yourself. 
 
This way of thinking makes you the transcedndent one in you life. It makes you the Lord and Savior of your own life. It makes you an idol, a false god that you put before the real God. 
 
God’s Word, especially in the book of Proverbs, teaches us a different way — God’s way — to live our lives:

You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail (Proverbs 19:21, NLT).

God is in control; only he is sovereign; only he is Lord. He keeps teaching me that He is God, and I am not!
 
If you are a Christ-follower, don’t forget this vital principle: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). So, “don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2, NLT). 
 
The book of Proverbs is all about helping us change the way we think. Just look at the various proverbs that compare the way a fool thinks and acts to the way a wise person thinks and acts. This is why I like reading the book of Proverbs every so often: it fills my mind with God’s principles for how to think. 
 
In comparison, consider these wise ways of thinking about life from a few of the wisest people who ever lived:
  • “Get ‘er done”? … “The Son . . . can do only what he sees his Father doing” – Jesus (John 5:19).
  • “Just do it”? … “I do nothing without consulting the Father” – Jesus (John 5:30).
  • “I did it my way”? … “I have kept the ways of the Lord; I have not done evil by turning from my God” – David (Psalm 18:21).
  • “Have it your way”? … “Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and revering him” – Moses (Deuteronomy 8:6).
 
How do you find yourself thinking?
Do you usually think and act like your life is your own?
How can God transform you by changing the way you think?
 

Rick Warren on Muslims, Evangelism, and Missions

My friend Ben Reed, a fellow small group pastor (Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee), writer, and the Small Groups Network marketing director, sent me an email earlier today that contains a letter from Rick Warren to his church staff at Saddleback Church and an interview Warren did in response to some misinformation about him and Saddleback. I thought it was worth sharing here. One of the things I hope you will notice is how Warren discusses the evangelistic role of small groups. Good stuff.
Dear staff,
               A few days ago, an article appeared in the Orange County Register that included some outrageous statements about Saddleback that were incorrect.  Of course, the media rarely gets everything right, and there’s no way we could respond to every false statement made about us.  But I felt this article created so many misperceptions that I agreed to do an interview in response.  Here is it below.  Please read it all, then forward it to everyone you know would be interested.
Thanks!     
Pastor Rick
with Brandon A. Cox & Christian Post
QUESTION: Do people of other religions worship the same God as Christians?
WARREN: Of course not. Christians have a view of God that is unique. We believe Jesus is God! We believe God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not 3 separate gods but one God. No other faith believes Jesus is God. My God is Jesus. The belief in God as a Trinity is the foundational difference between Christians and everyone else. There are 2.1 billion people who call themselves Christians… whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, or Evangelical…and they all have the doctrine of the Trinity in common.
QUESTION: A recent newspaper article claimed you believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God, that you are “in partnership” with a mosque, and that you both agreed to “not evangelize each other.” You immediately posted a brief refutation onlineCan you expand on that?
WARREN: Sure. All three of those statements are flat out wrong. Those statements were made by a reporter, not by me. I did not say them …  I do not believe them… I completely disagree with them … and no one even talked to me about that article!   So let me address each one individually:  First, as I’ve already said, Christians have a fundamentally different view of God than Muslims. We worship Jesus as God. Muslims don’t. Our God is Jesus, not Allah. Colossians 2:9 “For in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”   Second, while we urge our members to build friendships with everyone in our community, including Muslims and other faiths, (“Love your neighbor as yourself”), our church has never had any partnership with a mosque.  Friendship and partnership are two very different levels of commitment. Some of our members have hosted a Bible study with Muslim friends, which I applaud, but I’ve never been to it, and a Bible study certainly isn’t any kind of partnership or merger! It’s just crazy that a simple Bible Study where people explore Scripture with non-Christians would be reported as a partnership and others would interpret that as a plan for a new compromised religion. Just crazy!  Third, as both an Evangelical and as an evangelist, anyone who knows me and my 40 year track record of ministry knows that I would never agree to “not evangelizing” anyone!  I am commanded by my Savior to share the Good News with all people everywhere, all the time, in every way possible! Anyone who’s heard me teach knows that my heart beats for bringing others to Jesus.
QUESTION: That same article mentioned that you ate an Iftar dinner with Orange County Muslims. What is that all about?
WARREN: It’s called being polite and a good neighbor. For years, we have invited Muslim friends to attend our Easter and Christmas services and they have graciously attended year after year. Some have even celebrated our family’s personal Christmas service in our home. So when they have a potluck when their month of fasting ends, we go to their party. It’s a Jesus thing.  The Pharisees criticized him as “the friend of sinners” because Jesus ate dinner with people they disapproved of. By the way, one of my dear friends is a Jewish Rabbi and my family has celebrated Passover at his home, and he attends our Christmas and Easter services.  I wish more Christians would reach out in love like Jesus.
QUESTION: Why do you think people who call themselves Christians sometimes say the most hateful things about Muslims?
WARREN: Well, some of those folks probably aren’t really Christians. 1 John 4:20 says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” And 1 John 2:9 says “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.”  I am not allowed by Jesus to hate anyone.  Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about evangelism. In the past 10 years, Saddleback Church has baptized over 24,000 new believers. No other church comes close to that record. You are likely the most evangelistic church in America. What’s the key?
WARREN: We are willing to do what many other churches are unwilling to do. We are willing to go beyond our comfort zone.
QUESTION: For instance?
WARREN: Because Jesus commanded us to take the Gospel to everyone, I spend much of my time with groups of people who completely disagree with what I believe. I’m constantly trying to build a bridge of love to nonbelievers, to atheists, to gays, to those I disagree with politically, and to those of other faiths. We don’t wait for these people to come to church; we go to them and share with them on their turf, not ours. Every member is a minister and a missionary. Saddleback was a missional church 30 years before the term became popular. We just called it being “purpose driven”.
QUESTION: “Building a bridge” sounds like compromise to many people.
WARREN: Building a bridge has nothing to do with compromising your beliefs. It’s all about your behavior and your attitude toward them. It’s about genuinely loving people. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Before people ask, “Is Jesus credible?” they want to know if you are credible. Before people trust Jesus they must trust you. You cannot win your enemies to Christ, only your friends. It’s part of what Paul calls “the ministry of reconciliation.” It is Christ-like to treat people with dignity and listen to them with respect.
QUESTION: Why are most Christians so ineffective at sharing their faith?
WARREN: I have a whole seminar on that! First, they don’t really have any unbelieving friends. They spend all their time with other Christians. As a result, they are afraid to share their faith because it feels unnatural to them. For most people to come to Christ, you must build a relationship with them first. You must love them. The truth is, most Christians love everything else more than the people around them that Jesus died for. Second, many don’t really believe that people are lost without Christ. Third, many Christians are afraid of the criticism they will receive from other Christians if they hang out with unbelievers. It was the religious people who hated Jesus the most. They criticized him for associating with tax collectors and lepers and prostitutes and politicians and going to parties. Lost people loved Jesus but the religious folks saw his associations as dangerous compromise. The same is true today. Modern Pharisees still use guilt by association as a weapon. Just read the blogs. They’d rather hunker in a bunker and attack those courageous enough to reach out to non-Christians. I do not fear the disapproval of others. I fear the disapproval of God on my disobedience to what he has clearly commanded us to do.
QUESTION: What is the P.E.A.C.E. plan?
WARREN: It is a biblical strategy of ministry based on five activities Jesus modeled in his ministry. Saddleback members have been beta testing it for the past nine years all around the world. Each letter of P.E.A.C.E. represents one of five things Jesus taught his disciples to do: P stands for Plant churches. E stands for Equip leaders. A stands for Assist the poor. C stands for Care for the sick. E stands for Educate the next generation. The PEACE plan is accomplished by local churches through local churches. It is based on three passages of Scripture and the specific instructions Jesus gave to his teams that he sent out. There are at least a dozen major differences between the PEACE Plan and the traditional, typical mission program of NGOs and parachurch organizations of the past 100 years. It is a return to the missional strategy.
QUESTION: What is the PEACE Center?
WARREN: Based on Jesus’ instructions in Acts 1:8, we practice the PEACE Plan in three dimensions: PERSONALPEACE – my ministry to those closest to me; LOCAL PEACE –our congregation’s ministry to our community; andGLOBAL PEACE – serving other local churches around the world as those congregations do their own local PEACE.  The PEACE Center is the building on our church campus that houses about three dozen of our 300 ministries to the community. It offers our food bank, job training, family counseling, legal aid, car repair, tutoring, English as a second language, legal immigration assistance, and many other ministries.
QUESTION:  I read an article that claimed you were building a PEACE Center to bring Muslims and Christians together in peace.
WARREN: It was the writer’s mistake. He got two different stories confused.  Our recently opened PEACE Center, on the Saddleback Church campus has NOTHING …zero… to do with our Muslim friends.
This is an example of why I always doubt what I read in newspapers and blogs about ministries. Secular reporters trying to cover churches and theological issues often get it wrong. But then Christian bloggers, instead of contacting the ministry, blindly believe, quote and repost the errors made by secular reporters. Then those errors become permanent, searchable, and global on the Internet. I couldn’t count the number of times a secular reporter has gotten a story about Saddleback wrong but then it is perpetuated by Christians who never fact-check.  And the three factors I mentioned about the Internet make it impossible to correct all the misperceptions, and outright lies that get repeated over and over.
QUESTION: You mentioned legal immigration services. How many languages do Saddleback members speak?
WARREN: At last count, I heard we speak 76 languages in our church family. One of our 10 values, the “A” in our S.A.D.D.L.E.B.A.C.K. strategy, is that we are an ALL-nation congregation. We are a multi-ethnic church. We want our congregation to look like heaven will look – with every age, race, tribe, and economic background represented.
QUESTION: What is the goal of your ministry?
WARREN: To know Christ and make Him known! To live out Jesus’ Great Commandment and Great Commission! In fact, this has been the motto of Saddleback Church since we started it in 1980: “A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great church.” Everything we do comes out of these two great texts. God’s five eternal purposes for both our lives and the church proceed from these verses. The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life explain this in detail.
QUESTION: Through the PEACE Plan, Saddleback became the first local congregation in 2000 years of Christian history to send its members to literally “every nation” as Jesus commanded.
WARREN: That’s correct.
QUESTION: How did you accomplish that?
WARREN: By taking Jesus’ command seriously. When Jesus said, “Go to EVERY nation” we asked ourselves as a church family, “Has any local church in 2000 years ever actually done that? If not, why don’t we be the first!” So we set a goal to send our members to every nation of the world to do the five tasks of the P.E.A.C.E. Plan by the end of 2010.  Of course I know that the Greek ta ethne refers to people groups or tribes not political nations, but you have to start somewhere! So we decided that we would send our members on mission to all 197 nations in the world. (There are 195 nations in the United Nations. The only two nations not in the United Nations are Taiwan and Serbia.) On November 18, 2010, a Saddleback team went to the last nation, #197, a small island in the Caribbean called, St. Kitts. Now, our goal for the next decade, which we call our Decade of Destiny is to mobilize a network of churches who will commit to planting new churches in the final 3,600 unengaged people groups that still do not have a Christian church.
QUESTION: How many members did you send out to complete your church’s goal of taking the gospel to every nation?
WARREN: 15,867 members were sent out. Of course, we’ve gone way past that in the last year.
QUESTION: What is your mission goal this year?
WARREN: Within a year from this Easter, we intend to plant new churches in 12 strategic cities around the world as resource centers and base camps for the greater goal of planting churches in the 3600 unengaged people groups.
QUESTION:  What are those 12 cities?
WARREN: Tokyo, Berlin, Johannesburg, Bangalore, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, London, Freetown, Moscow, Mexico City, Amman, and Manila.  Anyone who’d like to be a part of the team should contact me atPastorRick@saddleback.com or on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
QUESTION: Are you promoting Chrislam?
WARREN: Of course not. It’s the lie that won’t die. No matter how many times we refute it and correct that lie, people keep passing it on as truth. Jesus is the only way to salvation. Period. If I didn’t believe that, I’d get into a much easier line of work! But I do believe that everybody needs Jesus and I am willing to put up with false statements and misunderstandings in order to get the Gospel out.
QUESTION:  What are your greatest frustrations about evangelism?
WARREN: That Christians would rather argue than evangelize. That people are more interested in winning arguments that in winning people. That people are more interested in making a point than in making a difference. That people put politics above the souls of people. That people are more afraid of guilt by association than allowing others to go to hell.
QUESTION: If anyone wants to learn or teach their church how to be more effective in evangelism and missions what should they do?
WARREN: Write to me at PastorRick@saddleback.com and ask me for an invitation to the group of leaders I train each week through a private webcast.
QUESTION: Any last word?
WARREN: Reach one more for Jesus! Anyone who’s read Purpose Driven Life knows those were my father’s last words and deathbed instructions to me. It is the theme of my life and I invite you to make it yours.  Nothing is more important than the eternal destiny of those around us.
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What Larry the Cable Guy, Nike, Frank Sinatra, and Burger King Have in Common

Two opposing world-views. Two ways of living life. Two patterns for how to operate. Which will you choose? The culture this world teaches one thing and the Word of God teaches the opposite:

“Get ‘er done!” – Larry the Cable Guy 
“The Son  . . . can do only what he sees his Father doing.” – Jesus (John 5:19) 

“Just do it.” – Nike 
“I do nothing without consulting the Father.” – Jesus (John 5:30) 
“Apart from me you can do nothing.” – Jesus (John 15:5) 
“I did it my way.” – Frank Sinatra 
“For I have kept the ways of the Lord.” – David (Psalm 18:21) 
“Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways.” – David (Psalm 128:1) 
“Have it your way.” – Burger King 
“Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and revering him.” – Moses (Deuteronomy 8:6) 
Can you think of others you’d add to this list?

Bad Trip: The “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” Chapter of the Bible

In my time with the Father this morning, I read Zechariah 5. Strange chapter at first glance. The “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” chapter of the Bible. Seems like Zechariah ate too many poppy seeds the day he wrote this. There are huge scrolls flying through the sky, like those airplane banners you see at Myrtle Beach … only without the airplane. There is a woman named Wickedness held captive in a basket coming down out of the air. Then there are stork-like flying women who swoop down and extract the Wicked woman-carrying basket. Sounds like a bad trip!

Wickedness is taken away, which represents Jesus taking away the sins of his people. It’s interesting that the basket was taken to Babylonia, which represents the kingdom of this world in Scripture. This reminds me of when Jesus sent the demons from the possessed man into the pigs on the hillside (The story is in Mark 5:1-20.).

God’s people who had come back from Babylon had brought with them some of the wickedness of that land — the commercialism, greed, stealing, and lying that was prevalent there. In order for God’s people to be God’s people, that wickedness needed to be removed — sent back to where it came from. That wickedness was worshipped in Babylon. Only God was to be worshipped in Israel.

Aren’t you thankful that God takes away our sins? We can have a relationship with him because our Wickedness has been removed.

Maybe its not such a bad trip after all!

What kinds of wickedness has the Church absorbed or embraced from our culture? What have we conformed to from the pattern of our world? What’s in the basket?


What does God need to remove from your life, your small group, your church, and take back to where it came from?

Christians and Religious Knowledge

Have you seen the news lately about a Pew Forum survey on religious knowledge? Apparently Christians did not fare well. I took the survey online this morning and scored 80%. (Hey, it was really early, before my first cup of coffee.) Christian haters on the Internet and TV are using this as a “gotcha.” Some Christians are doing the same, pointing out that we need to become much more religiously literate.

I’m scratching my head. Is religious knowledge the hallmark of Christianity? The people in the Bible who were known for their knowledge were the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees (I got that one right, I think). The earliest church leaders, on the other hand, the ones who had been with Jesus for three years, were still known as “unschooled, ordinary men” (Acts 4:13). A false teaching prevalent in the times of the first-century church was called gnosticism, and part of that teaching is that knowledge is supreme. The apostle Paul fought this teaching in several of his letters, especially Colossians.

Our command as Christians is to love. Paul made it strikingly clear for us:

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1; see also 1 Cor. 13:2, 8; Eph. 3:19).

Don’t get me wrong. We need to understand the basics of our faith. We should be able to explain what and why we believe when asked. And we should all be growing in our knowledge and depth of insight.

But knowledge is not what we should be known for. Knowledge puffs up. (A friend took the Pew Forum quiz and actually bragged that he got 100%.)

Christians should be known for their capacity to love. So for me, let the skeptics and modern-day religious people babble on about knowledge. I’m sticking with Paul. I’m choosing love. Love builds up. Love never fails.

Is Blood Really Thicker Than Water?

“Blood is thicker than water.”

I’ve given that proverb a lot of thought for a long time. The saying goes back hundreds of years and means that the bonds of family are stronger than those between friends. I know plenty of people (those who have messy relationships with their families of origin) who would argue with that opinion at even a purely sociological level. But what about spiritually?

This past week I read Mark 3, in which Jesus’ mother and brothers showed up looking for him. Jesus’ response is surprising:

“Who do you think are my mother and brothers?” Looking around, taking in everyone seated around him, he said, “Right here, right in front of you—my mother and my brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:33-35, The Message).

Jesus was talking about his disciples–those who had left everything to follow him. At another time, he spoke of the high cost of being his disciple. He said we as his disciples should be willing to surrender our family of origin–even our own life–to follow him and be a part of his spiritual family (Luke 14:26).

Growing up, I was taught, Friends come and go, but family is forever. That’s a part of most people’s worldview. Today, as a Christ follower, that saying has taken on a different meaning. I know my relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ are eternal. I hope my relationships with my birth family are as well.

Our new birth is more important than our natural birth. When we were born again, we were born into a spiritual family–the church, the body of Christ. They are now my spiritual fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters (see 1 John 2:12-14 for an encouragement to us as spiritual family members). I am a new person in Christ and I have a new family, and that family is my priority.

Who are these family members? Like a natural family, we have extended family members (people in our local congregation) and even “kin” (everyone who is a part of Christ’s family around the world). But our real priority is our immediate family–those with whom we do life together as a small group. Your small group is your spiritual immediate family.

When you were born again, your relationships with your Christ-following friends changed. They had been water relationships. Now they are blood relationships. Just as Jesus changed water into wine (wine symbolizing his blood), Jesus makes you a part of his family. Now we’re blood brothers and sisters in him!

Now, here’s something truly amazing … and vital. Jesus said that those who obey God’s will are our spiritual family. Not just those who happen to be thrown into a group with us. Not just the people we meet with on Friday nights. Not just those with whom we study the Bible and pray. Jesus’ definition of this spiritual family has everything to do with surrender of our own wills to obey God’s will–together.

What are you doing as a leader to help your group members obey God’s will? How are you pursuing God’s will together as a family? Blood is thicker than water. But spiritual blood is even thicker … and deeper.