Is Sunday Morning for Discipleship or Evangelism?

When a pastor stands in the pulpit to presents a message a lot of work has gone into preparation of the sermon.  He stands for one brief moment to draw our attention to the very Word of God.  He stands there as a messenger.  God has spoken and we should hear and respond to God in an appropriate way.


So during the weeks and months leading up to a message the pastor is engaged in reading, understanding, praying over and discerning the actual text of the sermon.  He might employ his training the Greek or Hebrew language to help pull out the meaning of a text.  He will do a study in geography and historical context when necessary.  In short, He will do as much research as necessary to determine that he accurately opens up God’s Word before us.

A pastor, however, will also study the culture in which he presents the message.  It is not enough to know the Truth… the Truth must also be applied.  Application can be summed up as How someone should properly respond to the message. The application will take on nuances according to the culture in which the pastor is presenting the message. Will there be hearer’s present who are post-modern thinkers?  Will there be audience members struggling with finances? How does the average hearer treat their children? What percentage of the congregation is single?  How many profess a relationship with Jesus Christ?  How many came just because it is Mother’s Day?  How many came because of special circumstances in their lives?  All these and more are questions a pastor may ask when preparing a sermon. (To know the right kind of questions to ask about culture in sermon preparation a pastor will spend a great deal of time during the week with people; both those inside the church and those outside the church).

Now comes the million dollar question:  Will the pastor tailor the message for insiders (the people who are there week to week)? or will he prep the message for outsiders (the people who may be present for the very first time)?  In essence will he be discipleship oriented or evangelistic?

I think we have convinced ourselves that the pastor can’t preach one sermon that is equally as relevant to both major types of people in the audience. The reason is a faulty paradigm that has entered into the Christian sub-culture. Many have rightly pictured the gospel as necessary for salvation, but have failed to also picture the gospel as necessary for sanctification (growth in Christ).  In essence, we are saved by grace, but work “on our own” after salvation to be more like Christ. While few would blatantly claim this to be true, it is non-the-less a prevalent thought in the way many practice and preach Christianity.

The outworking of such thought is an unfortunate side-stepping of the gospel in favor of a “moral of the story.”  In essence, the sermon becomes more like a fable than a message.  The scriptures are read with a deep desire to get straight to some sort of application like, “you shouldn’t lust” or “give to the poor.”  While there are many lessons to be learned from examples given us in scripture, we set people up for failure when we divorce the “moral” from the gospel message (in fact the outworking of this thought is legalism).

You see the gospel is actually everywhere in the Bible (The Old Testament included)!  Yet often we moralize the message and call it “meat.”  Don’t get me wrong.  The morals are there, but they aren’t there to show us how to live as much as how much we don’t live like we should.  The analogy to “face your giants” is actually just an expose on how you don’t face your giant like you should or the call to “get out of the boat” reveals that you are still in the boat.

So just because there is a moral to the story doesn’t mean that you can live up to it apart from Christ.  That is why believers need the gospel every sermon as much as unbelievers.  We tend to forget that Jesus left heaven for us and that the only way we will ever be able to fulfill the moral to the story is by faith in the only one who has ever perfectly fulfilled the moral of the story.  The truth is that no matter how hard you try you don’t have the power to conquire lust, greed, unforgiveness or any other sin in your life.  The moral just reflects how you have failed and even if you set out to achieve the moral you have to admit that you are starting from a position of failure.  You haven’t had the faith to face your giants in the past, how could you face them now with 3 easy points from the life of David?  This is self-help and it isn’t Biblical.  The gospel (and the Biblical message) is about God-help.  You can’t face your giants until you understand the one who stood in your place and faced the only real giant that could ever really kill you!  The gospel message is the only way that you will ever be able to have victory in your life.  It is the hope of “Christ in you” that gives you any kind of chance to actually overcome the sin in your life.

You can’t fight the sin in your life without the gospel. Don’t pretend that you have out grown it.  We need the gospel every day.  It is good for a pastor to sound more like an evangelist than an in-depth Bible teacher,  he maybe proclaiming what mature believers as well as unbelievers need to hear. If you think that you have moved beyond a need to hear the gospel in every sermon, you may want to reevaluate your motives… are you like those mentioned in I Corinthians 3 and 1 Timothy 1? The gospel continues to be good news long after we have first believed in Christ and it is what separates the Christian message from religion and other fables.

Halloween and the Great Commission: Why My Kids Dress Up for Candy, but Don’t Pretend in Santa

Just so you know, I don’t think holidays are evil.  But some Christians do have a hard time navigating the holidays.  They are troubled by Jack-o-lanterns, Santa Claus,  and the Easter bunny.  I guess we could add a few more holidays to the list, but we will keep it down to the big 3 just for the sake of time.

Why its a big deal: No doubt somewhere somebody once told you that all the “Christian” holiday’s  like Christmas and Easter are really just “pagan holidays.”  Christmas wasn’t really on December the 25th and that the Easter bunny is all about fertility, being twitter-pated, new life and stuff.  I know, I know, its disappointing to have your whole Christian holiday stuff upset by some great big “pagan conspiracy.”  Why did they have to go pick the “Christian” holidays, why couldn’t they have hijacked some other holiday like Grandparents Day? No, the pagans had to come and take our Christmas and Easter. Or did they?…

How it might of actually started I think it’s the Pagans that should be upset that we are talking so much about Jesus around their holidays.  I guess that’s how it really started.  Some pagan got up to say, “through these winter months we look with joy to the new life of spring,”  and a Christian in the room stood up and said, “let me tell you about how God loves us and when the world was dark and cold, God came in the flesh and dwelt among us.”  And later in the spring when they were sitting around talking about how new life springs out of dead things a Christian got up and said, “They killed Jesus, but he rose from the dead three days later!” All of the sudden these pagan holidays centered around pagan ideas were hijacked by Christians telling their wonderful stories about the incarnation and the resurrection of Jesus.  Yes, my friends, it is the pagans who have had their holidays hijacked… not the Christians.  Truth be told, I don’t know why we have a Christmas tree (nor do I care), but I do know why we have a manger.

The Real Danger: The real danger with “Christian” holidays is that we only think about the incarnation (birth of Jesus) and resurrection on holidays.  SEC football is a bigger threat to my kids than Santa Claus because I’m an Auburn fan.  The real danger is that I might look more excited about football for 4 months out of the year than I am about what Christ has done in my life.  The question isn’t, “do I make Christmas about Jesus or Santa?” The real question is, “do I make all of my life about Jesus?”  The real evil would be to tell my kids Santa isn’t real, tell the truth about Jesus, but forget about Jesus the other 11 months out of the year.

A Way Forward: I say we hijack all the holidays for the sake of the gospel… starting with Halloween.  I know it’s scary; kids all dressed up like witches and demons and stuff.  But think about it, when was the last time you were invited and expected to knock on every door in your neighborhood? (and rewarded with candy I might add!) It’s how we met most of our neighbors beyond just a few doors down.

You see there aren’t any front porches in my neighborhood, or side walks, or parks, most people park the car in the garage,  all of our backyards have 6 foot privacy fences, and most of our houses have TVs and computers so we never have to see each other.  But once a year, Halloween changes that and kids come to our house and we take our kids through the neighborhood. Halloween has become an avenue for relationships which is the avenue for the gospel.

I know, I know, your scared that the secret origins of Halloween now have a dark hold over my kids… Can I just say, “It’s not so.”  We serve a risen Savior who beat death, and destroys demons.  We dabbled more in the spirit world when we obeyed God, packed our bags and moved our family to Pensacola (trust me, my daughter had more nightmares and we wrestled through more demonic stuff in our obedience than we ever have with her dressed as a Strawberry).  It’s time that we worry more about the mission than the top-secret pagan origins of a holiday.

Where to draw the line:  I think the line on holidays looks different for each family.  We draw the line at deception or dishonesty to our kids.  We teach our kids that Santa  and the Easter bunny are not real.  We also teach that Satan and his demons are real.  Most importantly we teach that Jesus Christ has conquered death and is stronger than any demon will ever be.  One of our core values is the ability to discern truth from error.   We still teach a healthy amount of pretend and play.  Because we aim for this balance of truth and pretend we are a little weird.  The things we draw the line on are probably different than you family and that’s okay (you can be weird too!)

50 Reasons: To Learn Obedience and Be Perfected

The other day I mentioned that I would be reading Piper’s book “50 Reasons why Jesus Came to Die” between Easter and Pentecost. You can get the scoop here.

To Learn Obedience and Be Perfected

Have you ever really thought about the obedience of Christ before?  I think about learning obedience and the first thought that comes to mind is “quit being disobedient.”  Piper does a great job in drawing out that Jesus didn’t have any “disobedience” to get rid of.  He was perfect.  So how do you learn to be obedient if you are perfect?  Answer: You continue to do what you are asked to do, even when it is difficult.  Every step to the cross was a step of obedience to God’s plan to save sinners.  Christ was perfect, not only because he didn’t sin, but also because he always did the right thing.

Father,  I was reminded today that Christ is doubly righteous.  Not only was he without sin, but he was also completely obedient.  Your plan to use the cross to reconcile us to Yourself is becoming more and more clear.  Thank you for your amazing love and great plan to save all who would call out to you.

3 Christmas Meditations on Being a Parent.

One of the biggest concerns of parenting is keeping you children safe.  When you become a parent the world changes.  People you don’t know become STRANGERS (with a dark and sinister motives), electric sockets become LIVE WIRES (that threaten to electrocute your kid) and the stove becomes an INFERNO of DEATH (that threatens to burn or scald your child should they even look sideways at it). Ok… Ok… Maybe I have an overactive imagination, but you get the point.  Part of parenting is keeping kids safe.  It starts with the prenatal vitamins and goes from there.

This is all fresh for me because my wife and I just had the opportunity of welcoming our son (second child)  into the world a few short days ago.  It has been an emotional journey to say the least. Everything about the birth and delivery process was about as routine and casual as having a baby can get.  But as I read the Christmas story over the last few days a few things stuck out to me like never before.

1. Taking on the Risk of Giving (Luke 2:1-7)

For all practical purposes Jesus was born in a homeless shelter.  There was no room for them in the Inn at Bethlehem.  Mary and Joseph were travelers and though it was the place of Joseph’s lineage they were most likely strangers in town.

Mary and Joseph followed God even in the midst of what must have been a scary and troubling situation.  I am inspired by their courage to trust God through temporary circumstances in order to welcome Jesus into this world.  It was risky.  But I guess that is the point I am trying to make.  Jesus didn’t come to be safe, but to save.  Jesus wasn’t Mary and Josephs kid to hold on to, but to give away to the world.

It would be easy to look at my children born under different circumstances thousands of years and miles later and think it is all different for me.  Certainly my children won’t die on a cross for the sins of the world.  But maybe the were intended for more than me.  Psalm 127 compares children to arrows.  Arrows were not intended to remain in the quiver, but to be launched at the Enemy. Maybe children aren’t the kind of blessing you keep, but they are the kind of blessing you give and that involves risk.