Welcome Home Book
Welcome Home to Jesus
Part One: Belonging to Jesus
Where We Came From
Living Hope began as a church made up of three different congregations in 1987. Yes, we have a history of blended families, and as with all blended families, we have had our challenges.
It is easy and natural for a church to become a religious institution or organization. From our beginning, we sought to blend our three organizations together into one group. We sought to be family but we were, in all honesty, more organization than family.
Once a group has become an organization, it is nearly impossible to turn the group back into a family—it requires nearly a miracle.
The church Jesus envisioned was designed to grow around spiritual parents and elders; organizations men envision are designed to thrive on the success produced by leaders.
The difference between these two styles could not be more distinct. Parents by nature nurture their children to grow and then thrive so they can be all they were created to be. Spiritual parents, even elders, nurture spiritual children to develop relational character as they treasure God, His Word, and relationships above all else.
Leadership is an entirely different kind of discipline. Leaders focus on productivity. In church language, the productivity of “souls being saved” and the church ever growing in size and finances is the ultimate achievement of the organization.
The leader of a church is looking for “evangelical” success; a spiritual parent is looking for the development of relational character. We will explain relational character later, but in short relational character happens when a person is born anew, with Christ’s becoming the ultimate center of his or her life, and then she or he learns to live in relational love with others. To spiritual parents and a spiritual family, success is the result of living out this new birth in a genuine and daily relationship with others.
For leaders, success is the driving force, even though family-like metaphors and even practices may be employed. The “saving of souls” code for the growing of the church becomes the proof of right character. Once an organization has been “led,” it is difficult for the same group to then be turned into a family where the believers are relationally “discipled” to follow Christ. The family model of church takes too long to see the desired success.
Leaders have vision. This means they imagine an organization to be as big as possible. In church as an organization, you begin to manage people like a corporation. Decisions are made on the basis of profit and growth. Those who manage the church organization ask the questions, “Do the present ‘leaders’ have what it takes to get me to the next level, and if not, then are they expendable for the profit?” So leaders begin to think of church members as expendable for the greater purpose of growth and success.
Church led by spiritual parents and elders is a totally different group. Their main cause is not success, profitability, the “saving of souls,” the “re-charactering” of a people, and the attraction of as many as possible to the spiritual commodity the church is selling. If I were a father of six and I had a child who was less gifted than my other children and who was consuming my and the family’s time to help, I still would not consider getting rid of that child so I could have more.
I talk to many pastors about their vision and the decisions they make. Very seldom do any of them relate back what they are doing to a specific word or direction from God. It is just assumed that the will of God is more and more success and growth. Sometimes I press the question, “Did God ever personally call you to do what you are doing or was it just a success decision?” The answers I get are often disturbing because I wonder if the pastor has lost the ability to genuinely listen. Imagine if, for the sake of growing a family, someone decided greater success could be gained through polygamy!
From our vantage point, this was exactly what got Jesus executed—leaders who had a vision of religious success different from God’s.
I suppose when you hear me contrast the difference between leaders and spiritual parents, you would assume I am contrasting others against Living Hope. There was a time we planted and began building a family. In the merging of congregations, I sadly lost my way and we began leading and building an organization. This is an important part of our history. You must know that as I sought to build the organization, God reached down in His mercy and changed us.
I remember one pivotal night on the east coast, at the end of a small pastors’ gathering, when a preacher who had a great deal of celebrity in the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s, shared with us about his life change. He had decided to give his life to helping people comprehend what he termed the “agape love of God.” The three or four days I spent with him were really his teaching pastors the implications of “agape love” lived out in the life of the church. At the end of the meeting, he asked essentially if there were any pastors who were interested in opening their hearts and their lives to God’s “agape love.”
This was more than just, “God loves everyone and accepts everyone, no matter what.” It would take another book to explain the implications, but what it did mean is that to love someone meant he or she would never again need to do something for me in order to be valued. God’s “agape love” assesses value when there is no possible way for the one being loved to return value. The implications concerning what that means are staggering.
On that night, in that room, in front of those men, I remember being first on my feet uttering, “I’m in.” Those two words began a radical transformation in me. Those two words were like saying, “Jesus, You have my allegiance.”
I am and we are far from perfect, but God is restoring us bit by bit, making a family led by spiritual parents, what the Bible calls “spiritual fathers.”
Sadly, it took Jesus some time—some years—to turn us from three blended congregations who became an organization into a family.
Here is what we’ve learned along the way and through the process:
The church belongs to Jesus. He is the true Pastor.
The power of His church does not exist in the enormity of its size.
The goal of Jesus was never to make people behaviorally acceptable.
Eternal life is not what is experienced when right things are believed or right things are practiced.
The church Jesus builds must reflect to the world a sense of the love of God where every person within a church family matters deeply.
The church is the family we belong to, where we are taught to know and follow Christ. Hearing Christ’s voice as He speaks to our thoughts is a huge part of knowing Christ, and it is impossible to know Him and experience life apart from being able to hear His voice.
The church is a place where we learn together that whatever God says in His Word He will do, no matter what we may otherwise seem to be experiencing.
The church is the place where the Holy Spirit expresses comfort, restoration, and healing through every life-tragedy and trauma.
The local church is family, Jesus-family, and His family grows numerically by Holy Spirit-formed relationships. The success caused by these relationships is unstoppable.
Because our Father is a giver, the church is the most generous place on the face of the earth.
When we burned out on trying to blend three families together, when we burned out on seeking to fulfill my or our vision for the church, we then began to experience church, family, and Jesus in a whole different way.
Is this all a perfect experience? No, not close. Don't even expect it. We are flawed, messy, and learning, but in the middle of it all Jesus is causing us to find His life, His rhythms, and His love.
We are not the sum total of our numbers, our offerings, our accomplishments, nor our fame. We are the sum total of Jesus right in the middle of us.
Who are we? Our name says it best: “Living Hope.” This name many years ago was based on a verse out of Peter.
… He has caused us to be born again to a “living hope” through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead …
… because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead … we live with great expectation … 1 Peter 1:3 ESV, NLT
This name has literally defined us. It was not a name chosen to be clever, nor was it chosen by the pastor; it was born out of a season of prayer, and it has continued to define who we are.
We are a church who believes there is a never-ending living hope in Jesus. He is living hope, but to us He is also the Living Hope. His resurrection proved that, on our worst day, the day we feel abandoned and alone, God can still do something amazing.
We live and we exist to offer hope and great expectation to all, hope which lives and thrives in our hearts because of Jesus.
We are today a product, not just of our trials and errors, but also of devotion, hang-in-there love, and won't-quit affection. Let me be clear—I am speaking first of Jesus’ devotion, hang-in-there love, and won’t-quit affection.
Just as a side-note, we are made up of people who have gone before—giants in Christ, men and women who were loved by God and loved God shamelessly. To imagine we did something great apart from those whom God put before us would be to imagine in arrogance. Even if we were to mention their names, it would be a sacred act of admiration.
We are an acquired taste. We are not for everyone. We lose interest in doing things just to do things. We are not ambitious to become a certain kind of greatness, to be known in some kind of human way. We are, however, passionately stirred to pursue and know Christ and let Him build His family among us as we teach each other to follow Jesus.
We've Been Given
After my profound experience in God’s “agape love” on the east coast, another staggering event took place. I was in a small group with one of our “elders.” The word elder is the term we use for those who are appointed by God to be spiritual parents (Titus 1:5). It was one of those days when we were sharing God’s Word back and forth, talking about what God was showing us in our daily time with Him. By the way, this is a common experience among those who follow Jesus.
The elder, Joe, was talking about the prayer directive given to us by Jesus to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He was thinking about that phrase and was reminded that he didn’t need Jesus’ help on most days for “bread” or food—he had plenty in his pantry at home or money in his wallet to buy a burger. Why were we to pray “give us this day” when not every day required any additional help from God?
Joe then illuminated the passage. We pray to remind ourselves that nothing comes from us, not even our supply of food. We pray, “Give us this day,” to remind ourselves that even the food in our pantry comes from God. We may gather what God provides, but even our gathering abilities are a gift from God. Daily in prayer Jesus reminds us everything comes from God. Everything that goes into life comes to us from God.
This little discussion at a small group has been foundational to how we view everything in our lives. Jesus gives us everything we need when we need it.
Four Things You Should Know
Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know personally and intimately the One Who invited us to God. It’s the best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust (2 Peter 1:3-4 The Message).
There are four things you should know about us:
1) Everything we have has been miraculously given to us. It is true—everything about us is a miracle, and if you become a part of this family, you should expect God to do things for and through you that you could never do for yourself.
“Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us …” (2 Peter 1:3 The Message).
“I came to give life—life in all its fullness” (John 10:10 NCV).
2) Everyone gets a personal invitation. We do not grow en masse. We do not view our fellowship as a block of people we pastor. We view everyone as an individual person who belongs to a family. We invite personally and disciple personally all we can. The only time we might do anything en masse is an invitation to a church event. Once here, we want everyone to be treated as they are—a valued person who matters to us and Christ.
“… getting to know, personally and intimately, the One Who invited us to God” (2 Peter 1:3 The Message).
“On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, ‘Anyone who is thirsty may come to Me! Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, “Rivers of living water will flow from his heart”’” (John 7:37-38 NLT).
3) We have been given timeless promises. Our relationship is not based on guesswork, odd religious metaphors, or confusing practices. We have been given promises, and allowing those promises to groom the very way we think and view life is of the highest priority. We do not hope to get lucky and for some promise come to pass. We are absolutely confident that what Jesus said He would do, He will do.
“We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you…” (2 Peter 1:4 The Message).
“The Lord is not slow to do what He has promised, as some think. Instead, He is patient with you, because He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins” (2 Peter 3:9 GNB).
4) Everyone has a ticket to participate. Those who become a part of the Living Hope family have a place to participate, an essential place. As you jump in, begin to serve where you can, become a part of a Hope Group, attend the Redemption Seminar, and join in the daily Devotional Experience, you will begin to discover what Jesus has done in you and what great gifts He has given you. Together, as you jump in everywhere you can, we will discover your Christ-designed opportunities to have great impact.
“… your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust” (2 Peter 1:4 The Message).
“My sheep recognize My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I give them real and eternal life” (John 10:27-28 The Message).
An Acquired Taste
We say all of this to make a point. When you begin to attend Living Hope, we might at first seem like a church organization. It is a little like seeing a book on a bookshelf and assuming it is just a book. Then you open the book and discover each page is a three-dimensional pop-up book. Looking at it from the outside you assumed it to be one thing but once you opened it, well, another thing popped out at you.
Just in case you are wondering, we are not a family who runs a business together. We are a family. We are parented more than what is commonly experienced as leadership in our culture. Of course we lead, but we lead as parents, not by the success-driven leadership model common in our culture today. This is not a put-down of success-driven leadership. What it has done for organizations is a great blessing; it just does not produce “church.”
We are not driven by numbers nor the vision of trying to get “souls saved”; we are driven by seeking to make followers of Jesus out of those who are calling on His name. The “saving of a soul,” the personal receiving of eternal life can never be reduced to a transactional prayer, but rather it is a transformational relationship (John 17:3).
We cannot emphasize this more: to enjoy and experience all of this fully requires a born-again experience. Jesus told Nicodemus that in order for him to see the “Kingdom of God” he would need to be born again. Those who have not had their old heart replaced with a new heart from Jesus might not like a three-dimensional pop-up book of family-style church. They might prefer the flat page of print, the success by human “visioneering” and consumer-based spirituality of church as organization. I realize the way I just wrote the previous sentence might make you think I am putting down the style. I am not; there is something for everyone out there, something to meet everyone’s taste. Jesus can be offered to you on many different plates; none of them make Him less Jesus. However, here at Living Hope, there is a very specific plate with a very specific menu. Yes, we are sure you are going to love it, but we want to give you fair warning: it will take time to acclimate. When you finally open the book a little more deeply you will find the menu can be different, the service different, and the food highlighted with herbs. It may not be just like what you grew up with, but if you give it time and an open heart, you’ll grow to love it.
One more disclaimer: you will not love it because it is the best thing in town. Something far deeper will cause you to love it, something that will radically change you forever.
Imagine a Relationship
For a created human, any created human, to have a relationship with an uncreated God is a miracle.
Imagine, God, through Jesus, has invited us into not just a relationship with Himself but a personal relationship.
This is why He has given us these timeless promises, to bring us into a timeless, eternal-life kind of relationship with Himself.
“I Never Knew You”
In light of this relationship, the warning of Matthew 7:21-23 is sobering—we can do things for Him and address Him with respect calling Him “Lord,” but not actually “do the will” of the Father. It is possible to do mighty things for God, supernatural things, but not do His will, for God’s will is relational.
Not everyone who calls out to Me, “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of My Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to Me, “Lord! Lord! We prophesied in Your name and cast out demons in Your name and performed many miracles in Your name.” But I will reply, “I never knew you. Get away from Me, you who break God’s laws.” (Matthew 7:21-23 NLT)
Notice the one short, piercing phrase, “I never knew you.” This is referring to those who did things for God but never understood the actual will of God, which is relationship. Father seeks to know His children intimately and completely. There is no greater divine law, nor is there a more driving divine desire than to have a loving relationship with God.
For anyone to get their mind around the life God gives requires an absolute and complete change in the way one thinks. All life apart from God functions on performance, doing whatever it takes for a bit of security and a satisfying amount of significance. Jesus comes along to heal the mind so we can rethink His life, the life He has brought into our world.
This has been an earth-shattering revelation to me: God is relational, and more than my sacrificial life of performing religious duties, God wants an intimate relationship with us, spending quality time with us, having a personal conversation with us, doing life with us.
Those who have a relationship with God end up having the way they think completely changed. To enter into God's world is to enter into a whole new way of thinking. If Jesus, in our western way, would have preached a message on “How Father Changes a Life,” His first point would have been “repent.”
“From that time, Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:17 ESV).
Repentance doesn't mean to feel bad about something you have done. It doesn’t mean to say “I’m sorry” or even to confess sin, nor to profess one’s faith in Jesus. This word repentance is gravely misunderstood. Even in the New Living Translation, watch what they do with the verse I have quoted above: “Repent of your sins and turn to God …” In the Greek text, there is no word for “sin,” nor can you find the phrase “turn to God.” The translators add the words to the text in an attempt to interpret the word “repent.” There is no doubt that repentance will ultimately lead to those actions, but it does not in any way refer to one of those actions. Repentance comes first and is the beginning step to any life change in Christ.
The word repentance in Scripture means to change the way you think. Before Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God was at the center of their lives and thinking. He was in the middle of every thought. One day, Adam and Eve decided to have a conversation without God at the center of their thinking. They entertained thoughts which led to having a conversation which led to doing a certain action. All of this living outside of God led to the first sin.
Repentance is to change the way you think. Instead of self being at the center of our thoughts and God left or pushed to the outside, repentance means one brings God back into the center of one’s thinking.
Repentance would work something like this: we hold every thought up to the light of His presence. We hide nothing from Him nor do we leave Him out. His presence, His Holy Spirit, and His Word become consciously and intentionally the core of all our thinking. Our day is full of, “What do You think, Jesus?” and, “Lord, what is Your mind on this matter?” and, “What does Your Word say?” It is like taking a satellite dish and constantly aiming it at God to hear His thoughts and mostly His questions as He seeks to walk with us.
To have God at the center of our thinking does not mean we think about sin or right behavior the same way God does. It means we think our thoughts before God and in His presence so all our thinking becomes bathed in His loving goodness.
I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it when He paraphrases 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.”
Whenever you’re reading along in the Bible and you come to the word “obey,” you are reading far more than just doing what you are told. The word “obey” means to “listen under authority.” Repentance and obedience are cousin words getting at the same thing from different directions. To experience God’s life, we must stop listening to and bowing down and giving honor to our own voice. Voice is the metaphor God often uses for thoughts. Repentance and obedience are literally bowing under the authority of God’s voice and allowing His voice, thoughts, or words to change the way you think.
Adam and Eve took a day off and rebelled against God’s thoughts ruling in their minds. Repentance is to change the way one thinks and to return to how we were originally created, to once again choose God’s thoughts, God’s Word, as that which governs how we think.
Repentance is such a great gift. It is not something earned; it is something God graciously gives.
"God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel ... " (Acts 5:31 ESV).
He gives this repentance by creating in our hearts a “godly grief” or sorrow. This means we look at our sin and behavior much differently. Instead of having worldly sorrow—being sad we got caught—we have “godly sorrow”—being grieved by how sin has wounded relationship with God and destroyed the love of others. Anyone can reject “godly sorrow” and turn it into worldly sorrow, but it is God Who produces “godly sorrow” within, and that “godly sorrow” leads people to change the way they think. Once the way we think is changed, salvation is experienced.
"For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV).
Finally, God “grants” or gives a change of thinking so our thoughts become capable of having an intimate relationship with the truth. Many use facts to hurt, wound, and destroy. God gives those who think rightly a relationship with the truth so they can express the wonder and the grace of God in amazing ways.
"God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by Him to do His will" (2 Timothy 2:25-26 ESV).
Those who repent—change the way they think—will find it necessary to spend time listening to Jesus’ voice. It is much like being on a journey, on a road with Jesus. Together and only together can He get you and, more importantly all of us, to our destination. No one can ever change a habit or a life without first changing the way he or she thinks.
Taking some part of our day and separating it to Jesus is essential. There is something about taking even just twenty-four minutes and using that time to listen to Jesus that will change the way you think for the rest of the day.
Time with Jesus doesn’t just happen. Those who begin need some kind of structure. Certainly the structure and habit of daily time with Jesus will adapt to your own relationship with Christ, but we have found this method to be a great place to begin your journey:
How We Do R.O.A.D.
Find a quiet place to read and write. Hopefully it can be the same place, a comfortable place, a place free from reminders of stuff you need or want to do. We live in a culture without impulse control, so just twenty-four minutes, for those without impulse control, can seem like a lifetime. Ask for Jesus’ help, hang in there, resist the devil by submitting to God, and you will get God’s help to do this.
Begin by reading a passage of Scripture. Where you read is not as important as reading some passage every day.
Here is what we know about choosing a Bible reading plan. First, those who follow a plan have the best chance of being consistent over a long period of time. Second, we have discovered being on a plan with others is as encouraging as it is inspiring, and those who do so are even more consistent over the long term. If you read the same passages with others, you can share insights from a common passage, share Jesus in a common way, and grow deeper.
Living Hope has a plan. It usually averages somewhere between 20-35 verses a day. The plan is accompanied with a review of each chapter, called Bible Helps, to aid everyone more fully to understand what he or she is reading.
To find the plan, download the Living Hope app or pick up a paper copy of the plan in the church lobby.
As you read, you will usually observe some portion of the passage with special interest. Usually this happens as something stands out or grabs your attention. When you find something in a passage that interests you on any level, mark it, highlight it, and begin to ask God questions about what has captured your interest. He may not answer the question immediately, but I have discovered that all my questions, as I keep thinking my thoughts before Him, get answered. Interest in something the Bible is saying is one way that God communicates with us and starts stirring us into thought-transformation.
Interest is created many different ways, as you might see something that speaks to something you are going through, or it might simply create a “What could that mean?” question—however interest is created, God will use it.
Here are some ways God creates interest:
You feel unsettled about something you have read and feel a need to understand it.
You feel convicted by something you’re reading because it is introducing a thought contrary to yours.
You are reading something that confirms something else you recently heard.
You sense an unusual peace and rest coming to your heart as you read a specific passage.
You realize what you are reading is addressing a similar tragedy or trial you have had or are going through.
You realize what you are reading is a similar experience to what you are experiencing.
You are flooded with joy and a rush of praise as you consider a certain passage.
You are given a sense of hope for your future as you ponder a passage.
You sense the verse is being directed personally right at you from God for this very moment.
At this point, you are reading to answer the passage or portion of Scripture which has gotten your attention. This would be the portion you have highlighted. As you listen to God’s answer, it will transform the way you think, little by little, day by day.
What we mean by answering is to let God answer the deepest question of your heart and the most important answer to your every question. This is where thought-transformation begins and grows.
God is love; He loves us so much that He gave us His Son. He loves us so deeply that He has adopted us as His children and has determined that we will be treated exactly like His Son, Jesus (1 John 4:16; John 3:16; Ephesians 1:4,5; Romans 8:15-17).
We have a brand new identity; it is based on being a loved part of His family. His love for us will never change, no matter what. Here is what we can know for sure: whatever God is saying comes from a heart of unchanging love. This love is not based on our performance nor our worth. His love for us is based on His unchanging character. Whatever question the passage of Scripture you are reading is answering, it is answering it in love. We do not do something to get God’s love; we do something because we have been undone by His love. Once the Good News of God’s unearned love transforms the way you think, you will have experienced repentance, and your whole life will radically change.
We have written a list of statements below. Look and ponder your highlighted verse. Next, ask the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts. Finally, complete one of the statements below with thoughts coming into your mind.
Jesus, You love me so much that You …
Jesus, You love (name of person or persons) so much that You …
Jesus, You love me so much that I sense You are leading me to …
Jesus, You love me so much that You are revealing to me …
Jesus, You love me so much that You are leading me to confess to You that I have …
It is important for you to know what you are writing is not a word for word or thought for thought dictation of God’s voice. People who trend down such a road usually fall prey to deception.
What you have there is how the Holy Spirit is touching your thoughts to think about God. These are your thoughts, the very thoughts you honestly think about God and certain subjects into which God is seeking to speak.
Some may be right on, but some might be a degree or two off. What happens over time as you continue to read God’s Word is He will fine-tune your mind to capture what Christ is thinking. Eventually, you will read what you have written, then read it to others and discern what God is communicating to you concerning His love, will, and direction to you.
By the way, as you grow in devotions, you may do totally different things when it comes to what you journal, but this is a great place to start. If you are not saturated in how much God loves you based on Jesus and not your performance, it is impossible to change the way you think.
Lastly, the reason we call this part of the R.O.A.D. “Answering” is because you will find as you walk out your life with Jesus that He often, if not most of the time, will speak to you in question form. God is not so much about controlling your life as coaching your heart. The lawless need control, but those following Jesus need to be transformed to be like Jesus. Not all the time, but a lot of your time with Christ will be spent answering His questions.
After you have taken some time to journal, Father has given us a daily way to devote our lives to Him afresh. He has given us a prayer. The prayer Jesus gave us with the charge, “Pray like this,” is a sort of outline prayer under which anything we would ever need to pray can be prayed. This prayer is not so much a prayer that should be recited, but it serves as an outline.
We encourage you to consider the Lord’s Prayer as your daily prayer of devotion to God.
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one;
for Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.
Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)
Notice the Lord’s Prayer begins by devoting your entire being to God.
Declare Yahweh as the ultimate center of your life.
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.”
Call for the known will of God to be done, especially based on what you wrote in your journal for that day.
“Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.”
Request and depend upon the Lord for every provision.
“Give us this day our daily bread …”
Confess and Reconcile
Confess your sin to God and then restore every relationship and forgive every offense committed against you.
“… and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Ask the Lord to keep you from every circumstance that would stir up lust.
“And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
Give to God the full right to be King, the complete power to rule and all the accolades for your every accomplishment.
“For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.”
This is not a prayer to be recited; this is a prayer providing an outline for us to pray from. As Jesus leads you daily in prayer, may He use this prayer to powerfully shape your life and future as God responds to your invitations.
Practicing Hope One
Father, by Your grace make me an allegiant follower who spends the first and best part of my day with You, reading Scripture, listening to You, and obeying Your voice. No matter how much or little time I have, empower me to begin it with You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
What Is Faith?
We have consistently observed this truth over the years: those who listen to Jesus consistently are transformed by Jesus inwardly. To learn to hear Jesus’ voice will be the most important work of your life. It is impossible to follow Jesus and not listen to Jesus. It is impossible to hear what He is saying without learning to contemplate a bit.
To imagine belonging to Jesus and not listening to Jesus is to reduce following Jesus to a mere religion.
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27 ESV).
"This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent” (John 6:29 NLT).
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 ESV).
Those who follow, hear; those who hear, believe; those who believe are doing “the work,” the only work God commissions His followers to do. Do not be deceived; faith is work—the greatest and maybe most difficult work anyone ever will do.
This leads us to the next essential question: what is faith?
For most, faith implies a really strong belief or believing of something with great conviction. However. at the heart of the Greek word for faith is the thought of allegiance or devotion. Just to believe Jesus did or said or will do something is not necessarily faith as Jesus meant faith.
To devote yourself to Jesus as the King of your life is the act which will radically change everything about you. Certainly, to be devoted to Jesus includes believing, but devotion to Jesus is the giving of your complete life to Him. To give your allegiance to Jesus unleashes God's grace in your life and allows you to walk in Kingdom-saved life.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV).
Matthew Bates wrote a book titled, “Salvation by Allegiance Alone.” In his book, while defining the Greek word for faith (pistis), He makes the point that faith means allegiance, and more specifically, allegiance to Jesus as King. The word “faith” has more to do with our loyalty than our believing of certain doctrines.
"The gospel and Paul’s mission are aimed at bringing about embodied allegiance to Jesus the king among the nations.” [and] "Declaration of allegiance results in a forgiving release from the power of sin, so that it is possible to maintain allegiance by the Holy Spirit."
Faith, allegiance to Christ, comes as we give our loyalty and allegiance to His Word. This means we do not merely read some sacred or historical text. We do not merely listen casually to some sermon explaining the text. Allegiance or faith comes as we listen to Jesus’ speaking to our hearts from the text. Walking by faith is to walk in full allegiance to the Word of our King no matter what our eyes are telling us (2 Corinthians 5:7). The more you read, meditate on, and pay attention to God's Word, the more you will notice that He keeps His Word, His Word never fails, and His Word is timeless, and the more you will hear Jesus’ speaking to your heart.
By meditate, we do not mean the same as what other religions mean, where mediation involves some kind of “de-thinking” process and a listening to the life-energy or force around you.
Jesus teaches something radically different. He is not an impersonal force. He is not asking you to tap into your internal voice and empty your mind of thoughts and discover your inner voice. Jesus is calling on you to put your full allegiance in His Word, consider His Word, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you from His Word. Allegiant listening or faith is God’s answer to religious meditation. Those who give moments of their day to allegiant listening faith will discover a deep and meaningful relationship with God. When you walk in relationship, you will find a grace to live God's life in God's way, experiencing the power of His Kingdom.
The Greatest Work
The greatest work you will ever do is give your heart’s allegiance to Jesus and His Word.
At Living Hope, we are not asking you to give yourself to Living Hope, but to give your whole heart and allegiance to Jesus. Let your belief in God come from your allegiance to Christ.
Practicing Hope Two
Father, by Your grace I ask You to make me one who faithfully attends the Sunday worship service to become an integral part of Your Body. Keep me from being one who neglects to gather with Your people. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Part Two: Belonging to Jesus' Church
Beyond Purpose and Interest
To belong to Jesus is to belong to His church. To be “in Christ” is to be in His church.
“Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). We have literally been baptized into Christ and put on Christ, not only mystically and spiritually but physically (Galatians 3:27).
Some would say they love Jesus but hate the church. That’s not really possible; to hate the church is to hate Jesus. Our ability to see Jesus in the middle of His imperfect church is at the heart of living by faith. So tight is Jesus with His church that when He was rebuking Paul for persecuting His church, He asked, “Why are You persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4)
Church is not some ethereal term used to describe some kind of flimsy attachment to something mysterious out there that we call church. No one is “in” just because they imagine themselves “in.” The word “church” comes from a Greek word that means “gathering.” So to be in a church means to be “in a gathering”—not a gathering where one chooses based on likes and dislikes, but the gathering where God places.
In Paul’s letters, he refers to those who belong to the church as members—not members of a club or a group but attached members of a body. Arms and legs do not jump from place to place, but they are instead attached by God’s creative touch right where He wants them. Paul says in one of his letters, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose” (1 Corinthians 12:18 ESV).
Even the Psalmist, when speaking of people as trees, claims that “they are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God” (Psalm 92:13 ESV).
We must especially be aware that to be severed from Christ’s church does not make one more liberated. N.T. Wright says it well:
“We need to learn again the lesson (to take St. Paul’s image of the Body of Christ) that a hand is no less a hand for being part of a larger whole, an entire body. The foot is not diminished in its freedom to be a foot by being part of a body which also contains eyes and ears. In fact, hands and feet are most free to be themselves when they coordinate properly with eyes, ears, and everything else. Cutting them off in an effort to make them truly free, truly themselves, would be truly disastrous.”
Wright, N. T.. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (p. 203). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
One day, a pastor friend called and wanted me to consider pastoring a quite large and prominent church in another city. The church came with all the success amenities essential for potentially making the church iconic. The allure of salary, home, and influence were capable of seducing just about any leader. The decision to leap or not to leap was not even a hard one. I knew where I had been planted; I knew where God had arranged my life to be connected.
I have watched people who, for the sake of money, make business choices over the years and depart for other cities based on the cause of a job. I watched as many of them had a little bit of their heart taken away from them. It is not that God can’t do the miracle of moving someone somewhere else and planting them in a different place, but the point is that God must do the moving, the planting, and the arranging—not the ambition for a greater job.
If God does the planting and the arranging, what is God planting and arranging us in?
Organized but Not Organization
Most of what we do around here is organized. Some people are given responsibility to be organized so life can flow from member to member and then to the world we are called to love and serve.
Here is what you might not know about us: we are not primarily an organization.
An organization is a group of people who exist to accomplish a specific purpose; they share an objective to accomplish. The Red Cross is a great organization; it serves a specific purpose. The same with the American Cancer Society or Amnesty International, and you get the point. Each of these organizations has a vision statement, and they exist to accomplish great purposes.
There are clubs which differ from organizations. Those who belong to clubs focus on a shared interest. When I was in high school, there was a speech club, debate club, drama club, chess club, ski club, and the list went on. Sports teams are basically clubs; they gather around a specific interest.
The church Jesus has built has many interests, but the church is not a club. The church Jesus has built is organized and has purpose, but it is not an organization or an interest club. Scripture describes it much differently.
If the church is not a club or an organization, how could the church Jesus has built be described?
Let’s work through some of the metaphors the Holy Spirit has used to describe the church. It might clear things up a bit.
We Are His Body
As a young person, I had two church experiences. In both situations, the pastors, whom I passionately loved and respected, were fired or made to resign. In both circumstances, I was devastated and broken-hearted. One pastor was the pastor of my childhood years, and the other was my pastor during my high school years. After the second pastor was fired, I determined that I would not do what I had been called to do from the time I was five—pastor.
It was in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where my perspectives of the church were renewed. When I caught a glimpse of what Jesus was seeking to build, what His church was really all about, I was drawn back to the Jesus people to serve the Jesus company. What I caught in Ephesians were the metaphors Paul used to describe the church Jesus had promised to build.
We Are His New Humanity (Ephesians 2:15)
We Are His Citizens of His Kingdom (Ephesians 2:19)
We Are Part of His Eternal Family (Ephesians 2:19)
We Are His Home (Ephesians 2:22)
We Are His Body (Ephesians 1:23; 2:16; 3:6)
1. His "New Man"
We Are His New Humanity (Ephesians 2:15 NLT)
"He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in Himself one new people from the two groups."
We live in the same old bodies we had before we gave our hearts to Jesus, but we, as His church, are a brand new humanity, a new race of people. No matter how different, how varied we are from each other, we have more in common with those in the body of Christ than we do with those with whom we share common interests. Goals, race, and gender do not create a tighter bond than being in Christ and being a part of His new humanity. I am Christ's before I am white or American or anything else. I am a part of a “new race,” and the “new race” I am a part of identifies who I am before any other marker.
Our sense of belonging to the “new Jesus humanity” is much greater than my other bond to any other group.
To be a part of Christ's "new humanity" is to be a part of a group of people who exist to live with Father as the relational center of everything, and we live within this new humanity and race as the firstfruits of all God is birthing as we await the new heaven and new earth to come.
2. His Kingdom
We Are His Citizens of an Entirely Different Kingdom (Ephesians 2:19 NLT)
"So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people."
The Father made Jesus the King over His created universe. Right now He is righting everything wrong with the planet we have destroyed through idolatry and sin.
We are no longer citizens of the realm who exploit the world for pleasure, self-interest, and greed. We are citizens of the Kingdom where Christ is King and loving kindness and the eternal goodness of God reign over all. While we live on earth, we also, more truthfully and more consciously, live in Christ. We live more literally in the Kingdom of heaven He rules. The Kingdom we now live in, the Kingdom of heaven, will someday rule the entire created universe.
3. His Family
We Are Part of His Eternal Family (Ephesians 2:19 NLT)
"You are members of God’s family."
Not only are we His body and have become a brand new humanity or race, but we are also family.
Yahweh is our Father, and He loves and cares for us. Christ is perfect, and through Him we are made children of God. We are not relatively a part of God's family; we are “positionally” and immediately His children. We have constant access to Him, and we call Him "Daddy." Wow! (Romans 8:15) We are not merely citizens of a heavenly city; we are also adopted into His immediate family. We're His kids (Ephesians 1:5).
4. His Home
We Are His Home on Earth (Ephesians 2:22 NLT)
"Through Him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit."
Here is the mind-blowing truth: we are to be the very place on earth where God lives, where God touches earth, where heaven opens and Father touches down. We are to be His home.
The church was put together living-stone by living-stone. We are, stone by stone, built into a temple, a place where God's presence abides and makes His home.
5. His Body
We Are the Visible Expression of His Body on Earth (Ephesians 2:16 NLT)
"Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus." Ephesians 3:6 NLT
We are organized but not an organization; we are a living organism. We don't have a purpose—we are purpose. Our purpose is living and breathing; our purpose is Jesus and His purpose is us. Just like the Way, the Truth, and the Life are not things because Jesus is actually the Way, the Truth, and the Life, so the plan of God is personal: His Plan is Jesus.
Our organization does not make us who we are; the Holy Spirit makes us His body—a moving, living body, a connected body which cannot be separated. Someone lives in us, and He keeps us in a love-bond with Himself and with one another that is unbreakable. Yes, He has interests, and yes, He has a purpose, and yes, He is organized, but more than having those things, Jesus is God's purpose, and His purpose lives in a body, and His purpose to touch and serve the world is not merely spiritual—it is physical and personal.
Watch how God moves from the macro to the micro. First, we are a “new race” of people. Then we are called citizens of a city or kingdom; next we are referred to as a part of His family, and then the focus becomes a home. We are the place where heaven opens and God lives visibly on earth. God moves from macro—race of people—to micro—a temple in the city and then His church as His body, so that He can touch everyone He can through us. What God is doing through Christ with His church is global and yet personal in nature, at every level.
The church is not an idea, a club, or an organization. The church is a whole new culture right down to the very home He lives in—us. Only God could have done something so amazing, changing the entire world beginning with His church.
Practicing Hope Two
Father, by Your grace I ask You to make me one who faithfully attends the Sunday worship service to become an integral part of Your Body. Keep me from being one who neglects gathering with Your people. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Not Me but Us
God loves and saves individuals but places and baptizes them into His family, so those many individuals make up one Body. Each person is arranged in the Body by God's choice. My arm did not decide to be my arm; God arranged and made it so.
The Bible is clear: everyone remains an individual, but every individual makes up the one Body of Christ. Jesus’ Body becomes one as each person connects to Christ relationally and then becomes what God has made him or her to be (1 Corinthians 12:13,18,27; Romans 12:5).
This is not some kind of rhetoric: "I got saved and somehow mystically belong to the church but am not committed.” These verses in Ephesians are talking about people who have actually had their lives radically changed by being immersed into a new culture. Christ is at the center of this new culture, and they now belong individually to His new culture and become one in Christ, one with other members of His Body, but do not lose their individual design.
His church is tangible, visible, and experiential; its members are not just attendees, not just adherers of religious duty, and certainly not merely an interest group or an organization.
In Paul's mind, to be an individual designed by God and one with the Church is the essential experience of walking with and following Jesus.
“Up” and “On”
Oddly, the primary calling of the church is not to accumulate as many numbers as possible. Nor is the prime interest of the church to build an attractive worship or ministry enterprise.
Unusually, the church is not even called to build "church." The Church is to build on (1 Corinthians 3:10) or to build up (1 Corinthians 14:12,26; 2 Corinthians 10:8,10; Ephesians 4:12,16,29), but never to do the actual building of the Church. God, through Christ, has already built the Church. In actuality, we can at best only build on and up from what Jesus has already built.
The Church was built by One alone—Jesus. “Starting” or “planting” churches can be dangerous terms if we mean by those terms that we are starting or planting something other than what Jesus has already built.
Jesus plainly said, "I will build My church" (Matthew 16:18).
If we mean by “starting” and “planting” that we are building up and on what He, Jesus, has already built, then we are safely using those terms. If we mean by “starting” and “planting” that we are doing something comparatively different from other churches, those less-adequate churches, those churches not as attractive as the one we are building or planting, then we may be abusing the terms. If we are building something other than what Jesus has built, then it is impossible at the same time to call it church.
Where Does Your Pastor Work?
There are two words which might help demonstrate the difference between church and organization—“study” and “office.” To best understand Living Hope, let us go back and talk about the place where a pastor works.
Men and women with highly developed business skills and minds have begun to occupy rooms formerly called the “study.” In the 60’s, the sign on the pastor's door would have read “Pastor’s Study.” If you wanted to see the pastor in those days, you would not have gone to his office; you would have gone to his study. The main task of the pastor in former times was to study the Word of God and spend his best hours and most energetic activity interpreting the Scriptures, praying, and meditating.
The goal of the first century pastor was to explain the Word of God and equip the church to follow Jesus. He did all of this as he discovered Jesus’ will, through interpreting Old Testament Scripture and prayer.
The entire ambition of the church was to minister the Word of God with signs and miracles following (2 Corinthians 12:12). To “minister” meant to serve God’s Word to people by telling them what God had said and then to allow them to witness God’s miraculous response to His words. This was the pattern of Jesus’ ministry (Acts 2:22). The explosive nature of explaining what God had said and done and the outpouring of Holy Spirit miracles was the natural form the church took.
At some point things shifted, the word "study" was taken down, and the word "office" was used in its place. The pastor's main objective became leadership and management. If the pastor had enough capital, then he might hire a research team to study and develop creative ideas for her or his weekend presentation. Prayer, meditation, and scrutiny of the text may not be her or his highest priority. Apart from deeply considering Scripture and aptly discerning Christ's voice, messages and programs easily evolved into inspirational “step-help” talks related to problems and frustrations people commonly experience.
Here could be some potentially common sermons you might hear from a more step-help styled presentation:
"Space" — a sermon on steps to take in order to build time-margins in your life.
"Fit" — a sermon on steps to take to become a spiritually strong person.
"Through" — a sermon on steps to take to get through tough times someone might be facing.
"Friend Request" — a sermon on steps one must take to build meaningful relationships.
"Divine Direction" — a sermon on steps to take to secure divine direction for your life.
Notice that in all these sermons the goal is steps the listener can take to fulfill a need or acquire a skill. These sermons would not take hours of study, prayer, and meditation. These sermons would not need to be aimed at helping listeners better grasp or even comprehend Scripture. These sermons could all be preached with complete indifference to the story of God running all through Scripture. These sermons would be aimed at helping the listener become a better person or at least better at doing something. These sermons would help people become “nice.” While they could be riddled with Scripture, they may not be explaining Scripture.
Those pastors who have abandoned study, prayer, and meditation as their primary focus and gone to developing leadership and successful lifestyle skills work hard at making all things relevant, especially God. While producing a marketable spiritual product to attract people, they also seek to provide tips to becoming a better and more successful person.
If you think we in any way would disparage a church run more like a business, you would be wrong. We are merely observing what has happened, attaching no moral assessment. I am observing that there has been a shift, and the shift has been quite an effective shift. Never in American history have there been so many large churches. We must conclude the shift away from a "study" to an "office" has produced favorable results.
Replacing “Scripture exposition” with “step-help” has also proved to produce incredibly fruitful attendance results. (By “Scripture exposition” we mean exposing the truth of Christ and His story in the Scripture through preaching.) There is no way I would trivialize such results and no way I would label it anything other than what it has been—highly successful. Many have heard about Christ and many are following Jesus in these places.
However, every church has to be true to itself, so understanding Living Hope’s identity is essential for those who participate.
We are more like those who go into the “study” to wrestle with Scripture, prayer, and meditation. We are not so good at step-help; we are called to expose Scripture to the heart and prepare people to discern the voice of Jesus as He speaks to their hearts. Then we must release His body to profoundly take His voice into the world with Holy Spirit-size effects, affirming what is being spoken.
Two of Jesus' mandates especially drive us:
Sheep Who Listen
“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27 NLT
Followers Who Belong
“On the last day many people will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, we spoke for You, and through You we forced out demons and did many miracles.’ Then I will tell them clearly, ‘Get away from Me, you who do evil. I never knew you.’” Matthew 7:22-23 NCV
First, we seek to help those who know the “steps” but can't or haven’t heard the voice and are passionate to hear it. To follow requires listening. To listen is to become practiced at discerning the thoughts of Jesus within our own minds.
Second, we realize that we can do the “steps” and still not know Jesus. This means, according to Jesus, that it is possible to do the steps and be separated from God. To know the steps, to do the stuff, but not know the One guiding the steps can still create a life not fully free of spiritual danger. We do not deny that there can be great success learning the ethics of Jesus and doing the “steps.” We also cannot deny that we could know the ethics, do the “steps,” and still not know Christ. We are here for the crowd who want to know Jesus personally, intimately, fully. We believe those who know and hear are an explosive force in the earth.
Why is knowing Christ important? We know how powerful evil is because every time we are offended, we are capable of anger, betrayal, avoidance, even gossip, no matter how well we know the ethics and do the “steps.” We want to make sure we hear Jesus’ voice and allow Him to know us intimately. We realize that apart from an intimate relationship with Christ, we are more capable of evil than we had ever imagined. Knowing Christ intimately humbles us, sensitizes us, and makes us capable of compassion and forgiveness in miraculous dimensions.
Apart from knowing Christ, we find that good things can become idols and quickly become bad things. Without knowing Christ, being deceived by sin or aiming at the wrong mark (Hebrews 3:13) or being deceived by greed (Luke 12:19) is not only possible but likely. Without knowing Christ, our ambitions can deceive us into imagining they are from God. Our desires can deceive us into thinking they are from God, or worse yet, that God is winking at our sinful actions.
Because of those two mandates, Living Hope is a church dedicated to helping each other listen to and know Jesus. It is our first priority—our main objective. All other success forms a line behind "raising up lifelong learners."
So success here looks a bit different. It may take longer to realize, but do not doubt that, once birthed, it will remain (John 15:5).
The question, of course, becomes, how do we build up and on? How do we build up and on what Jesus has already built, His Church?
— By fulfilling Christ's "Great Commission."
The church has one absolute commission from Christ. In short, that commission is to make disciples by teaching them to observe all that Christ taught.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV).
The phrase "make disciples" in the Greek is one word, “mathetes”. It may be best understood as an “apprentice,” but the word is so much more. Ryan Dillon has given a paraphrase to the word which I think best captures the meaning of it: "to raise up lifelong learners who have pledged their allegiance to Me."
There it is—the longing of Christ: "to raise up lifelong learners."
Just as Jesus watched and listened to His Father, so we are called to raise up others to listen to and watch Jesus.
So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself. He does only what He sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does" (John 5:19 NLT).
"I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught Me" (John 8:28 NLT).
Every church plants his or her flag on a hill. They have one focused call, one grand cause around which all others are built. For some churches it might be worship, some discipleship, some the teaching of the Word; for some it might be evangelism, or for others missions or church planting. I have never talked to a pastor who did not have a cause around which all others are built.
Our grand cause can be best stated: "to raise up lifelong learners." If you want our clever mission slogan, it would be to raise up a people who:
"walk with Jesus,”
so we can
“love His church,”
so we can
“suffer for others”
so we can
“rejoice in all Jesus has done.”
These four stanzas become the litmus test for all we do here at Living Hope. Every ministry, all we engage in is measured against these four lines.
Does this inspire people to “walk with Jesus” by listening deeply to Him?
Does our walking with Jesus create a Jesus-size “love for His church” in our hearts?
Does our “walking with Jesus” and our “love for His church” create in us a passion to suffer for those who are neighbors to us and are hurting?
Does the sum total of our “walking with Jesus,” our “love for the church,” and our “suffering for others,” create a “rejoicing in all Jesus has done”?
Clever words aside, we believe everyone who takes time to strive to listen to Jesus as they encounter Him in Scripture will naturally do great things—miraculous, raining-down-from-heaven, great things. We believe we can do all kinds of good things for Jesus, but apart from "walking with" Jesus, the miracle kind of good things is impossible. Those who become "lifelong learners," fully allegiant to Christ, can do good things with Jesus—things beyond mere human ability.
So our commission, or CO-MISSION, we share together is to raise up lifelong learners who are in full allegiance to Christ.
Raising Up Lifelong Learners
We face four specific challenges when considering "raising up lifelong learners," so we ask four key questions:
What are the tools given to each person, enabling them to connect and grow in Christ and then to serve our hurting world?
What talents has Jesus given every follower, enabling them to have great impact in loving and serving our hurting world?
What approach could we take to touch the lives of others to inspire growth, but at the same time not trap them in the grip of legalism or control?
What kind of tone can we use to keep our culture honoring and full of love?
Our challenges, then, are:
Activating the TOOLS
Unleashing the TALENT
Defining the TOUCH
Redeeming the TONE
Activating the TOOLS
When we say tools, we think of those inner tools Christ has given all followers to help in their quest of being fully allegiant-to-Jesus lifelong learners. Our desire is to help every single "Jesus-learner" become really good at using these tools. This is not meant to be, in any way, a complete list; it is more a foundational list.
Foundational to everything we do is the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Christ. He is ever with us, ever in us, ever empowering us to live. His presence is ground zero for abundant living, not things. His presence brings us close to Himself and to others, creating a life of incredible joy.
The key to Christ’s being the ultimate center of our lives and hearts is prayer. Prayer is an expression of trust and open honesty. Prayer is the gift God gives us to be in immediate communication with Him at all times. Prayer is the word that describes all of our communication with God, from personal contemplation, to singing worship with others, to everything in between.
Scripture itself is an amazing tool and gift from God. It is not only the inspired voice of God written on pages, but it is the text from which Jesus best speaks to His followers. From these Scriptures, Jesus comforts, leads, promises, and the list goes on and on. By personalized Scripture, we mean those Scriptures which God speaks deeply into our hearts as a now truth for a present situation. This tool, like every other, is essential.
Lastly, there is a team around us. This team sees our potential, and we see the potential in our team. Those people around us who encourage us, stir us, share His word with us, pray for us, and cry with us are powerful tools in the hands of the Holy Spirit. As a team, we reflect Jesus, unleash His potential in our lives, and accomplish the amazing.
All four of these tools are essential, but how are they built into the life of others? This is where discipleship comes in. These tools must be developed personally and with the help of others.
Later, we will discuss the discipleship “touch.” The discipleship “touch” is how the body helps develop and strengthen these great tools God has given us. When these tools are fully developed, then we are able to unleash "works of service."
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV).
When Paul considered the Great Commission given the twelve disciples by Jesus, he obviously and deeply pondered the last two lines dealing with “teaching” and “Him being with them.”
In the book of Ephesians, Paul describes what Jesus did to equip His church to fulfill the Great Commission.
So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him Who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:11-16 NIV)
Paul envisioned Christ’s having given gifts to everyone upon His ascension, and those gifts were Christ’s extended and physical presence on the earth. Those gifts not only brought the body together in a powerful way, but those gifts unleashed a Holy Spirit force in the earth to “make disciples.”
Unleashing the TALENTS
The Talents of Christ Given to All
Apostle ... words that establish new mission
Prophet ... words that reveal potential
Evangelist ... words that offer grace and hope
Pastor ... words that heal and encourage
Teacher ... words that explain coach and guide
Jesus gives each of the above talents for discipleship. Some consider the above to be leadership offices within the church, but this, from my perspective, is difficult to Scripturally affirm. The clearest office within the church was that of an "elder," who was also called a "pastor" and a "bishop." To see an evangelist or a teacher as an office in the New Testament just does not seem to lend clear distinction. So Paul seems here to be listing five Jesus-talents given to each person for the purpose of discipleship, making the body of Christ ready to do the work of serving the world.
The apostle spoken of here is not like one of the “apostles of Christ” listed in scripture. The prophet here is not the Old Testament office of the prophet; that was dismissed with the sermon of Peter when he declared that all sons, daughters, and slaves would prophesy. These gifts are not, from my perspective, leadership gifts, but they are the gifts of every follower of Jesus, for every follower of Jesus has a preaching assignment.
Let's take this passage apart to see Paul's perspective on how God takes the initiative to fulfill the Great Commission.
“... to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up …” (Ephesians 4:12 NIV).
Every member of Christ’s body has a job to do: equip His people for “works of service.” “Works of service” are those things the body does that have the power to build up the body of Christ.
When His people are equipped, they not only do "works of service," but they do them speaking the words of Jesus and reflecting the image of Jesus.
These five talents of Jesus equip the body of Christ to move in complete unity and to reflect Him to the world, serving the world as Jesus Himself would. The body serves and disciples itself until the full measure of Christ is seen by the world, as the body serves the world in both word and work.
“... until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NIV).
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14 NIV).
As the Body matures and reflects the Person of Jesus, the entire Body, along with the individual parts, stops being motivated by emotions, lust, and feelings, but instead begins to find its standing and position in Christ and His love. Its members mature, grow up, and become consistent and deception-resistant.
Expressing Our Talents
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him Who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NIV).
You will notice that everyone has been given a communication talent. To communicate the Word of God is central to being able to do the works of God. The apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher are all word, speaking, and communication talents: “speaking the truth in love.” Everyone shares, everyone has an essential place and role, and no one weaponizes the truth of the Gospel, but delivers their “talent” in a spirit of love.
Speaking the Truth
To speak the truth in love means to speak in a way in which the success, interest, honor, and advancement of another is placed above self.
Paul is calling upon every member of the body to speak, to use their word-talent, but to communicate the truth with the purposes of bringing healing, success, and salvation to others.
Connected and One
“From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16 NIV).
When each member is committed to not weaponizing truth but using it as an instrument of love, then two miracles happen: The body is joined to the head, and the parts of the body are joined to each other. Paul is saying in this verse that the body grows and is held together by every relationship expressing love, by each person becoming a part of the workforce.
Two Actions Required for Growing Up
1. Using Your "Word-talent" To Equip the Body
2. Participating with the Body in Works of Serving the World
What Talent Did Jesus Give You?
Imagine these talents as gifts a king would give to citizens whom he wanted to build a thriving city. To one group of people he gave gifts or skills to operate educational institutions/schools: teachers. Another group he endowed with the talents to heal, build hospitals, and establish restaurants: pastors. To another group he gave the strength to be life-coaches, start counseling centers, and organize law offices: evangelists. To yet another group he gave the capacity to build and construct the actual city from homes to offices, everything necessary to house every activity in the city: prophets. Finally, he gave to some entrepreneurial mastery so they knew how to plan—designers and architects who do everything necessary for the city to grow and flourish: apostles.
This is what Jesus did. When He rose from the dead, He left a part of Himself as a gift in each one of us. These five different gifts cause the new humanity of God, the city of God, the family of God, the house of God, the body of Christ to thrive and flourish in a world still dark and crooked. These gifts from Christ put His word in each person and motivate a service to the world. This is more than just a good work; it becomes a way for Christ to touch the world.
It doesn’t matter if one is appointed an “elder” in a church, for all are given gifts, and these gifts lead to a service of the world and motivate us to do things in Jesus’ name—world-changing things. These gifts are a bit of Jesus’ life in each one of us.
Figuring Out Who You Are
Below is a brief description of these gifts Jesus has put into each of us. More certainly could be said, but this list serves as a beginning. Imagine sitting in a room with a group of people who love Jesus, and you’re getting ready to start a church. Yes, starting a church in the spirit of starting that I discussed earlier. Each person is going to take on an assignment based on the gift Jesus has given. Below I have described each gift by explaining what each person would be the first to do. If I could run a backhoe, I would be the first to volunteer to run a backhoe. If I could design the building, I would be the first to volunteer to design the worship space, and so on. Try to find yourself in one of the following:
The God-given ability to minister trans-culturally or cross-culturally as a pioneer to people not yet reached in our fellowship.
I am likely to be someone who commits first and most deeply to developing a new way of reaching people from a different culture and background.
I often remain sidelined when it comes to maintaining well-running structures, even when they are working very well in strengthening people.
I move to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit when seeking to reach those who seem unreachable or whom no one seems to be reaching.
The God-given ability to correctly communicate the revelation of God concerning the potential and identity of others.
I am likely to commit to any setting and expression of service where people will experience God’s presence, God’s Word, and come to know their potential and identity in Christ.
I most often decline involvement where I do not see or sense an environment of prayer and pressing in to hear God speak so we can more clearly reveal to others their potential and their identity.
The God-given ability to effectively communicate the good news of allegiance to Christ as King and the wonders of grace to follow.
I am likely to commit first to anything where the promises of the Gospel of King Jesus are proclaimed and those who have not experienced the grace of King Jesus are given the opportunity to give their allegiance to Him.
I most often decline involvement when sensing self-esteem and self-help philosophy are being used to change a person’s life. I have a keen sense of Jesus’ being the ultimate center of followers’ allegiance.
The God-given ability to guide and heal the people of God to maturity and Christlikeness.
I am likely to commit first to something where people or a group need healing and guidance to follow Jesus clearly.
I would likely decline involvement with those activities where the instructional and structural environments were less personal. I possess an acute sense for personal healing and guidance.
The God-given ability to clearly explain and effectively and practically apply the truth of God's Word to everyday living.
I am likely to commit first when people need to have Christ, His Gospel, and His promises explained to them.
I would likely decline involvement where Jesus was not clearly being explained and where people were not more formally and systematically receiving explanation of the Bible.
When these gifts are used in the body of Christ to build up the church and reach the world, two opportunities emerge:
First, people experience the presence of Christ on earth.
Second, the world experiences what it is like to live under Christ’s loving and healing rule.
Practicing Hope Three
Father, I realize You have given me talent. By Your grace, empower me to use that talent to serve the hurting world right next door to where I live. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Defining the TOUCH
The most vital aspect of discipleship deals with “life with Jesus.” Everyone who is committed to Christ has a first role: using their gift (talent) to teach others to listen and to follow. Our Jesus talents have a primary purpose: to bring forth from others the life of Jesus within. To say it another way, to help others form the Jesus-life within them (Galatians 4:19). Every follower has been given tools. We outlined those tools earlier. The art of those who follow Jesus is to help new Jesus-followers grow in their walk with Him by developing those tools. Our talents are given to us for this very vocation.
Dan Spader, in his book 4 Chair Discipling, lists out what he calls "foundational priorities," or the "resources available to Jesus."
Spader makes the point that the same resources available to Jesus are available to us, and they should be our "foundational priorities."
The very talents we have been given are used to help every believer make full use of these resources.
No doubt the desire of Christ is to fill every follower with His power, the power of the Holy Spirit. When followers fill with the Spirit of Jesus, then they are having Christ Himself formed within them.
Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:14), was led by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1), and moved in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:28). The fact is, Jesus wants every member of His body to walk, live in, and be empowered by His Holy Spirit.
Jesus relied on five resources to keep His life fully empowered and fully devoted to the Holy Spirit.
As we disciple people and help people with their walk, we will want to help every person become proficient in these same resources.
Apart from the Holy Spirit, all our "works of service" will be reduced to human efforts. To personally teach others to use their resources is key to the success of Christ's mission on earth.
This is our personal touch, helping those we personally disciple to be really good at using the same resources Jesus used.
Looking at this in metaphor form, let's say it this way. If you were to open your hand and name each finger one of the following resources: prayer, obedience, word, exaltation, and relationships, then close your fingers, you would have a powerful spiritual fist.
We want to touch people's lives in such a way that they make their fist or form spiritual power within.
Please note below the acronym for P.O.W.E.R.
Prayer is not something someone learns on his or her own. Those who learn to pray on their own rarely develop a prayer life beyond petition. Asking God for stuff is the common prayer language. Prayer is so much more. Prayer is connecting so deeply with Christ and His Word that you become fully aware of what He wants to do and then, using prayer, declare it to come. "Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done." This is no request; this is a declaration of God's revealed will. There is a place for request: "Give us this day our daily bread.” It is just not the sum total of prayer.
Learning to pray deeply requires a community; it requires praying with someone else who really knows Christ and really knows the "Lord's Prayer" (Matthew 6:9-13).
To touch a prayer life is to bring the first finger of one’s fist into a position of power. To touch a prayer life is to pray with the person and talk about prayer, especially one’s daily devotional life.
To obey means to listen and to hear as someone submitted to the One speaking. When we begin to listen to Jesus, we need another person with whom to share what we have heard. Not every thought we think is from Jesus, nor can a thought we think be bent into being something Jesus said. Listening comes from learning to discern Jesus’ voice through His Word, through His Holy Spirit, and through one's own reborn heart. Relaying what is heard to someone else becomes an essential part of the process to bringing clarity and discernment.
Not only does one hear, but one must then obey.
I cannot tell those I disciple what Jesus is telling them; they have but one Teacher, the Holy Spirit. (1 John 2:27). Nevertheless, I can ask questions to help them discern His voice accurately. To ask questions is the part of the teaching I can do and I am called to do. I can also ask them what they are doing with what they have heard. I cannot do it for them, but I can ask questions to see if they are following through on what Jesus is leading them to do. Most followers never learn to obey because they have not personally experienced discipleship.
A young man lived with us some years ago, and he wanted to miss a Sunday night service to date a girl. I could not tell him yes or no because I was not the Holy Spirit, but I could ask him questions about the likelihood of being led by the Holy Spirit on such a venture. My question way back then was simple: "Why do you suppose God would want you to date this girl on a Sunday night, this Sunday night, as opposed to all the other free nights you have available to you?" I actually had three other questions for him relating to the girl he was dating, and dating in general. I never told him what to do; I just asked questions while he discerned God's voice within Him.
To touch a person's obedience-life is to bring the second finger of his or her fist into a position of power.
To learn to read God's Word is primary. The Bible is not a book about morality any more than it is a book of rules to keep.
The Bible consists of sixty-six books, 1,189 chapters, and 31,102 verses. It is a story about God as He reveals the person of His Son Jesus Christ, Who has come to save, rule, and reign over the earth. His saving message is called Good News. To help people navigate the story is incredibly important.
The Bible is not complicated, but neither is it simple. The Bible requires reading and reflection. Even though the Bible is translated into English, it is a bit like learning a new language because of how God speaks. He is not plain-spoken; He has rich revelation to share.
Sometimes He uses metaphors to explain Himself; so to adjust to His way of communicating can take time.
Scripture is inspired, timeless truth revealing Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, along with their plan for the future of created universe, along with every person living on the planet.
Helping followers enjoy the lifelong journey of discovering Scripture is an essential role for every true follower. Helping them learn how to use the Bible tools and helping them comprehend the Bible language is vital. Even reading with them and discussing Scripture together is an absolute must as a person begins his or her journey.
To touch a person's Word life is to bring the third finger of their fist into a position of power.
One of the most important activities of every follower is worship—the exaltation of Christ to the ultimate position of their heart and life.
To personally worship Jesus with those who experience discipleship with us is critical and indispensable. Reading Psalms together and verbalizing praise, worship, adoration, and affection is not natural behavior; it is a learned behavior. When women and men are moving from being desire-driven and appetite-controlled to being Holy Spirit-led and grace-empowered, worship is key.
The full molding of a soul to reflect Christ depends on the depth of a person’s worship. To worship Jesus is not instinctual. Guilt makes all worshipers desire to do something to appease God's disappointment. Worship of Christ is an act of grace: "I worship You because You have made me Your child, thus You are my Father."
I didn’t earn any of this. “You, Father, have made me a worshiper.” Notice even in the “Lord’s Prayer” that worship comes before the confession of sin. No one worships God because one is worthy; worship is a gift we are given. Through Jesus, no matter what we have done, the power to commit to Him as King and the ultimate center of our life right now is the true spirit of worship. Those who try to earn their way into worship can never comprehend the gift. To walk people through this mind-boggling gift is essential. Worship is not an act of my goodness; it is an act of committing to the goodness of Christ as the ultimate center of my life, way before I have the character to deserve doing so. In the middle of my worst sin, I can worship. I can tell God that I come to Him, find my ultimate center in Him, and give Him my complete allegiance. Worship is a gift, but it requires help to learn how to use it because most people worship as a response to feeling good spiritually. Helping people comprehend the gift is essential for their entire life of success.
To touch a person's worship life is to bring the fourth finger of their fist into a position of power.
One of the most difficult tasks in life is learning how to make and maintain relationships. To commit to a relationship with people who are different from yourself, people from a different culture and people from a different perspective, requires death to judgment and the developing of forgiveness.
It has been my experience that no one develops the art of forgiveness apart from being in a discipleship relationship.
Forgiveness requires constant forgiving of another, so it requires Jesus do it through us. To learn this art requires the help of another. Without another, I would excuse some cases of bitterness as being justified by God. In the name of religion, we can easily conclude that God wants someone demonized because I deem them evil. This demonizing of others who offend me is such an evil. To demonize is to consider others worthy of God’s dislike, even hate, due to how they treated me.
To learn Jesus’ style of forgiveness is a miraculous task, for His forgiveness is something we walk out perpetually (Luke 17:1-4). Again, I have never witnessed a person’s coming to genuine forgiveness without the help of someone else.
I constantly ask those I disciple how they are doing with an offense, encouraging them to forgive again, bless again.
To touch a person's relational life is to bring the fifth and final finger of his or her fist into a position of power.
Once all five resources are in play, there is no limit to how God can move through that person or that body. To touch a person’s life is to touch one’s spirit, and there to help form Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit within. To touch is to disciple, and to disciple is to change a life and the world.
Practicing Hope Four
Father, give me grace to faithfully serve and volunteer where You call me to serve. Move me into a Hope Group or a ministry team where I can be a disciple and a discipler of others.
Redeeming the TONE
Lastly, once you are moving in your talentS, once you are engaged in the touch of discipleship, you will want your tone to be right. To do the right thing with the wrong attitude or tone can destroy the right thing. In three ways, we encourage you to keep the right tone in every place you serve and relate with others.
Stay in Your LANE
To stay in your lane is simply to keep doing the things you are good at and you have been called to do. If you do, there will be plenty of space for God to make room for you and, in the right moment, promote you to where He wants you.
If you get out of your "lane" and wish for a position or recognition you have not been given, it will cause envy, ambition, and frustration. When these negative feelings are being felt, no possibility of honor for others to flow from your life remains.
Stay in your lane and serve with all your heart. God wants to promote you, and the people of the church want you to advance in what you do well.
I can carry a tune, but you would not want me to be the worship leader. If I wanted that, I would create nothing but a bad tone in the church. I need to, and we all need to, stay in our lane.
Stay in Your LOOK
As a born-again believer, you have the power to decide how big a problem is. Jesus said it this way: "Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!" (Matthew 6:22-23 NLT)
You get to decide the look of a thing. You get to decide if Jesus can or cannot handle a problem. You get to decide if the circumstance is impossible for God.
You get to decide to throw a fit or have faith. You get to decide to be the drama or be the one devoted to Jesus Christ the King.
How you look at everything will determine your tone, and your tone will determine your success and the success of Living Hope.
Stay in your look and make your look the look of Jesus Who sees "everything working together."
Stay in Your LOVE
You are filled with the Holy Spirit; you are oozing comfort whether you know it or not. Let comfort, gentleness, honor, respect, and esteem flow from your core. Always and without ceasing let honor be the culture you create, everywhere you go.
To stay in your "love" is to show respect and honor to all. Honor leaders, honor your peers, honor those you lead. Let your heart be smothered in honor. If our TONE is honoring, then you and we can minister to anyone.
Above all, refuse to talk negatively of anyone; refuse to bring up past mistakes and sins. To honor is to renounce sarcasm and cynicism. To stay in love is to be careful in speech, wanting every word to build and strengthen the spirit of another.
Scripture goes well beyond using words to confer honor. “Honor” was the very word the Holy Spirit used to describe how the early church gave money to Jesus. Paul used the word “honor” to define how those who preached or explained the word of God and those who led the church of Christ should be financially supported.
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor [paid well], especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17 ESV). To stay in love is to stay generous, meaning to give.
This was Paul’s way of confirming a sacred custom practiced during Old Testament times: tithing. Tithing means a tenth, and God throughout the entire Bible encourages tithing as a foundational, or starting, place to learn to give.
Tithing actually began with Abraham, the Father of faith, when he gave a tenth of all he had to God’s priest (Genesis 14:20). This act of giving the first tenth was then practiced by Abraham’s sons, as Jacob gave God a tenth of all he had (Genesis 28:22).
Many years later, Moses explained to the sons of Abraham, the nation of Israel, the purpose of tithing.
First, tithing was a way to support and honor the leaders and priests who taught God’s people.
“I’m giving the Levites all the tithes of Israel as their pay for the work they do in the Tent of Meeting" (Numbers 18:21 The Message).
Second, tithing was a way to establish God as being the holy center of your life.
“A tenth of the land’s produce, whether grain from the ground or fruit from the trees, is GOD’s. It is holy to GOD" (Leviticus 27:30 The Message; emphasis mine).
To “stay in love” is to love to give. Those who give are really saying, “Father, Your Word, Your world, and what You want to do is more important to me than anything else.”
While those who give generously don’t give primarily to get, they do also understand that giving comes with a promise of reaping a harvest from the money seed, which has been sown by giving (2 Corinthians 9:6).
From experience I have learned that those who do not stay in love by practicing generosity have a tone contrary to harmony and love. One of the ways we stay in love is to practice the honor of giving.
Practicing Hope Five
Father, by Your grace make me a consistently liberal giver, honoring You and Your Word, as I bring my offerings to Your house. In Jesus’ name, amen.
We live in a lonely society. People are prone to live for themselves. In the middle of it all is this thing Jesus built called the church. We are invited to belong to Him, and we are invited to belong to His church. We are invited to belong to Him before we have done one worthy thing to solicit such an invitation. We are invited to belong to His church before we are worthy so He can disciple us into walking a life worthy of our calling.
No one ever becomes worthy based on one’s actions; what we learn in His church is to become worthy based on His actions. What an adventure!
Come, be a part.
"walk with Jesus,”
so we can
“love His church,”
so we can
“suffer for others”
so we can
“rejoice in all Jesus has done.”