The Intentional Pursuit of Holiness

In his helpful book, The Great Omission, Dallas Willard argues, “It is a simple fact that nowadays the task of becoming Christ-like is rarely taken as a serious objective to be thoughtfully planned for, and the reality of our embodied personality dealt with accordingly. I have inquired before many church and parachurch groups regarding their plan for putting to death or mortifying ‘whatever belongs to your earthly nature’ or flesh (see, for example, Colossians 3:5). I have never once had a positive response to this question. Indeed, mortifying or putting things to death doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing today’s Christians would be caught doing. Yet there it stands, at the center of the New Testament teachings” (Willard, 84).

Does this strike anyone else as odd? I realize I may still be a bit naive, but I was under the impression that devoted followers of Jesus should actually make it their goal to be more like Jesus. Call me crazy, I know, but what are we to do about this spiritual dilemma? I’m glad you asked because I just happen to have a few suggestions. As is usually the case, these suggestions are not original to me. Most profound things that proceed from my mouth (or my computer keyboard) are things I have read from people far more scholarly than I. However, I feel compelled to pass along these nuggets of wisdom as I discover them with the hope they may assist someone else as they have assisted me.

I am currently leading a small group of believers through a process by which they will understand (and prayerfully implement) a helpful accountability resource called a “Life Transformation Group.” Let me explain. “A Life Transformation Group (LTG) is a simple way to release the most essential elements of a vital spiritual walk to people who need Jesus to change their lives from the inside out. It is a grassroots tool for growth which encourages and supports people to follow Christ by fueling internal motivation rather than applying external pressures and ploys. This tool empowers the common Christian to accomplish the uncommon work of reproducing spiritual disciples who can in turn reproduce others” (For more information on LTG’s and other helpful resources, visit www.CMAResources.org).

The most interesting thing happened during our last meeting. We were discussing the “Character Conversation Questions,” which comprise the accountability portion of how each group is designed to function. As we discussed these five questions, we realized each of these questions also serve another purpose in the life of the believer. I asked the members of the group to summarize a theme they noticed in the five questions we had just considered. The first answer given was one simple word: intentional. We had just uncovered the two-way street of the accountability structure found in these groups. Not only do these questions allow us to reflect on the past week to see how God has worked in our lives, they also provide a framework through which we can distill our purposes for the coming week as we strive to follow Jesus.

Consider these five questions:

  1. In what ways have you been a testimony this week to the greatness of Jesus Christ with both your words and actions?
  2. How have you experienced God in your life this week?
  3. How are you responding to His promptings?
  4. Do you have a need to confess any sin?
  5. How did you do with your Scripture reading last week?

As you probably have noticed, the questions seem reflective at first glance. However, one can also see clearly how each question could be understood as a goal for which to strive. Imagine if we rewrote the list in the imperative rather than the interrogative.

Consider these five commands:

  1. Actively look for ways this week to testify to the greatness of Jesus Christ with both your words and actions.
  2. Be sensitive to the presence of God in your life this week.
  3. Be prepared to respond obediently to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Be alert! Be on your guard against temptations to sin against God.
  5. Intentionally schedule time for Scripture reading every day.

Isn’t this interesting? We can now use these accountability questions as a guide to assist us in our daily pursuit of godly living. These questions can serve as daily reminders to maintain Christ-centered priorities as we strive to follow Jesus. What a tremendous resource for the Christian life! I am so thankful to Neil Cole and the folks at Church Multiplication Associates for their helpful resources. But I am supremely thankful to my great God and Savior Jesus Christ who continually guides and directs me in His path for His glory and for my good.

Growing as Christ’s disciple isn’t easy, but it’s possible in the community of God’s people. Be intentional. Submit to the Lord’s leadership. Be amazed at the results.

Mike. Out.

Old Wine, New Wineskins

Alvin Reid, former Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, made this statement often: “Lost people are more amazed at our silence than offended at our message.” Understand this statement in the context of the local church and you understand my perspective, including the premise behind this blog post.

I was reading an article Reid wrote in the Spring 2017 edition of Facts & Trends, a publication of Lifeway Christian Resources, Nashville, Tennessee. He discusses the findings of a recent study undertaken by Lifeway Research / Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. He couches the findings in terms of his latest book, Sharing Jesus without Freaking Out, available from B & H Academic. I have to say I find the results of the study profound, while not all that surprising. Let me clarify.

The researchers asked several questions concerning the interest of unchurched Americans in listening to what Christians have to say. Examples include statements such as: “I would be more interested in listening to what Christians have to say if I saw Christians treating others better because of faith.” “I would be more interested in listening to what Christians have to say if I saw Christians caring for people’s needs because of faith.” Each statement was listed with a percentage value indicating its popularity as a response from the sample group. There were three values, however, that stood out to me above the others in the article.

The first two values are related and they may surprise some who read this blog. Among unchurched Americans surveyed, 79% agree with this statement: “If a friend of mine really values their faith, I don’t mind them talking about it.” Similarly, among unchurched Americans, 73% of those surveyed don’t think their Christian friends talk about their faith too much. Given these responses, it seems the door to gospel-centered conversation is open far wider than the average church member may care to admit. I believe the average church member may suffer more from fear or lack of confidence than they do from lack of opportunity when it comes to gospel-centered conversations.

Now, let me say up front the following information is based on my personal experience and is certainly not descriptive of every church in every city. However, I believe many other churches in America may hold similar positions. This is my premise: some churches believe sincerely they have no need of changing their current practices when it comes to great commission mobilization or advancing the gospel to the ends of the earth. They are content to continue doing things the same way they have been doing them for whatever historical period of time with which they are comfortable. Unfortunately, this is where the final value of which I spoke comes more clearly into focus.

According to Lifeway Research, “67% of unchurched people say they are unlikely to attend church in the future. For them, spirituality and church do not naturally go together. When millennials were asked where they go for spiritual help, church did not make the top 10” (Facts & Trends, Spring 2017, 15). Consider the juxtaposition of these three values and draw your own conclusions, but I see one glaring, if not completely obvious, inference based on the data. Churches must be willing to hold their methodology with open hands while holding the biblical truth of the gospel with closed hands. In other words, the church must never retreat from sharing the whole truth of the good news of Jesus Christ. But the church must always be willing to adapt and contextualize the presentation of this truth to an ever-changing culture. Missionaries study the best ways to present the gospel truth in the context of the mission field in which they serve. Why should the local church on American soil be any different? Answer: it should not be.

Reid concludes his article with five helpful “reminders for Christians to help alleviate their fears” when it comes to engaging others in gospel-centered conversation:

  1. Think less of giving a presentation and more of having a conversation.
  2. Tell them the great story of the gospel more than listing propositions.
  3. Connect the story to their everyday life experiences.
  4. Start in their worldview, not yours.
  5. Don’t just invite them to church—invite them into your lives and your community.

I would suggest another important principle to remember: the conversion of every person with whom you share the gospel does not constitute success in evangelism. Obedience to share the gospel through words and actions constitutes success in evangelism. Pray. Share. Leave the results in the capable hands of Almighty God.

Mike. Out.

[Note: All statistical data and quotations taken from an article entitled, “How to Share Jesus without Freaking Out: Effective Evangelism in the 21stCentury,” by Dr. Alvin Reid, published in the Spring 2017 issue of Facts & Trends, Lifeway Christian Resources, pp. 12-17.]