Experience the Loving Leadership of Jesus

The ultimate issue in the universe is leadership.  Who you follow and what directs your life, is the single most important thing about you.

Grace, we must learn, is opposed to earning, not effort.

As many of us know, struggling to change outward habit without changing the heart is a formula for frustration.  It’s time to go back to the development of the inner life, to the heart attitudes at the deepest level of our beings.  Discipleship must be applied to the inside of us—to the self, the ego, the ambitions, the passions, the soul.  Only when we stop complying with superficial, performance based cosmetic changes and start following Jesus from the heart will the church once again light the path for the rest of the world.

There are two kinds of “believing”—one in the sense of recognizing and agreeing with truth, and another in the sense of learning how to bring your life in line with the truth you say you accept.

Believing is a spectator sport.  Following is what makes you a player.

Following is where the cost of commitment shows up, and that never gets any easier.  According to Jesus, there’s something of the cross in it.  A cross that must be taken up daily as we follow Him.  The cross always means ‘not my will but thine be done.’  It means submission to our Lord’s leadership of our lives, and that always means dying to self-in-control.

Some of us need to admit that we’ve been holding out on following Christ because we might not like where He’ll lead me.  Something in us would rather trust self than God.

The mark of the Christian—love—is commanded by Jesus in the life of every believer.

Jesus never tried to sell or market His gospel.  He doesn’t negotiate a compromise agreement.  He simply announces His terms: “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent (give up, surrender, change sides) and believe the good news!  Mark 1:15

So many times selfishness is so attractive.

We are a work of God in process.  Maturity in Christ is a lifetime journey.  No one has arrived at sinless perfection.  But when we emphasize human weakness we create “running room” for our sinful habits and patterns.  If “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” is taken to its logical conclusion, we have another powerful hiding place for the selfishness from which God wants to save us.

Most human beings are prone to seek the lowest levels of commitment to anything while still claiming membership.

This is the door to new life in Christ: the option to turn from self-centeredness to God-centeredness is now open.  Each individual is responsible to submit to God’s Spirit-inspired truth.  We will all be held accountable for what we choose to do.

God’s creative descriptions of sin:

Going our own way

Doing our own thing

Defiantly resisting authority

Stubborn disobedience

Willful, intentional rebellion

Defensive and antagonistic attitudes

Self-centered focus

Obsession with empowerment

Compulsively competitive nature

Addiction to control

Shift from God-centeredness to self-centeredness

When we behave selfishly, we rarely admit it.  We disguise our self-centeredness and rationalize it as essential to personal freedom.  We hear it every day: “I need to do this for me.”  “It’s my chance to do what makes me happy.”  “I deserve the opportunity to live a little, indulge myself, have some fun.”

What a surprise it is to find out that the wrath of God amounts to God giving up on you and letting you go your own way!  Romans 1:24-25

To depart from righteousness is to choose a life of crushing burdens, failures, and disappointments, a life caught in the toils of endless problems that are never resolved.  Here is the source of that unending soap opera, that sometimes horror show known as normal human life.”  Dallas Willard

For most of us, our “god” is one with whom we are comfortable, a god who lets us do what we want and who gives us what we want.  That’s what the world of religion is tragically all about—counterfeiting divinity.

At last I admitted to myself that, at best, the evangelism efforts in my church were bearing about 6 to 7 percent good fruit.  In cold, hard facts that meant that for every 100 individuals who prayed to receive Christ, only 6 to 7 percent became self-motivated, productive, long-haul Christians.

For years I had brought my own preconceived assumptions to the Scriptures and interpreted the Bible to fit my point of view.  I saw what I “knew” was there, not what was really there.

In our attempts to standardize and simplify the gospel for mass consumption, we changed the message.  Here’s how we tell people how to become Christians.  This is how we close the deal:

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ

Call upon the name of the Lord

Receive the gift of eternal life

Accept the pardon from sin paid for at the cross

Ask Jesus to come into your heart

Pray the sinner’s prayer, Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner, and save me for Christ’s sake

Make your decision to receive Christ as your Savior

Accept His offer of forgiveness, and an eternal love relationship with Him is yours for the asking

What is glaringly obvious to me was that the gospel of Jesus is clearly different from these phrases.  He consistently called His message the gospel of the kingdom and He asked people to repent.

Sorrow over relational conflict is never enough, nor is grief over the consequences of wrong behavior.  Submission to each other is the only appropriate resolution.  Sorrow cannot be trusted, but fresh choices of voluntary humility can.

Repentance was foundational to the gospel of the early church.  It was the cod word for the act of taking sides with God.  What would happen in today’s churches if we asked for such a response?  Wouldn’t this be the pre-condition for the revival we are seeking?

True Christianity is something that grips your life, radically changes you and transforms you into a new person in Christ.  It is a way of life, an all-encompassing lifestyle that affects everything you are and everything you do.

Prayer is taking off my will and putting on His.

The sanctification process is a lifestyle of repentance and humility.  The believer develops a life of obedience and follower-ship under the supervision of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

The message of the Christian gospel over the past fifty years has increasingly emphasized the access door to the kingdom instead of what is behind the door.  Jesus certainly did say, “I am the door”.  But we’ve over-emphasized the door imagery as though “getting saved” is all there is to it.  Christian evangelists and missionaries have worked so hard at marketing the entrance that it has itself become the gospel.

What this over-emphasis has produced is a generation of believers who think the issue is getting in and getting others in.  Recruiting.  Not training.  Not much attention is paid to what they are getting into—a whole new way of life!

If I want the benefit of salvation, it will cost me my personal sovereignty, my independent autonomy, my own agenda, my “throne”.  Why?  Because that is exactly what I must be saved from in the first place!

Many who show up in Bible-believing churches exhibit scant evidence of more than superficial subculture adaptation.  They learn the evangelical jargon, become comfortable in the church society, listen to Christian radio, but in reality remain very much like their non-Christian neighbors in values, moral conduct and lifestyle.  How can this be?  Where is the supernatural process of transformation?  Why are professing believers so often closed to the life-changing presence and power of the Holy Spirit?  I ask you to consider with me the possibility that the application of marketing and sales expertise to evangelism has actually changed the content of the good news.  Tweaking and massaging the gospel for ease of mass consumption has gradually changed the content—and killed its original power.

The faucet that turns on the pipeline of saving grace is the voluntary choice of humility.  This is the heart of repentance.  The event of salvation then immediately becomes the process of humble obedience.  And enabling grace keeps on flowing.

The whole world is pursuing alternatives to the kingdom of God: money, pleasure, power, prestige, possessions.  It has been well said, :What you sacrifice for, you sacrifice to.  What tops your value system wears the crown of your heart.”” Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt 6:21)

God wants to be our leader.  He designed us to function best under His direction.

To the degree that a person is full of himself—his plans, his dreams, his pleasures, his ambitions, and his wealth—he is not open to or interested in the kingdom.

I remember the day it dawned on me that Jesus never used the same approach with any two people.  I had always assumed there was a standard formula to the gospel.  I always heard it preached that way, and I always preached it that way.  I had seen “four steps” pamphlets in the tract racks, on pay phone shelves, and on the top of toilet tanks all my life.  All the seminars and classes on witnessing taught a simplified, basic pattern.  A one-size-fits-all approach to presenting the gospel seemed to be the accepted procedure.

When I realized that Jesus was announcing terms of surrender to each individual, it began to make sense.  He was confronting the issue that was keeping each one of these people out of His kingdom.  If you don’t factor in Christ’s preoccupation with the kingdom, His lack of a standardized approach is puzzling.  But when His way of framing the issue as a God’s-kingdom versus our kingdom confrontation is understood, each distinctly individualized conversation begins to fall into a discernable pattern.

Whatever keeps you preoccupied and distracted keeps you from entering the kingdom of heaven.  Give it up.  Surrender to God’s leadership, and He will take responsibility for all the things you need.  Seek His kingdom first, and all these things will be added unto you.  This is the connecting theme of the gospel message.

Jesus is after follower-ship.  He is not merely interested in saving our souls, meeting our needs, and healing our hurts.  Oh, He does that too, but His first concern is that we become kingdom players.  He intends that we operate under His authority for the rest of our lives and for all eternity.

The human capacity to compartmentalize explains why Mafia gangsters can sell drugs and run houses of prostitution, then go home to their families in nice neighborhoods and seem life fine, upstanding citizens.  They can even be members of churches and do good and charitable deeds.

If the older, more experienced Christians don’t keep showing the new believers how to continue in repentance, the momentum of the church breaks down.  The most humble, the most selfless, the most sacrificial, the most flexibly submissive people in our churches should be those who have been at it the longest.  But you and I know that often just the opposite is what is happening.

It has been well said that our blind spots lie in the shadow of our egos.  I can smell pride even before I can see it—in you.  But when it comes to identifying it in myself, I seem to lose my five senses.

The fear of the Lord is the answer to the problems we face when our other fears get out of control.  As we learn to follow Jesus as a lifestyle, we become adept at fighting fear with a greater holy fear.

What does it mean to have a healthy fear of the Lord?

Reverence and respect for God as the all-powerful Leader of all else.

Certainty of inescapable accountability for behavior to God.

Practicing the presence of a Holy God.

Humbly following His leadership by obeying His Word.

The target on the wall in safe churches will look something like this:  The outer ring of the target is truth.  Everything we aim at must be defined by the Word of God.  The second ring is transformation.  The truth must change our behavior.  It sets us free to be all that God intends us to be.  The center of the target is love.  When we obey God’s Word we not only behave correctly, we thrive on relational maturity.

Life in the kingdom is God-centered.  We don’t think first of getting our needs met and our problems solved.  We concentrate on what makes God happy, what gives our Lord pleasure, and what makes Him look good.  That always turns out to be the best choice for us as well.  On the surface it may look like this choice of kingdoms is an either/or situation (my happiness versus God’s happiness).  That’s exactly why it is so hard for us to let go of a love that revolves around ourselves.  It feels like the safest course of action to maintain our own kingdoms.  But the surrender choice that explodes into the eternal realm of love is where true safety and satisfaction lie.

The aroma of the knowledge of Christ is never merely intellectual.  It is primarily relational—sweet perfume of the heart.  2 Cor. 2:14-16

He always changes us, conforming us to the image of Jesus.  The changes are lifestyle changes, but they must be understood primarily relational in their real-world impact.  Christ changes the way we love.  As we follow Him, He enlarges our capacity to treat each other with value, respect, and resilient affection.

We’re all capable of doing Christian ministry stuff in the energy of the flesh.  We can be convincing and impressive.  We can master the art of appearances.  Our ability to wow our hearers can be brilliant.  But, Jesus explained, God looks on the heart, not the outward appearance.  The test is love.  Not love measured by emotional profession or impressive activity, but love measured by consistent humble obedience.

Jude 17-21: 1) Build yourself up in faith. 2) Pray in the Holy Spirit.  3) Keep yourself in God’s love.

In spite of all the available support material, Christians are having a terrible time letting the truth influence them in ways beyond superficial cosmetic changes.  The vibrant excitement and radical commitment of kingdom follower-ship seems to be spotty, if it’s there at all.  A strong case could be made that if ever it could be said that people were “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7), it would be today.  Learning the truth and putting it into practice are two different things.