Tag Archives: Christ

Do You Have a Council of Counselors?

It is the time of year that we typically look back over the last twelve months and take stock of what went well and what didn’t quite measure up to our ideas of success. We hopefully spend some time using the lessons of the past and planning for future accomplishments in the coming year. This is an exercise successful business owners definitely engage in. The most fruitful ones have some form of a council to help them, not only during this annual evaluation and planning time, but on a regular basis.

Why should you have some kind of council of counselors? God tells us through His instructions to us in the Bible that we should have trustworthy people giving us advice. Proverbs 12:15 states it this way in the New Living Translation: “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” There are many other such statements in Proverbs. As imperfect people, we tend to have weaknesses and blind spots that prevent us from making the right decision or doing the right thing 100% of the time. If we have some wise people around us as we go through life making these decisions and doing these things, they can hopefully help us avoid the wrong ones or at least make a proper course correction in the wake of mistakes.

Here are some suggestions from a C12 Group segment on how a Christian business owner can put together that helpful council of counselors:

■ Formal Board of Directors – common for large or public companies

■ Christian Peer Advisory Board – A group such as C12 provides a readymade format for asking and receiving counsel, being challenged by best practice ideas, and submitting issues and plans to other committed Christians for feedback. C12 also provides a degree of accountability, prayer, planning, and one-on-one counsel.

■ Council of Advisors – Another resource that can complement either of the prior two alternatives is meeting with a smaller group of trustworthy colleagues (often two to four local C12 members and/or church members). Real benefit can be generated by meeting together regularly for counsel, accountability, and prayer. Due to their informality and small size, a COA can provide an opportunity for deeper intimacy which many C12 members have found to be extremely helpful.

■ Mentor – More than teachers, mentors are generally role models with more experience or authority in areas where we desire to grow. Teachers impart knowledge; mentors impart life. Long-term mentors are difficult to come by, but they can be hugely beneficial.

If you aren’t a business owner you can still benefit from having a council of counselors. I’ve found that having a group of three additional people of the same sex that meet together at least twice a month for at least 90 minutes each time provide a good format for sharing life and getting advice on the challenges we all face. Having a small number of all men or all women in the group fosters a higher degree of transparency and trust that is difficult to achieve in a larger group of men and women.

As you gather together with your council, here are six common characteristics of finishing well that you could pose to them, asking if there is evidence of these characteristics in your life.

 The Six Common Characteristics of Finishing Well

Develop and fight to:

  1. Hold an Eternal Perspective. Don’t get caught up in the short term thinking of the culture. Eternity is considerably longer than even the longest life we could possibly have.
  2. Build Intimacy with Jesus Christ. In Philippians 4:13 we are told “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” A relationship requires time conversing. To converse with Jesus Christ you need to read His words in the Bible and spend time talking to Him through prayer.
  3. Maintain Self-Discipline. The self-discipline being raised here is avoiding “many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” Timothy warns us about.
  4. Maintain Open and Accountable Relationships. This is a key part of having a council you can trust and be transparent with. They also need to be able to challenge you when you have a blind spot.
  5. Maintain a Teachable Spirit and a Lifetime of Learning. Proverbs 11:2 is one of a number of verses that tell us “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” I can trace nearly all my worst mistakes back to pride and arrogance. I can trace nearly all of my successes to wisdom that came from someone else that I acted on.
  6. Maintain a Heart to Help Others Finish Well. Since others need a council of counselors, invest time, energy and prayer in being a wise counselor for someone else, sharing the benefits that you are receiving from your council.

Best wishes for a fruitful and blessed year, one that is focused on relationships, both earthly and eternal!

 

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What’s My “Why”?

Why do I do what I do for a living? Why did I sell my three businesses and start over in a new business? Why did I leave the security of a successful, prospering company providing information technology products and services to the business world for a start-up, one man consulting business franchise focused on Christian business owners?

In truth, part of that answer is due to my belief in myself, in my own abilities, skills, talents and determination; all of which are given me by God. But that is not the only reason, because if it were, I would be doomed to failure. The primary reason is that God called me to do it and rely on Him more than me. I didn’t even realize it at first when I decided to pursue being a C12 Chair. When I was interviewed via phone by Buck Jacobs, founder of C12, he asked me if I was called to do this. I was honest in my answer and gave all the logical reasons and shared the sequence of events that seemed to point me in this direction, but couldn’t say with complete conviction that I was called. I believe that my own misunderstanding of what it meant to be called contributed to my lack of clarity on the answer to the question. A severe case of jet lag after returning from Indonesia didn’t help either.

Buck helped me through the fog a little with a couple articles he had written on the topic, specifically for C12 Chairs and C12 members, explaining in detail the concept of calling for a business guy like me. My experiences preparing for the chair role and being a chair have confirmed that I have indeed been called to do this. That doesn’t mean it’s been easy or that I haven’t made mistakes. It does mean that I have to do it, no matter what.

I have now spent a little more than eighteen months in this role of C12 Chair, facilitating one group of ten Christian business owners. In addition to running the monthly group meeting, I meet with each of them individually for a ninety minute one-on-one coaching and accountability session. Each one of these men has grown in some way in the short time they have been a part of the C12 Group. The most rewarding thing to see is their determination to be a better servant of God, making a difference in the lives of their employees and their families, building businesses that are well run and prosperous, but more importantly, being Christ-like examples in the business community and the world. They care, and they care a lot.

So, my “why” is that I have been called by God to be a C12 chair, building groups of C12 members who have been called to be more than typical business owners. My “why” is helping them discover that calling and helping them live it out in their business, with their families, in their churches and in their ministries. I too, care, and care a lot. It sometimes feels like a burden, and sometimes a very heavy one, but only for a short while, especially when I remember the eternal perspective.

We are serving the God who created the universe, we are serving Jesus Christ, who gave us a way to be with God in a new heaven and a new earth for all of eternity, and we are serving the Holy Spirit, who gives us guidance and direction, when we can get rid of the noise and clutter in our lives enough to hear Him. We are making a difference in our communities today and for all of eternity.

If you are a Christian business owner or CEO reading this, what is your “why”? Why are you in business? Who is your business serving? How are you employees and their families being impacted by being a part of your business? What are you doing with the profits from your business? What difference are you making in this world and more importantly, what difference are you making for eternity?

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Salt and Light in the 21st Century

In the 21st century we have at our fingertips the ability to share our thoughts, beliefs and opinions with a wide audience. It doesn’t require much effort or thought to do so. With a click we can share something someone else wrote or created and send it out like ripples from a stone tossed into a pond. Like many other tools God has given us, these tools can be used for good or for bad. The good can be sharing the Gospel, sharing a truth from the Bible, sharing a fact about an injustice, or sharing the actions or needs of an organization. The bad could be spreading rumors, defaming someone’s character, sharing what you believe to be a fact without verifying the truth or the source, or simply being mean or disrespectful.

Why is this so important for those of us who profess to follow Jesus Christ? In Matthew, Jesus taught about salt and light. “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:13-16, New Living Translation.

Salt and light both enhance our lives; either by adding flavor to food or by helping us to see or be seen better. We should also be enhancing the lives of others around us. People who are not followers of Christ should see a positive difference in the way we conduct ourselves. Our actions should speak louder than our words, or louder than our tweets, posts and emails. People will be more likely to listen to us when they know us, when they know we care, when there is a trust relationship built. How do you build trust? You spend time with people and demonstrate that you care, that you have integrity and that you are Christ-like.

I did not have a biblical world view before I started following Christ. I might not have heard the Gospel clearly presented if I wasn’t given an invitation by a friend who I liked, admired and trusted. Because he followed Christ, followed Christ’s teaching and was obedient, I was given an opportunity to be transformed. Now I have a biblical worldview and so does my wife and so do my children and so will my grandchildren. My wife also heard the Gospel from a different source, in a different setting, but that opportunity was the result of trust relationships that were built with her. My worldview would probably have not been changed by arguments, talk radio, news shows, magazines, newspapers, books or blogs. It was changed by Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God, the Father. It has been and continues to be transformed by God’s Word to us, the Bible, and by conversing with God through prayer and by listening (not easily done in our noisy world) to the Holy Spirit’s whispers.

I think the 21st century tools we have at our disposal to share our worldview and the Gospel are very powerful. Like any useful and especially, powerful tools, we need to be skilled and thoughtful about using them. Put some thought into what you share and how you sound when you share it. Read it out loud before you click “submit” or “send”. Have someone else read it and listen to their opinion. Are you enhancing, being positive and uplifting (Christ-like) or are you degrading, being negative and crushing (world-like)? I wish I could say I am always the former, but sometimes I let my emotions rule and share something I shouldn’t or share it in the wrong way. Hopefully, when that happens, the people I’m sharing with extend me grace because they know me, they know my heart and they know I care, so they have respect for me and my positions, even if we don’t agree. Someday, hopefully their worldview will be transformed like mine was, through the love and grace of a merciful God and Savior.

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What’s My Faith Story?

Are you curious about my journey as a Christ follower the last 19 years? Or are you curious about what I was doing before that point 19 years ago? I’ll share some of both and hopefully you’ll find something to relate to. Please don’t be offended by the description of my experiences with different Christian U.S. denominations. I am not criticizing, just sharing my story. Remember that no one, including the clergy of any church, is perfect in God’s eyes. As a result we sometimes have less than perfect experiences in churches. That doesn’t mean you give up on God or stop going to church. If you have a bad meal or bad service in a restaurant do you stop eating out completely or even worse, stop eating?

As a young boy in rural Fond du Lac County in the 1960’s, I attended a large United Church of Christ congregation in Fond du Lac. I went to Sunday school and church.  When I was around 12 years old I participated in a confirmation class where I memorized the Ten Commandments and the books of the Bible, at least those are the parts I remember. In my teens we started attending a smaller rural UCC church (less than 100 folks). I was part of the small youth group there and also taught Sunday school. In 1979 I married my high school sweetheart who grew up in the Catholic Church. The first 9 years of our marriage was spent in the Air Force, moving around the world every few years. We mostly attended Catholic services on Sundays. We moved back to Wisconsin and settled in the Stevens Point area in 1991, becoming members of a Catholic congregation.

In the fall of 1993 I attended a nondenominational church service at a weekend business conference. The service was led by business people, not clergy. At that service I heard something different that got my attention. I heard that God wanted a personal relationship with me and that the only way that was going to happen was if I recognized that I couldn’t earn it, I had to realize Jesus Christ earned it for me and I could simply believe its truth, accept it and acknowledge it. I thought hard about the statement I heard many times in church, that Jesus died for our sins. Why did he die for our sins? Did he die for my sins? What are my sins?

I didn’t do anything about it at that event, but seeds were planted. In the spring of 1994 at another similar event I heard the same message presented. Like before, I was given an opportunity to publicly acknowledge my acceptance of the truth presented by standing up, which I did. We were given some good advice, which was to get a Bible to read and find a church that teaches from the Bible. Since I didn’t have a Bible I went out and got one. God blessed our family by leading my wife to the same truth at about the same time through other people in our community. We were led to an Evangelical Free Church of America denomination church and heard clear Bible teaching from the pulpit. We hadn’t really seen this in the churches we attended as children and adults.  Fortunately, there are many churches who do offer this kind of teaching.

So, what does our faith life look like now? We have our own Bibles, more than one translation, both print and electronic. We read from our Bibles daily, not out of obligation, but out of a desire to know and understand better the Creator of the entire universe, someone we will walk with in eternity, just like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. We worship together with other Christ followers on Sunday, singing great songs, listening to Bible teaching and socializing. We spend time praying, alone and with other Christ followers in various gatherings. We have served and continue to serve in various roles within the church and outside the church, trying to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ.

In the last 19 years we have gone from being nominal, Sunday Christians, to being fully devoted, 24/7 followers of Christ. My business is working with other business owners who also follow Christ and help them live their faith journey. Our lives have purpose and our children and grandchildren are following our example. We still have struggles like anyone, because we are disobedient at times or God is pruning us at times. We continue to mature, a never ending process.

I hope you have an opportunity to hear truth like we did. I hope you accept and acknowledge it like we did. I hope you were encouraged or provoked by my story. Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss your situation, I’m happy to try to help with advice if you want it.

Some Bible teachers I enjoy reading or listening to (not an exclusive list):

 

 

 

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Following and Sharing Christ at Work

Are you a Christ follower 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? If you are, then what does that look like at work? Whether you are the owner of the business, on the management team or an employee, you have an opportunity to not only be an example but to also share what it means to know Jesus Christ. 

What you may not realize is that you are sharing your testimony about Christ and your submission to him every day, the question is whether it is done intentionally or not. Your words and actions testify to those around you what your beliefs are. So the first thing to acknowledge is the truth of that and the second thing is to decide if your testimony is attracting people to follow Christ too. Don’t live a divided life, don’t be a Christian only on Sunday or only when you are with your Christian friends. The first part of that testimony that people will you judge you on is how good of an employee or manager or owner you are. Don’t stumble on that starting point. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”

Remember that following Christ is a relationship and relationships take time, which also applies at work. Be someone who listens to people and their problems, relate to them and demonstrate a caring attitude. Don’t think of sharing Christ as a one-time evangelistic event. You may have an opportunity to do that with someone, but most likely not until you’ve developed a level of trust first. Don’t force discussions about your faith on people, but always be ready to share what Christ is doing in your life.

In addition to demonstrating your testimony by the way you conduct yourself, use some outward representations of your faith to prompt discussions. Keep a Bible in plain view on your desk or let people know about the Bible app on your phone. Display Christian art work if you have an opportunity to do so.

When an opportunity to share arises, be careful of using Christian jargon, don’t demonstrate a judgmental attitude, don’t get drawn into denominational discussions, don’t get defensive if attacked and don’t try to have all the answers. Be graceful, be respectful, be loving, be Christ like and be patient. Share in multiple ways and multiple times. Be careful about going for “the decision” unless it is very clear you are at that point. When that time comes there are some great tools that you can use to present the full gospel message. The Navigators have wallet cards with the One Verse Evangelism tool based on Romans 6:23.  e3 Resources has the eCube, eBall and eBank.  Tyndale House has a nice inexpensive New Testament for less than $2 available at many online retailers. A great choice to leave on your desk and give away to anyone interested.

If you are the owner of the business then you have an even greater opportunity to be explicit in your public proclamation of your faith. Again, how you conduct business, interacting with employees, customers, vendors and even competitors will speak louder than your words. Practical things you can do as owner are keeping a Bible visible on your desk, referring to scriptures for guidance in decision making, having free New Testaments in your common areas (the Abundant Life NT is a great choice for this), incorporating prayer into the beginning of meetings, honoring God in your company vision or mission statements, share your testimony at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter either verbally or in company communications, subsidize employees and their families attending Christian seminars or camps, allow employees to participate in prayer times or Bible studies, and provide opportunities for employees to come along side you in ministries serving the poor. These are just a few of hundreds of ideas.

Just as important as sharing your faith with someone who isn’t following Christ yet is helping a new believer get started properly. It’s the disciple part of the Great Commission, which is given to all of us who are Christ’s disciples. Help them get a Bible and start reading it, help them find a Bible teaching church and be there to answer their questions, invest time in them and do it in a gentle, not dictatorial manner.

Think how the kingdom could be advancing if we all were obedient to this commission, within the talents and abilities we have, within the opportunities we have, which are still greater than professional clergy or missionaries have simply because of time and place. Be a disciple-making disciple.

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20.

Links

One Verse Evangelism wallet card from The Navigators

e3 Resources eCube, eBall, eBand

Abundant Life NT

Share Your Faith at Work article on Crosswalk.com

Strategic Plan for Ministry book for business owners from the C12 Group

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Give the Gift of Mercy and Change Our Nation

Did you notice some confusing behavior from voters in our recent election? Here in Wisconsin we elected 5 out 8 Republican representatives to Congress, provided a Republican majority to the state Senate to go with the Republican Assembly and Governor, re-elected a Democratic President and most surprisingly elected one of the most liberal Democrats in the country as our Senator. Wisconsinites had to have voted for conservative Republican candidates and liberal Democratic candidates on the same ballot. One congressman stated this in fact happened in his district. Most of the media will be analyzing these results and focusing on demographic issues of race, age and gender, or on the range of the liberal – conservative spectrum. I don’t believe this is a political issue, this is a spiritual issue. To be more precise, this is a spiritual warfare issue.

God is always speaking to us through His Word, the Bible, and on Friday after the election I read these passages in Ephesians chapter 2:  1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. English Standard Version

The confusion among the electorate is being sown by Satan, influenced by their own selfishness, pride, and disobedience, just like we were before we were given the gift of mercy and switched sides in this war.  4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus

A person (like me for instance) who has been offered the gift of mercy, accepts it, submits himself to Jesus Christ as savior and lord and pursues a deeper knowledge and relationship with God, will be transformed into someone who elects a God honoring government. That complete transformation takes place over time and requires discipling from others who have come to know these truths. Discipling doesn’t happen Sunday morning in an hour or two, just like evangelism doesn’t happen Sunday morning in an hour or two. Discipling happens in small groups of four to six men or women, studying the Bible, praying and learning how to love each other and share that love with those confused people around us. Expand that discipleship group to a missional community living out their faith 24/7 and you have real impact for the kingdom.

In order for our nation to be changed, we have to change one person at a time and that is up to each of us to do. We need to share the gift of mercy and grace with those around us at work and in our neighborhoods. This requires we obey the commands Jesus Christ gave us in John 13: 34”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ESV

Note that word “disciple” again. We have to share our faith by building relationships with them, showing them love, not hate, offering them the gift of mercy through Jesus Christ, and then discipling them as they begin the journey of transformation. I was given this gift by someone who loved me, who gave me the opportunity to hear the truth of the Gospel very clearly and accept the gift. Eighteen years ago at the age of 34 and a child of the 60’s and 70’s with liberal ideas of what is okay, I began to be transformed. I wish I could say I was discipled early on that path, but that didn’t happen, not the way it should have, according to the biblical model. In God’s grace I was still transformed and continue to be transformed and thankfully that is now in a discipling relationship. Let’s all enter into discipling relationships, let’s all share the love of Christ with those around us, let’s all change our nation one new believer at a time, multiplied over and over through our personal sharing of this gift. It’s not going to happen from the desks of television and talk radio or even from the pulpits of the churches. It’s going to happen in the places we work, the neighborhoods we live in, the places we recreate in and the places we serve in.

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Are You a Christ Follower and Do People Know?

Do the people around you know if you follow Christ? If you own a business do your employees, their families, your customers, your distributors, your vendors, your competitors all know that you follow Christ? If you are an employee do your co-workers know you follow Christ? If you are a teacher do your students know you follow Christ?

In recent years George Barna has released results from a number of studies that show incongruities among American Christians based on their activities and their expressed beliefs in a number of areas.  Bible reading, volunteerism and attendance are all down. The percentage of adults considering themselves unchurched is going up, but so is the percentage who considers themselves born again Christians. Inconsistencies appear when you read how many people have accurate beliefs about who God is, who Jesus is, who the Holy Spirit is, who Satan is, and the Bible’s accuracy. Here are links to the studies:

Barna Examines Trends in 14 Religious Factors over 20 Years (1991 to 2011)

Most American Christians Do Not Believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist

Self-Described Christians Dominate America but Wrestle with Four Aspects of Spiritual Depth

In addition to this research, I’ve recently read a number of books that support the results reported and talk about the reasons for these results. (Radical, David Platt; Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller; Building a Discipling Culture, Mike Breen; Forgotten God, Francis Chan).

As you can imagine, the role of the church is discussed. There is certainly room for improvement in our churches, but they don’t deserve 100% of the blame. After all, they are just as imperfect as the rest of us. My point here is that the church is made up of Christ followers who need to be faithful in their journey in order to affect the other Christ followers around us and more importantly those confused or oblivious who are not following Christ. If each of us would fully embrace what it is to follow Christ, then others will want to do that as well.

So how do we know what a Christ follower looks like and acts like? You have to start with the Bible. If you want to know who God is, if you want to know who Christ is, if you want to know who the Holy Spirit is, if you want to know what your purpose is, you need to read the Bible. Not just parts of it, not just once, but every word, multiple times, continuously throughout your life. At first it may be difficult, and at times it may seem like something on your to-do list, but many times it will be rewarding and you will start to understand God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and your purpose. Greg Laurie does a better job than me describing the user’s manual for life in this piece Hidden Treasure.

In addition to reading the Bible on our own, we need to learn from those who have been reading and studying it before us. That is what the Sunday morning sermons are for, as well as getting into a small group of others studying together, discussing and sharing. Ideally, the group should be small, 4 to 6 of the same sex, led by someone whose life shows evidence of being a Christ follower. The guidelines of having small group of same sex promote honesty and openness.

If you are reading and studying and spending time with other Christ followers then you will learn how to follow Christ in everything. You will learn how to pray, you will develop a desire to help others through volunteering and giving financially, you will overcome negative lifestyle habits, you will be more compassionate and thoughtful, you will desire to worship with other Christ followers, and you will share all of this with others. People around you will see a difference, hear a difference and know the difference is Christ. Learning these things in this way is called discipleship and this is what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 28: 18Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

This has been my journey since I started following Christ in 1994 at the age of 34, so I am speaking from practical experience. I have read the entire Bible multiple times and continue to read as part of my daily life, I worship with others on Sunday and hear Bible based teaching, and I spend time with other guys studying, discussing, praying and sharing life. I have tried to serve others by sharing my time and finances, personally and in business. I am trying to be a 24/7 Christ follower. One thing that I have learned is that here in the United States there are a lot of distractions, a lot of “noise” in our lives that interfere with us pursuing and finding God. In reality, that should not be a challenge to overcome, considering the price other Christians have paid and continue to pay simply for refusing to recant their faith. Millions have been martyred for their faith over the centuries, and thousands continue to be martyred each year. These are people who were killed just because they were Christ followers and people around them knew it. (Persecution.com). If millions have made a choice that they are willing to die for don’t you think it’s a choice we should consider making and living out in a land where we still have the freedom to do so?

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What Do You Think of Church in America?

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”Luke 11:28–30 The Message

These are Jesus’ words, paraphrased by Euguene Peterson in The Message version of the Bible. Don’t they sound inviting, the kind of person you would love to spend time with? That is the kind of person Christians have in fact found in Jesus. Do you feel that way when you think about your local church in America? I don’t want to over generalize or be overly critical, because the churches in  America are doing a lot of good things. They are trying to do their best and they have the same problem that any institution, organization or company has; they are led by flawed men and women.  I love my church. It’s a great place to worship on Sunday, filled with music that is selected with prayer and thought and sermons taught directly from the Bible each week. The leadership is God honoring and desiring that people come to know Jesus personally and grow in their faith. But, my church is not fully succeeding either in this area.

Sometimes God uses the words of other people to prompt you to think about and act on something He wants you to do. When this happens it usually supports some activities you are already engaged in and may be in a situation to go deeper. For a little over a year I have been in a four person group that you could describe as a discipleship group. We started with an intentional purpose of building strong relationships so that we could be honest and transparent with each other and along the way, build and deepen our relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It has been an exceptional experience for me and very much like what is described in the verses from Luke I opened with. It has also taken a lot of time and commitment on our parts to do that.

Our group is now at a fork in the road and I have to make some decisions about what to do next. This is where God used the words of others to give me some guidance. Here are some passages from a novel called “The Last Christian” by David Gregory that I just finished. It is set in 2088 in an America that has no visible Christian population.  They come from a section of the novel where a college class is discussing the causes of Christianity’s demise in America.

“From its outset the Christian religion claimed that the intervention of the deity in people’s lives would change people for the better. They would have a different character. They would have different morals. They would think, speak, and behave differently. They called it Christlikeness – ‘Christ’ of course, being the title given to Jesus of Nazareth.”

“When a large segment of society became openly nonreligious, an amazing thing happened – amazing to the religionists anyway. People discovered that religionists and non-religionists behaved similarly. Sexual behavior, divorce rates, self-reported levels of honesty – none of these varied significantly between religionists and non-religionists.”

These words in a piece of fiction reinforced what I read recently in Francis Chan’s “Forgotten God”: “Church goers all across the nation say the Holy Spirit has entered them. They claim that God has given them a supernatural ability to follow Christ, put their sin to death, and serve the church. Christians talk about being born again and say that they were dead but now have come to life. We have become hardened to these words, but they are powerful words that have significant meaning. Yet when those outside churches see no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, our sanity, or even worse, our God. And can you blame them?”

The church in America in general is not being effective in helping us with this spiritual transformation because it has instead become focused on the Sunday event. Attracting people and keeping them engaged on Sunday morning is the focus, which is working. The church I attend grew from less than 150 when I first came to it in 1995, to over 1,500 today. Sunday services are well done and well attended. Changing lives is happening, but not as often and not to the degree that it could be. The current (July – August 2012) issue of Mission Frontiers magazine is devoted to this topic, “Do We Need to Change the Way We Do Church to Reach the Unreached?” A very challenging article in that issue is the one by Mike Breen, “Obituary for the American Church.”

How do we change the descriptions offered by David Gregory and Francis Chan? How do we enter into the relationship Jesus describes in Luke? First we have to desire that relationship and pursue it, and submit ourselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ, become a follower like I did. Secondly, get involved in a discipleship group of up to four other Christians of the same sex, one of who is already a mature Christian, and live life together, study the scriptures together, share your burdens and challenges, lift each other up and hold each other accountable. This takes time and it takes commitment and it takes intentionality. You have to be patient. This type of relationship can’t be built in a church on a Sunday morning. It can’t even be built in a small group of men and women meeting occasionally like is happening in many churches today. Mike Breen explains this very well in “Building a Discipling Culture.”

This is what I’ve been doing for over the last year. I am fortunate that the person leading our group is deeply involved in this discipleship movement that is moving across America and I will be learning how to do this even better and then along with some others, duplicate ourselves with the intention of multiplication happening.  This is how we follow Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 to “make disciples”. If any of this resonates with you I’d enjoy continuing the conversation, especially if you live in Central Wisconsin.

“Effective discipleship builds the church, not the other way around.” – Mike Breen

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Interested in Learning More About Following Christ?

If you are interested in learning more about what it means to follow Christ, where do you start? The best place is to start reading the Bible, since it is the story of God’s plan for humanity. Starting to read the Bible from Genesis can be a bit intimidating, although everyone should at some point in their life read the Bible cover to cover, start to finish. Someone exploring the idea of following Christ should start with the book of John. John was one of the original twelve disciples, or followers of Christ, and wrote his message about 90 AD. The focus of John’s writings was interpreting and explaining what happened during Christ’s time on earth in our history.

In the 21st century we are fortunate to have access to many free or low cost English versions of the Bible, as well as many other languages. One of my favorite web sites is YouVersion.com where you can read online and download electronic versions of the Bible. BibleGateway.com is another site that is well done. These and other sites have free audio versions of the Bible if you aren’t a reader. An easy to read English translation is the New Living Translation. The New International Version is one of the most popular, and the Message is a very easy to read paraphrase, but loses some accuracy due to it not being a translation. You can buy Bibles online at ChristianBook.com or Amazon. Don’t be afraid to purchase them locally at your Christian book store either, especially if they provide good customer service.

Beyond reading the Bible on your own, you can attend a church where the Bible is taught as part of the worship service on Sunday morning. How do you know if that is being done? The first evidence is that the person leading the teaching time is using a Bible himself and constantly referring to it in his talk. The second evidence is that the congregation is full of people who are following along in their Bibles, turning to the verses being taught from the pulpit. With the advent of electronic versions of the Bible, this is a little more difficult to observe. Some of us still like to highlight and make notes in our Bibles, so we still carry an actual book to church.

Another thing you could do is find someone you know (and hopefully like) who is following Christ and ask them if you could spend time together reading and studying, asking questions and dialoguing about what you are reading. Starting to build a personal relationship with a Christ follower is an excellent way to enter into a relationship with Christ.

If this all sounds a little too intimidating to start with, consider reading books about the subject to start. One I recently finished is Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism”. Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell are also thoughtful writers on this subject.

Contact me directly if you need help finding any of these resources or connecting with someone in your community.

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me. From The Message version of the Bible

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Leaving a Legacy That Matters

What is your legacy? This is a question fresh in my mind as my father completed his earthly journey on June 29th, succumbing to cancer at the age of 70. His legacy is apparent in the four children, thirteen grandchildren and five great grandchildren who lovingly surrounded him in his final days. In his own quiet and private way he modeled how to be a servant to others and that model has been duplicated in the following generations.

As followers of Christ, beyond family, what other legacy will we leave? Will it be material possessions, a business, a reputation or another generation who not only knows and follows Christ, but also shares the good news of eternal salvation through Christ? What does that look like in our culture today, in our workplace, our marketplace? Despite what certain elements of the media, government and culture may try to promote, we do have the freedom to live out and share our faith in all places at all times. This freedom is even greater if you have been blessed to be the owner of a business.

Buck Jacobs, founder of the C12 Group, an executive level peer group for Christian business owners, wrote a short handbook for us owners on how to leave a proper legacy by integrating our business and faith (“A Light Shines Bright in Babylon”). In this book and also through the C12 Group, practical ways of using your business as a ministry are shared, with the intent of building a great business for a greater purpose. The most obvious is to use the profits from your business to promote God’s kingdom by giving to deserving ministries. There are many great examples in the business world like Stanley Tam and R.G. LeTourneau on how to be an obedient steward of these resources. Read “Kingdom Companies” by Jorg Knoblauch & Jurg Opprecht for their stories and others who are using their businesses to build the kingdom.

What you may not realize is that you are always sharing the gospel, whether you intend to or not. You are doing it through the ways you conduct yourself in your business, in your relationships with your employees, your customers, your vendors, everyone you interact with. You may have an impact on thousands of people through your business relationships! That is quite a mission field isn’t it? Our testimony is especially evident in these relationships when there is conflict. In these situations can these people distinguish you from any other business relationship that they have? Do you use Biblical principles to guide you through the many decisions you make in the course of operating your business? Do you have a commitment to integrity and quality in the products or services you offer the marketplace?

If you are actively following Christ in all you do, then He will be evident in your business relationships as well as your relationships with family and friends. The foundation of these relationships will give you credibility and authority to promote Christ through other means. You can have Bibles, New Testaments, Bible Promises or other Christian books in your lobby, you can put scriptural art work on your walls, you can have times of prayer available for any who want to join you and you can publicly thank the Lord for your organization’s success when you experience it. C12 provides a list of 101 marketplace ministry ideas for its members, so there are a number of practical things you can do to use your business as a vehicle for ministry.

None of these practical things will work though if you are not actively living out your submission to Christ in all that you do. In fact, if you are publicly promoting biblical principles and concepts, but not following them yourself as evident in the way you conduct yourself in business, then you are having the exact opposite effect you are intending. You are being hypocritical and undermining not only your ministry, but also the ministry of all others who are actively sharing the gospel.

So be honest about how well you are representing Christ not only on Sunday, but every day, every hour, every minute, every second of your life. Pray that you be in step with the Holy Spirit, getting guidance and direction for the decisions and interactions you will be involved in each business day. Build a legacy that matters for all of eternity, not just one that will end up a faint memory or dust in the wind.

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