Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Are You a Christian in a Religion or a Relationship?

I usually try to avoid describing myself as a Christian, instead using the term Christ follower. Why the attempt to differentiate? Because the terms Christian and religion have such a broad application that they don’t truly represent what I have come to learn about God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and our personal relationship with each element of this Trinity.

Merriam-Webster gives three definitions for the word “religion”:

  1. the belief in a god or in a group of gods
  2. an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
  3. an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

This is what the public generally thinks of us who identify ourselves as Christians. Their view of us tends to be around their perception of the rules and ceremonies. The multitude of Christian denominations has not helped clarify this perception either, especially with some seemingly focused on the rules and ceremonies instead of Bible teaching.

These definitions don’t come very close to describing the true nature of a Christ follower. What does Merriam-Webster say about “Christian”? “A person who believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ”. That is certainly a true statement in a broad sense, but leaves out many elements of the relationship between a Christ follower and Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. The key elements beyond believing in the teachings of Jesus are the commitments that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord. Savior means that Jesus is the only way to be with God in Heaven after we die. Lord means that we are in continual submission to Jesus everyday of our lives. My relationship with God is that He is my Father. The Holy Spirit is my guide and advocate, helping me to make wise choices and helping me communicate with a God who is truly beyond full understanding.

So what does it look like to be in a relationship instead of a religion? It starts with purposefully spending time in the relationship. The communication elements of a spiritual relationship include reading the Bible, which is how God talks to us (revealing who He is and His plan for humanity, as well as how we should conduct ourselves), praying, which is how we talk to God (with the help of the Holy Spirit when we don’t have the words) and worship, both alone and together with other Christ followers. Submission happens when what I want contradicts what Jesus wants for me and from me.

These are daily elements of the relationship, not once a week for an hour or two on Sunday morning. They should be elements you are participating in throughout your day. In addition to my daily habits of Bible reading and prayer in the morning I regularly get wisdom and guidance from online Bibles and prayers when confronted with a decision or request for help or advice from someone. With the easy access to Christian radio and podcasts I am able to worship in my car and at home, as well as listen to Bible teaching from a number of qualified pastors. Sundays I am able to worship with other Christ followers at Bible teaching churches in my town or other towns when traveling. Every choice and decision, including business ones, that I make is rooted in these elements of this relationship I began 20 years ago.

How about you? Are you in a relationship with Jesus, reflected by your daily choices and activities? Or, are you in a religion, practicing ceremonies without a true understanding of what they mean? Are you participating in a religious ceremony on Sunday morning, then leaving every other aspect of following Christ at the door as you leave? Read Matthew chapters 24 and 25 and think about your life and your relationship with Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord.

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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 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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