Advancing the Conversation of Jesus
I want to unravel a few thoughts that are rumbling around inside me with respect to things I want to do this year. I guess these thoughts are actually personal resolutions for the new year of 2016.
Whenever you set out to communicate with people to motivate them toward a given purpose, the question is always asked, “Who is your market?” This may sound a bit strange as we speak of Jesus and his Kingdom, but it really isn’t. Jesus was crystal clear about his market, both in his teachings and in his actions.
We’ve been finding that the younger generation is unusually receptive to the message of simply Jesus and the Kingdom. This is the same positive receptivity we’ve been receiving everywhere we go. My brother, Tamrat, gets such a positive response wherever he speaks around the world. My son, Tim, sees it as he travels the USA in his concerts and the many radio interviews he does. At first glance, it seemed as if the calling was maybe a refocus of our work on young people. THEN, IT HIT ME! It’s not just youth who is our market; it’s those who have ears to hear and eyes to see Jesus and hear his message.
And, as it is examined, this is the strategy of Jesus. He and every other leader who is out to launch a movement always begin with the most receptive and many times it is with the youth. Jesus chose mostly teenagers. Tamrat built an army initially of young people and it grew to 150,000 in 15 years and became strong enough to overthrow the most powerful army in all of Africa. What’s interesting is that when the young, strong, and visionary form a movement, they become a light of hope for the older ones who are prone toward receptivity of this same message.
So the market strategy for the message of Jesus is not only the youth, but all who present themselves with ears to hear and eyes to see. This is precisely the Jesus way and the marketplace as he saw it. Let’s take a look at it.
FIRST: Jesus sought out those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. SECOND: Jesus was looking for receptivity and described it in a variety of soils. THIRD: Jesus sought out the broken, the disenfranchised, the poor, the crippled, the religious outsiders, the turned off, and those who were never turned on spiritually.
FOURTH: Jesus rejected those who had ears, but didn’t hear and had eyes, but didn’t see. FIFTH: Jesus was especially tough on the religious leadership, especially the hypocrites. SIXTH: Jesus rarely sought people out; most came to him. SEVENTH: Jesus trained his followers along the way through meetings, miracles, and field trips together.
We are determined to follow the marketing strategy of Jesus this year. We are refocusing on what it means for us to welcome and work with those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. It means that we are committed to following the EXAMPLE of Jesus as outlined above. It means that we are NOT FRANTIC to go make this strategy happen; we respond to everyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see. It means that we will use the platforms we have been given to invite all those sent to us into the conversation of Jesus.
It means that we multiply our efforts to communicate Jesus and his Kingdom by walking together with like-minded followers. We are looking forward to sharing what we’re learning with you—for your life, for sharing with your children, and for your Kingdom work with those Jesus is sending your way.
NOTE: Whatever we determine to do to share Jesus and the Kingdom to our world, it all starts with us. If we are going to refocus our market on those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, we have to have ears to hear and eyes to see. So, what are you doing each day to open your ears and eyes to Jesus? Take the time you need to listen for what Jesus is saying to you and to look for what Jesus is doing around you. Start today!
The second thought that is a concern to me is the concept of vision. Vision is not just for companies; it’s for you as a person. It’s your ultimate goal—your dream! Your vision must be big enough that you can never fully complete it, therefore it becomes your ultimate purpose in life. Your vision is what you are always striving to practice. You learn to accept what moves you toward your vision and you learn what things to avoid that keep moving you off your vision.
Years ago, in the corporate world, I articulated my vision as: “I want to empower individuals to be and to do all that they were created to be and to do.” It worked well for me for quite some time. It contained a balance of being and doing, which is prominent in my thinking. It also planted the seed thought that you were created to be and to do; it had the touch of the supernatural element in it. It was helpful in not offending anyone unnecessarily or turn anyone off to Christianity.
THEN, I had a personal encounter with Jesus. It wasn’t a religious encounter, but it was life-changing—inside and out. I say that “I found Jesus”, but that’s not true. “Jesus found me!” I met Jesus of Nazareth—just Jesus.
After this encounter, I saw my vision differently. It was so clear and so natural to me to say that my vision is: I want to advance the conversation of Jesus and the Kingdom. This is it! I love it! What’s interesting is that I can freely say this and no one seems to be offended at all!
Yesterday, I was at the counter at the grocery store, talking with one of my favorite checkers. She looked up at another of the checkers and said, “He writes books!” She’s always telling people that. She’s one of my best marketing persons. The other checker said, “Really, on what?” My friend quickly said, “He writes about Jesus!” I then quickly said, “Not the religious Jesus, but the Jesus without religious baggage.” Everywhere I go I want to advance the conversation of Jesus.
Note something here. I am not advancing the conversion of anyone into any organization or way of thinking or belief. I am advancing the conversation of Jesus with no hidden agenda. And, the conversation rarely ends, but continues! The person of Jesus without religious additives is so attractive!
I want to advance the conversation of Jesus and the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the living out of the principles and teachings of Jesus. So, advancing the conversation of the Kingdom is to encourage the kind of behavior that Jesus would do or suggest that we do. You can advance the conversation by just being Jesus wherever you go—talking, walking, loving, and thinking like Jesus. You may not even mention his name at first. The message will get through and the conversation will eventually happen.
All day long, I get to meet people and advance this amazing conversation. It’s the most exciting thing ever! I think it was Steve Jobs who said: “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you!”
If you don’t yet have a vision for your life, practice this one for a few weeks and see how comfortable it is. What’s interesting about embracing this vision is that there is a real good possibility that you can participate in changing the world!
I like what is attributed to Nelson Mandela says about vision: “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” Get a vision that can make a real difference in your world. Get a vision and act on it!
Once we have identified our market strategy as seeking those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the vision is easily articulated. An online friend just sent me this: “I believe 'vision' determines the rhythm of our hearts. With it there is excitement and energy for living; without it there is little more than existence.” (John Wallace) This motivates me even more to embrace the vision of advancing the conversation of Jesus and the Kingdom.
Now we come to refocusing your mission. In my way of thinking, your mission in life as a follower of Jesus, is to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself, because God is love. Abide in love and you’ll abide in God and God will abide in you.
Loving God is making God primary in your life. It’s disciplining yourself to be God-centered. This God-centeredness is expressed within the 10 Commandments with “You shall have no other gods before me.”
There are 3 specific meanings here: FIRST: You shall have no other gods instead of Me! God wants to be your God without any substitute. SECOND: You shall have no other gods in front of Me! God takes offense at even seeing any other god placed in front of Him. THIRD: You shall have no other gods in addition to Me! God is against any sort of add-ons. The God of gods wants to be just that, to you—the God of all gods!
Why? What motivates the follower of Jesus to love God with all his heart? I've come up with, at least, four motivating factors—four things the follower of Jesus knows.
- The follower of Jesus knows God is the God of gods. There is no doubt; God is God and you are not.
- The follower of Jesus knows God is the source of life, goodness and wholeness. Therefore he focuses on God with all of his heart. He loves Him.
- The follower of Jesus knows God is there and cares. God is not distant, but very present and God is love.
- The follower of Jesus knows God knows him the best and loves him the most. Think of it! God knows every little weakness and flaw and yet still loves you unconditionally. Because of God's unconditional love and relentless search to have a relationship with you, you now have the ability and freedom to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.
If you ever get overwhelmed with all of the teachings and principles of following Jesus, always default back to your primary mission in life—what Jesus says is the greatest commandment. If you practice these two as a lifestyle, you will be practicing the Kingdom purely and powerfully. If you embrace these two, you will learn how to really live life to its fullest! So, why not go for it, starting today?
Let’s summarize where we are so far in our resolutions for 2016.
Your market focus is on those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.
Your vision is to advance the conversation of Jesus and the Kingdom.
Your mission is to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself.
NOTE: Your market is all around the world and your vision is never-ending. Your mission must not end either. It’s vital that you begin, continue daily, and return back to your mission of loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. This kind of focus on your mission helps to keep you current and fresh in your vision of advancing the conversation of Jesus and the Kingdom. Everything you do starts and ends right back here with your heart set on loving God and your neighbor.
NOW, you are ready to set personal objectives. Objectives are priority behaviors that move you more effectively to carry out to fulfillment your mission of loving God and others.
It seems to me that your primary, personal objective is to do all you can do to have eyes to see and ears to hear. Jesus gives us direction for doing this. As Jesus makes the shift into teaching by way of parables, he lays a foundation for understanding the Kingdom principles for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. Several helpful factors stand out: The most powerful element of the Kingdom lifestyle exists in a seed, and a very small one at that. Therefore the power of the Kingdom is not what is readily seen. It's invisible, imperceptible and yet indelible in its markings on those who follow after Jesus and those they touch.
Jesus speaks of the four kinds of soils into which the seed is sown. The first three are prevented from becoming fruitful. The fourth is the good soil, which represents the person who is fully interested, completely receptive to the seed and properly prepared for growth. This is truly the person Jesus is always looking for. These are the people who have ears to hear and eyes to see. This is the only soil where the seed takes root, produces a shoot, and becomes fruitful. And the fruitfulness is amazing! Some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty—that's 100 times, 60 times, and 30 times the seed that was sown!
This brings me to the pivotal point of this primary, personal objective. The specific objective of each follower of Jesus is to prepare his or her own heart to receive the seed in order to establish its root, develop a shoot, and bear fruit. Even as I say that, I realize that preparation of the heart may be more what you don't do, than what you do.
This objective of preparing your heart requires that you don't allow the trials and troubles, which come against you to distract you away from having a receptive heart that is leaning in toward Jesus and the Kingdom. It requires that you don't get caught up in worrying about your life and your world. It also requires that you don't allow the riches of this world to deceive you into thinking they are more important than walking in the ways of Jesus and the Kingdom lifestyle. If you don't do these things, you will be able to keep your soil good and receptive to the seed of the word of God—the message of the Kingdom.
He plants a seed in the soil of your heart. Then he waits. Knowing that in time the seed will germinate, take root, and eventually transform you. From the inside out! Note that every one of these soils heard the Good News message. What made the difference was what they did, once they heard this powerful message—the message that is in the seed.
Let me summarize it this way: The primary, personal objective is for you to lean in to Jesus and his teachings with all your heart. Many times I’ve said that the one thing God requires of you is for you to be interested. It’s more than this. It’s not enough to have once been interested enough to believe and follow; it’s vital that you keep on being interested as a lifestyle! Now, that is not only the good soil Jesus mentions; it’s the best soil for receiving all Jesus has for you as you advance the conversation of Jesus and the Kingdom.
There seem to be three kinds of objectives—personal, relational, and lifestyle. Yesterday, we examined your personal objective of leaning in to Jesus and his teachings with all your heart. This means living in the present and remaining fully interested in all Jesus has to do and say. By the way, disciplining yourself in this way sets you up to be a revolutionary like Jesus.
A revolutionary doesn’t operate alone, but finds life-support in the fellowship and family of Jesus. A revolutionary participates within a fellowship of followers of Jesus and discovers that within this fellowship his life takes on meaning and strength.
You see, in the fellowship of Jesus there are certain things you learn
to do together that make that fellowship most effective. You learn to teach one another the teachings and principles of Jesus as you understand them. You learn to pray together—agreeing in the name of Jesus for answers to life's greatest struggles and questions. You learn to enjoy eating together, feeling safe to share your heart, your joys and your burdens with one another. You learn the empowerment of true fellowship together by doing life with a few others who hold you up and help you get through the piles of life.
You learn to love one another to the point that you take care of one another's needs—physically, emotionally, fiscally and spiritually. You learn how to be one with others, just as Jesus prayed for us to be one in him.
I want to spend the rest of my life being a revolutionary, hanging out with revolutionaries and making revolutionaries all in the name of Jesus! I can't see any place I'd rather be or any better place to spend my time, talent and treasure than in the fellowship of this Jesus movement.
The relational objective to walk with others is a commitment to be in community with a few, in conversation with Jesus with that few,
and encouraging one another to be like Jesus. The relational objective to walk with a few provides a level of personal support that we all need. Walking with others provides strength to handle whatever may come in life. There’s something about knowing you are not alone that empowers. Without others in your life you are weakened and at your lowest. Encouragement is easily drained, yet within a few trusted friends you will find yourself fueled by the others who are doing life with you. Without others you can easily become discouraged and distracted.
A learning dynamic presents itself within a smaller setting. When walking with others, it’s so much easier to experience how others are living the principles of Jesus. If you want ears to hear and eyes to see Jesus, operate within a group.
Finally and most importantly, walking with others is a sure place where Jesus will show up. Without others you tend to forget how real and present Jesus is. Walking with others is one of those disciplines of life that produces great results for you and those with whom you are walking.
Living fully requires that you walk with Jesus. When you walk with Jesus, you are the walking solution to people’s needs everywhere. And, the only way to faithfully walk with Jesus is to walk together! This is the essence of the relational objective we want to embrace—to walk with a few others in unity.
God isn’t calling you into Christianity, churchianity or some unique spiritual club. He is calling you into the fellowship of Jesus and his people.
Your objectives are priority behaviors that move you more effectively to carry out your mission of loving God and your neighbors as yourself. There are three primary objectives—personal, relational, and lifestyle.
Your personal objective is basically to remain interested and discipline yourself to lean into Jesus and the Kingdom. Your relational objective is to operate in community—in the power of the few and never alone. Now, we come to your lifestyle objective.
Your lifestyle objective is the primary activity where your life-energy is to be spent.
Jesus taught extensively about the planting of seed. In fact, the sowing of seed seems to be the primary activity in the kingdom of God Jesus taught.
In Matthew’s version of this teaching Jesus says that he is the sower. When Jesus was physically on the earth, his words were pitched out to those who listened to him. Today, Jesus is still sowing the seed, but now he is doing it through our lives and through the stories of those who are following him.
Jesus refers to the seed sown in three ways (Matthew 13; Luke 8): The seed is the “word of God.” The seed is the “message of the Kingdom.” The seed is the “sons of the Kingdom.”
Jesus seems to view the seed sown in and through the sons of the Kingdom as the word of God and the message of God’s Kingdom. This is what his primary message was as he taught throughout the villages and synagogues. Therefore, the word of God—the message of the Kingdom—is the active presence of God, working within, among and through the followers of Jesus in the form of a seed.
This seed has tremendous spiritual power within those who are followers of Jesus—to be productive—to be fruitful. It is able to produce amazing levels of fruit. To be fruitful is to enjoy the peace, joy, love and grace of Jesus for yourself and if you as a follower show up, you can bring that same fruit for those in need.
Out of all of the eight parables recorded in Matthew 13 only one parable has an action step to it. There is one primary activity within the Kingdom Jesus came to establish. It’s right here in the parable of the soils. The primary activity of the Kingdom is the constant sowing of the seed of the Good News of the Kingdom.
- The primary activity is not trying to get people to go to heaven.
- It is not trying to convert people to join a certain religion.
- It is not trying to get people to join your religious organization.
The primary activity is the sowing of seed—introducing the word of God, the Good News of the Kingdom, which is present and alive within and among the followers of Jesus. The primary activity is introducing people to the person of Jesus—without all the religious baggage.
The primary activity of sowing the seed in the Kingdom today is in actuality what Jesus commanded his followers to do: Make disciples of all nations! The planting of seeds through your lifestyle everywhere you go is the process of making followers (disciples) of Jesus. How is it going?
There are 4 principles—universal life truths—that are grounded in the Kingdom teachings of Jesus. These 4 principles make up the best strategy for advancing the conversation of Jesus and the Kingdom. These are at the core of the Kingdom secrets Jesus revealed.
The first strategic step is to SEE Jesus. This is the most vital step in developing your strategy. To see Jesus is to refocus on Jesus as your model, your mantra, and your constant standard for living. Jesus is your reference point and filter for seeing and doing everything. As you refocus on Jesus, you will find yourself on-message.
Being on-message is all about who you are—your character. This is the principle of self-awareness. The action-step here is a constant refocus. Remember when I said that the toughest thing you'll ever do is to be yourself—to be all you are created to be and to do.
So, where are you going to discover who you are? It's certainly more than looking into a mirror, visiting a shrink, or getting feedback from your small group. I've come to realize that the only way for me to understand who I am is to get a better understanding of whose I am. In the Kingdom of God I am a follower of the King—Jesus. To Jesus I declare my allegiance. He is my master teacher. And, as I get to know Jesus personally, I am getting to know myself.
My refocusing on Jesus is fundamental to refocusing on my character—who I am. My trustworthiness—my character—is only authentic as it is grounded in my best friend, Jesus. Through this action of refocusing, Jesus becomes the reference point for my life. He not only raises the bar of character; Jesus is the bar! As I refocus on Jesus, I become more and more a man of my word and I can become more and more trustworthy that I will do what I say.
For years I've heard and said in a derogatory way, "It's all about you!" But today I get it. In a very real sense, it IS all about YOU. Life is all about you and your choices—you and your character. And, if Jesus is where you go to refocus and readjust your character, then your YOU is beautiful, attractive, and full of balance and wholeness. This is what I mean by being on-message!
Whenever a Jesuit priest begins to lose focus or struggle a bit, he is sent right back to getting back on track—to refocus his life around Jesus. This is the core and foundation to any leadership profile. It starts with me! It starts with you!
It's not an act, but a way of living. It's who you are, more than what you do. It's never complete, but an ongoing process! It begins here, remains here, and often must return right back here to you and your heart response to Jesus.
NOW NOTE: Your experience, strength, and hope you find in your encounter with Jesus is unique to you. Just as you’ve been created with a unique DNA, you experience Jesus differently than most anyone else and you’ve been created with a unique message to bring to the world. So, when you are on-message, your message may be very different from the message I bear.
We carry the same vision of advancing the conversation of Jesus and the Kingdom, the same mission of loving God and loving others, and we hold to the same personal, relational, and lifestyle objectives, BUT your personal strategy is just that—personal and unique!
Jesus explained to Peter how his life was going to be as he aged. Then, Peter turned toward John and asked Jesus, “What about him?” Jesus said, “It’s none of your business what I do with John. You, on your part, follow me!” That’s it!
Once Jesus has our allegiance to follow him, then Jesus can lead each of us in the ways he desires us to go. Jesus will deploy us wherever he wants and wherever is most needed.
And, whenever you aren’t sure of your direction and you’ve lost your way, you must get back to strategic step #1, where you can SEE JESU
There are four universal life truths that are grounded in the Kingdom teachings of Jesus. I’ve been living and working with these life principles for several decades. As I unpack these four principles, I want to remind you that they are most helpful in forming the most effective strategy for making a difference in living out the Kingdom lifestyle. The first strategic step is to SEE JESUS—to be on-message in every aspect of your life.
The second strategic step is to FOLLOW JESUS. Once you learn how important it is to refocus on seeing Jesus more clearly, you are launched into a most amazing context—to be on-call. Being on-message is when you discover more clearly what your message is that you were created to communicate to the world. When you are on-call in the Kingdom of God, you are learning to be ready to do whatever you are called to do by the Master, Jesus. And, what I'm discovering is there is little you can do to prepare yourself for this step, other than to hang out with and to hang on to Jesus.
This is counterintuitive to how we educate and even "disciple" others. Our normal method of operation is to teach and train people in all kinds of things before ever sending them into any trenches, where they must become functional and useful. By the way, this is where I was educated beyond my useful intelligence. I was taught things that I never will use in a lifetime. It's like memorizing the phonebook, because you may need it some day!
This second strategic step is to place a person into action immediately, once he has come to know and love Jesus as his best friend forever. This immediately puts into action the authenticity of what this relationship means! It’s one thing to know Jesus, now it’s time to act like it, no matter the situation.
Jesus did this on several occasions. Remember when Jesus sent out the early 12 disciples. Matthew says, Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. (Matthew 10)
Jesus sent these early followers before they were fully believing or understanding who Jesus was. So, as soon as they were leaning in to be followers of Jesus, they were sent out to do these miracles. They were placed into a context, where they must move into some kind of creative action in the name of Jesus that will prove out their faith.
After Jesus healed the "crazy, wild" demoniac, the demoniac wanted to follow along with Jesus. However Jesus refused to let him follow along with him. Instead, Jesus sent this recently healed demoniac back to his people—to the Decapolis (10 Roman cities). Jesus sent him without much training at all, freshly transformed, back into his culture to tell his people what God had done for him. As soon as Jesus was assured of the demoniac's heart relationship—assured that the demoniac had truly SEEN JESUS and was on-message, then Jesus sent him into a context where he must now be on-call by following Jesus.
The action step for being on-message is to refocus on seeing Jesus; the action step for being on-call is to resonate with Jesus as you relate to your new context. When you are placed into a context where there is no set plan to take, you must ask the question: "What can I do to help?" As you resonate with Jesus finding the answer to this question, he will give you the ingenuity to respond. It's building on your relationship with Jesus to live out a partnership with Jesus to make positive life changes wherever you go. This is allowing your heart that is on the Jesus message to also resonate with the needs that come your way!
NOTE: In the same way each of us experiences Jesus in a different way, so do we follow Jesus in different ways. As we wait on Jesus to lead out with orders and opportunities, he will lead us in a variety of ways. Just this last week I met with a follower of Jesus who has been given the strong desire to work with those who are in need of eye surgery in Viet Nam. I met another man who has a heart for lepers.
An email plea came to me again this morning from a brother whom Jesus is leading to work with the Syrian refugees in the Middle East. Another close friend is being led to love on and share Jesus with Muslim friends, not to convert them, but to introduce them to Jesus.
Jesus is at work in and through his followers to touch people everywhere, in every culture around the world. By the way, when you are on-call to follow Jesus wherever he leads, you most often will be led into a context that is unpleasant, unfavorable, and even a little hostile toward you. Following Jesus in this sort of context will substantiate your faith and will forge the character of Jesus within you. Adversity forges character. This is why I’ve said from the beginning of this Jesus journey that following Jesus is the toughest thing I’ve ever attempted to do.
So, the strategy begins with seeing Jesus clearly and then testing out who this Jesus is in your life by committing to follow his lead, no matter what, where, or when! You are now on-call. Are you listening or is your line already too busy to answer?
We’ve established our vision together as advancing the conversation of Jesus and the Kingdom. We’ve established our mission together is to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We’ve suggested three objectives, which are priority behaviors that move you more effectively to carry out your mission of loving God and your neighbors as yourself. There are three primary objectives—personal, relational, and lifestyle.
Your personal objective is basically to remain interested and discipline yourself to lean into Jesus and the Kingdom. Your relational objective is to operate in community—in the power of the few and never alone. Your lifestyle objective is the primary activity and life-energy within the Kingdom, focused on planting the seeds of the Good News message of Jesus.
Most of us can agree on the vision, mission, and objectives as we’ve laid them out. They are universals for all of us to embrace as a lifestyle. The strategy is the how of carrying out the vision, mission and objectives we have agreed upon.
Remember this. Within the realm of strategy there is variety and difference in how each of us carries it out.
The first strategic step is to SEE JESUS, which is to be on-message. Once you learn how important it is to refocus on being on-message with Jesus, you are launched into a most amazing context. This context tends to have a crucible effect to verify your genuineness. It's within this context that you move into the second strategic step, in which you are invited to FOLLOW JESUS. This is being on-call to Jesus for whatever, whenever and wherever he wants. This step forges the character of Jesus in you as you faithfully learn to follow in his steps. As you follow Jesus, you will soon learn how important it is to resonate with people in need. This is activated by practicing the question in every encounter, "What can I do to help?"
The third strategic step is to GATHER with other followers of Jesus, who tend to keep you on-track with your vision of advancing the conversation of Jesus and your mission of loving God and loving others. In your first two steps, you experience what it means to know Jesus and take on his character, then to be ready to be Jesus within your world context. This is a great experience! There is nothing like it! However, you will quickly come to feel the need for the third step, to keep your momentum and strength. To be on-track is to learn how important it is to reconnect with others who are on-message and on-call. You are not meant to live the Kingdom lifestyle alone.
Being on-track is the realization of your need to never walk alone. You need to learn the power of interdependence—the dynamic of community. The Jesuits call this the principle of love. It's learning to do life together—to make relationships work as you gather together. The beauty of this kind of gathering together is the wide variety and differences each one brings to the group. This is what has a sharpening effect.
Jesus pulled away from the masses and the crowds to be alone, but he always walked with a few. And, when Jesus sent out his followers, he was careful to instruct them to travel together. There is something most powerful in walking together as a compassionate team. It's within community that you learn to love and be loved.
You don't need many, but you desperately need others in your life, those who give a rip about you and you about them. I spent most of my life operating within a crowd of people, but painfully alone with respect to having a family member walking alongside me. Today, I enjoy the comfort and strength of a few brothers and sisters who have become real family to me. Some live right here in southern California. Some live a distance away, out of the area or out of the State. A few men and women live in other nations.
Naturally, the frequency of communication varies in every instance, yet I feel unusually connected with this community—this family Jesus has raised up around me.
What makes it even more special is that Diana and I enjoy this blessing together. And, on a daily basis we acknowledge our gratefulness for these who are our brothers and sisters. Believe me, as only children, Diana and I have learned to embrace this family with a great amount of appreciation. Not only are we each stronger individually, but we are stronger together due to the loving connection we enjoy with this family.
Diana and I are terminal introverts! We are learning to love and be loved by this family. We enjoy the affirmation, the accountability, the promptings, and the incentives that truly keep us on-track as we learn what it means to live in the Kingdom of God.
This Kingdom lifestyle requires from each of us that we:
* Refocus on Jesus to shape our character - to be on-message.
* Resonate with the needs within your context - to be on-call.
* Reconnect with people as you gather in community - to be on-track.
Now, how about you? Are you walking with a few who are helping you keep on track with Jesus? How’s your strategy working?
To carry out the vision of advancing the conversation of Jesus and the Kingdom and to fulfill your accompanying mission and objectives, it’s vital that you adopt a strategy for how you are going to live your life. Whereas your vision, mission, and objectives may be universally accepted among us all, your strategy will most certainly vary quite a bit from one follower of Jesus to another. Our unity is in Jesus, who stands at the pinnacle of our vision, mission and objectives. Our diversity is directed individually by Jesus, deploying each of us wherever he wills and wherever we can be most effective in the realm of the Kingdom of God on earth.
The first strategic step is to SEE JESUS, being on-message. Once you learn how important it is to refocus on being on-message, you are launched into a most amazing context. It's within this context that you move into the second strategic step where you must FOLLOW JESUS, being on-call. The third strategic step is to GATHER, meaning to be on-track. To be on-track is to learn how important it is to reconnect with others who are on-message and on-call. You are not meant to live the Kingdom lifestyle alone.
Finally, after processing through the first three strategic steps for living life most fully within the Kingdom of God, you come to your ultimate purpose for your life. The fourth strategic step is to GO, living your life on-purpose. This is your calling—your unique message that you carry within you to contribute to the rest of the world. No one can tell you your purpose. It is written into your DNA. I visualize it as being written on your inside label, down deep in your being. Only you are able to see it—to dream it!
Being on-message requires that you refocus your heart in relationship with Jesus. This may be the most exciting, dynamic step of all, because you are experiencing the dynamic of partnership with Jesus, as you personally encounter Jesus—as you really SEE JESUS!
Being on-call requires that you resonate Jesus with the needs of the people around you. I like to call this the dynamic of followship — how well you follow Jesus and embrace his character. This is just you and Jesus making a positive difference in what may be a very difficult and uncomfortable place to be, but you determine to FOLLOW JESUS, whom you have really seen and encountered for yourself!
Being on-track requires that you reconnect with others — your community. This is the dynamic of genuine fellowship, where you gain a sense of comfort and strength to live out the Kingdom lifestyle. You experience this sense of strength, because you are choosing to GATHER with other followers of Jesus!
SEE JESUS, FOLLOW JESUS, GATHER AROUND JESUS, and now the strategic step is to GO WITH JESUS. This is living your life on-purpose. This ushers you into the primary activity of the Kingdom Jesus came to introduce—to plant the seeds that will ultimately bring forth the fruitfulness of more followers of Jesus. This is the dynamic, and what I believe to be the missing link in most ministry efforts—the dynamic of discipleship.
To be on-purpose in such a way that you are making disciples is the most epic thing you can do in the Kingdom of God. The Jesuits call this the principle of heroism. You must learn to live a life of risk. When I find a person who is a proactive Kingdom man or woman, I usually refer to them as "dangerous." I love working with dangerous people who are followers of Jesus, because they are people of intentionality. They live their lives for Jesus and the Kingdom and not for themselves.
I know too many people who are still too self-centered or are under the illusion that they possess what they have, because of their hard work and personal efforts. They don't understand that they have been blessed by the God of gods to be stewards of what they have and that the stuff they have—however much or little—belongs to Jesus and the Kingdom. The problem is not about having enough stuff, but believing in your heart that you deserve your stuff and that you own it for yourself. The Kingdom man or woman clearly understands that all they have is to be enjoyed by them and to be shared for the purpose of Kingdom business.
In summary, to be on-message is to ask, "Who am I in Jesus?" To be on-call is to ask, "What can I do to help?" To be on-track is to ask, "Who is walking with me?" Being on-purpose is to ask, "What am I to do with what I have?"
These are the first questions a dangerous Kingdom person asks. What life questions are you asking? How is your strategy working in the Kingdom?
In the first two weeks of 2016 we have built a case for embracing and living out a lifestyle based upon Jesus and the Kingdom. We have laid out a vision, mission, and 3 objectives that are foundational and universal for all of us who seek to follow in the steps of Jesus. Then, we set forth a 4 faceted strategy that allows each of us to apply the teachings and principles in the way we feel led to do so.
Jesus is all about action, especially the action-steps that are in response to what he taught.
There are three illustrations of Jesus’ propensity for action-steps that come up for me most frequently. The first is when his mother and brothers came to see him, but were unable to get into the house where he was teaching. It’s recorded in Luke: And His mother and brothers came to Him, and they were unable to get to Him because of the crowd. And it was reported to Him, “Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see You.” But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:19-21)
This is a most incredible statement from the lips of Jesus. Do you understand what’s going on here? Jesus makes it crystal clear that he views his family differently than one might think. He says, “My mother and my brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” The people of the Kingdom—Jesus’ followers—are not blood related. They are related to Jesus due to their actions in response to his teachings. This is a high regard for action-steps!
The second illustration that comes up for me is when Jesus says that only those who do the will of the Father will enter the Kingdom of heaven. Matthew records this: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-14)
What does Jesus mean by ‘doing the will of my Father’? I believe he answers this clearly in what he says next: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:21-27)
Do you see the difference between the wise and foolish builders? Both of them hear the words of Jesus, however the wise man acts upon the words of Jesus; the foolish man does not act on those same words.
The third illustration of Jesus’ emphasis upon action-steps that comes to my mind is the passage I write about more than any other. Listen to it: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
After Jesus presents his primary mandate to MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS, he gives three participles on how to carry out his mandate—by going, by baptizing, and by teaching. NOTE what Jesus says about teaching: “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” In Jesus’ teachings, he gave about 40 commands. These commands are Jesus’ personal action-steps for us to follow and teach others to observe. At a later date, we will make our way back into those 40 commands, those action-steps.
Over the next several days, I want to move into what I believe to be the most practical, powerful, and promising action-steps you can ever take on for yourself. There are 8 of them and they have the potential to be life-changing!
- See more at: https://timtimmons.com/resolutions/#sthash.CozMhRlz.dpuf
As I have studied and taught the Scriptures for over 50 years, there are a few passages that stand out over all the rest—the ones that have made a significant difference in my life and resonate with more than most. Peter writes one of these passages and sums up 8 most vital practices for Jesus’ followers. These practices are most down-to-earth and have the most specific and astounding promises attached to them.
The 8 practices are undergirded by a foundation of promises from God, Himself: 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. 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. (II Peter 1:3-4…The Message)
The 8 qualities or practices are listed out as follows: Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. (II Peter 1:5-7)
Now, NOTE the promises that are yours, if you faithfully act out these practices:
Promise #1—For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Promise #2—For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
Promise #3—Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;
Promise #4—for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. (II Peter 1:8-11)
I will examine each of the 8 action-steps listed here and will more closely unpack the promises this week and next.
The first action-step here is FAITH. This is the basis for your entire spiritual life and growth. Every one of the other practices is to be added to your faith.
For too long my faith was boring, almost dead at times, needing life-support. I misunderstood what faith is to be. The original language for the word “faith” is the same word for belief, believe, conviction, a code of conduct, and a persuasion. To me, these aren’t what Jesus had in mind. These terms are for theologians and for the academics. Jesus viewed faith as a verb! For me, translating “faith” as trust activates my faith by personalizing it.
When Jesus claimed, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” Jesus is not asking you to add him to your belief system, he wants you to trust him.
In that same conversation, the people asked Jesus: “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” In other words, “How can we do the work that God requires of us?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29) Again, Jesus is not saying that the work of God is to add belief about Jesus being sent by God to their list of beliefs. Jesus is saying, “This is the work of God, that you TRUST in the one God sent.” Who is this one? His name is Jesus. Your first and primary action-step is to practice this faith by TRUSTING Jesus for everything in your life. Don’t just believe; personally trust in Jesus with your entire life!
The first action-step we saw yesterday is that you TRUST Jesus with your whole life. All of the next 7 action-steps are to be added to your personal trust in Jesus. All 8 of these qualities and action-steps aren’t meant to sound like clanging symbols with lots of offensive noise, but these 8 are added to one another as you would add a note to a beautiful chord. Or, to extend the imagery, these 8 action-steps make up a full symphony of the most attractive and harmonious sounds of the Kingdom lifestyle on earth.
The second action-step and the first to be added to your faith is VIRTUE. Virtue is a tough word to understand. It’s identified as moral excellence and goodness. Virtue has the sense of standing tall, a certain “manliness” and moral strength. It seems to me that the best way to articulate the action-step is to declare yourself—to stand on your own two feet. You trust Jesus, now you add your personal commitment to act like it. So, the action-step is to take a stand that you intend to act out your faith—your trust. It’s not taking a stand against anything, but taking a stand for living out your personal trust in Jesus. You declare that you trust Jesus; now you’re going to act like it!
Virtue has to do with having an uncommon character that is worthy of admiration. It’s to be an exemplary character, embracing the character of Jesus in this fully corrupt world.
To declare your commitment to walk in the steps of Jesus has a certain social dimension to it, as you do your best to live between two kingdoms. You are called to be the highest moral standard of consistency, in line with your faith—your trust in Jesus. This is true character!
We know we aren’t perfect and have character flaws. We don’t know where to go with our flaws, so we cover them up. So, we all must learn to take you character flaws to Jesus and he will recycle them into something stronger and better.
NOTE: There is a wonderful insight within this listing of the 8 action-steps or practices. Followers of Jesus are urged to: apply all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence. First, you are to be diligent in adding these practices to your faith. Who is responsible for adding these to your faith? Are you to pray for them to be added? No! You are to be diligent in adding these practices to your faith!
And, second, you are not only to add these practices to your faith; you are to supply these to your faith. YOU DO IT! The term ‘supply’ means to fully supply, lavishly supply, even better than you did last year. This term is used of a citizen within a Greek city-state. Different citizens were asked to fully underwrite—to lavishly supply—a major city-state event. And, do it better than last year! YOU DO IT!
Do you see how practical and powerful this is? As a follower of Jesus, you are deemed able enough to fully supply each of these practices to your faith—your trust in Jesus.
This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5, where Jesus empowers his followers by saying, “You are the salt of the earth” that must be sensed and “You are the light of the world” that must be seen! And, Jesus isn’t hoping you will become the salt of the earth or the light of the world. He confidently says that YOU ARE! So, DO IT! Be salt and light. Take a stand on your own two feet as you declare yourself a committed follower of Jesus!
Trust, Take a stand, and now we come to the 3rd action-step—KNOWLEDGE. This is the second quality to be added to your faith in this beautiful symphony of your spiritual life.
I don't think Peter is talking so much about "knowing God" here. That's part of the basis that comes with faith. Here he's talking about experiential knowledge of how to live the Jesus lifestyle. We can bounce around in spiritual ignorance only so long. Now it's time to learn spiritual lessons and begin to grow.
When it comes to knowledge, we tend to believe the more we know the better. I was brought up in a system of “Bible” memory. We were taught that your spiritual growth was dependent upon knowing a massive amount of verses. These verses became ammunition for proving our religious and theological positions. These were our “proof-texts” for life! We had a “Bible” verse for everything!
It became a game to see who had the best memory of the “word of God” at the ready to speak to any subject. We had verses for every attack against every doctrine. We had verses ready for every different denomination or religion. I remember asking, “What’s the best verse to use on Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, when they come to your door?” We were ready for every battle. And, as we matured a bit, we were ready with a verse for every problem a person might present—depression, death, worry, stress, fear, anger, and guilt.
There are two kinds of knowledge. One has to do with detail, facts, and information. At first, I was taught this is all you need to know. This knowledge was used for spouting, not for spiritual growth and development. This knowledge never seemed to personally penetrate the heart—not the spouter (that would be me) and not the spoutee (the intended target of my spouting).
A few years ago, I conducted a memorial service for a friend of mine who had been widely known in the Newport Beach social and business circles as an atheist. Bill and I became friends and met quite frequently for breakfast at different Country Clubs. He couldn’t stand Christians. He called them the “born-againers”, yet was totally fascinated with Jesus without religious baggage. At our first breakfast, I challenged Bill on his claim to be an atheist (knowing for sure there is no God) and within about one minute, he agreed he was an agnostic (not knowing for sure, but searching it out). I’ve met only one atheist who remained an atheist over 3 minutes.
This first kind of knowledge that teaches you to spout your beliefs and attack those who don’t believe the same, was the common practice of the “born-againers” Bill hated so much. They spouted their verses and clichés and were most offensive to Bill and so many others. The end of the story is that Jesus transformed Bill’s heart as he and I studied the teachings of Jesus together. Bill actually experienced the new birth without the ability and propensity to spout. It was a beautiful thing!
At Bill’s memorial service, a prominent, internationally known businessman, came up to me afterward and said, “I’d like to know the same Jesus Bill got to know.” And, just at that moment, a “born-againer” interrupted our conversation, spouting that this new enquirer needed to “confess his sins and ask Jesus into his heart right there”. Not only was her knowledge inaccurate and ill timed; her spouting was most offensive! This man quickly said, “I’ve heard your way and don’t like it. I’m going with what I heard today about getting to know Jesus.”
The second kind of knowledge has to do with experience and is called “experiential knowledge”. It’s not learned data or memorization or spouting material. This is knowledge that knows something personally or relationally. This is the same sense as was meant in the 4th chapter of Genesis, where it says, “And Adam knew Eve”. Adam knew Eve sexually, intimately, personally!
Knowledge is one of the words used to define wisdom in the 7 pillars of wisdom in the Proverbs. It has two dimensions to it. 1) To gather data—to perceive something. 2) To grasp it for yourself—to possess something and embrace it personally. This is the 3rd practice—TO GRASP the knowledge of God in such a way that you are able to experience it in your life daily.
The Creator-God is all about relationship. We’re not left to our own devices to figure out how to relate to a mystical “God” in the sky, but we have been given a flesh and blood, personal, example in Jesus. It’s not enough to know a lot about Jesus—data, facts, and information. Get to know Jesus personally—data, facts and transformation. Grasp Jesus for yourself today!
TRUST IN JESUS
TAKE A STAND TO ACT LIKE IT
GRASP JESUS AS YOUR OWN
We come now to the 4th action-step to SELF-CONTROL. There is a delicate balance between you taking control and realizing that you are being empowered by the strength of God—strengthened enough in order to have a sense of self-control.
Our world is out of control. When your past is out of control, it's all about guilt. When your future is out of control, it's all about fear. And when your present is out of control, it's all about anger. Although these are deadly causes of human paralysis, they can serve you well. You see, if you know your life is basically out of control without God, you are in an advanced stage of maturity and growth. Once you understand and accept your powerlessness without God, you are at a balancing point and have a sense of being centered.
Self-control is misunderstood, if you think you have the power to control your life. Some of the most "controlled" people I know are addicts. They believe with all their hearts that they can control their addiction and they cannot.
The term self-control is literally self-strength. This is an inner strength and discipline that you can bring to your faith. This is to be understood as a strength that must come from your Creator. Now, that kind of self-control is productive and strengthening. This is an understanding along with the Psalmist who wrote: Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain. (Psalm 127:1) The action-step is to EXERCISE INNER STRENGTH. To me, this is what the first three beatitudes is all about (poor in spirit, mourning, meekness). You are to have a right evaluation of yourself before God and gain your strength in this grand partnership.
Self-control means to discipline your self. It’s the quality of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites. Self-control is self-strength. It’s self-discipline! We must learn to control ourselves. No one can do it for us.
So, where does Jesus fit into this idea of exercising your inner strength? Here’s how I see this in the kingdom motif. A kingdom is the dome where you are king. It’s what you have say over. When you encounter Jesus, the King of kings, especially the King of the Kingdom of God, you have a major decision to make. Will you turn over your kingdom to a higher power, the King of all kings, or will you choose to remain the sole king of your kingdom? When Jesus apprehended my life, I signed off to him as my King and he now owns everything I have say over. Now, here’s what Jesus wants. He wants you to remain strong as the king of your kingdom, while renouncing ownership of everything you are and have over to his ultimate authority. You are a king; Jesus is the King!
Under the King of kings, you are to exercise your inner strength, your self-control. YOU ARE to add the inner strength you have to your faith. It’s your responsibility to fully supply this to your faith. This inner strength will show up in being proactive in the Kingdom and being accountable as you walk with others in the Kingdom. This is what we bring to the table in advancing the conversation of Jesus and the Kingdom and it’s what we provide at our own expense!
In other words, Jesus wants all that he has created you to be and to do to be added to your practice of trusting in him!
We’ve covered the first four transformational action-steps Peter sets forth in the first chapter of his second letter:
TRUST IN JESUS—Faith!
TAKE A STAND TO ACT LIKE IT—Virtue!
GRASP JESUS AS YOUR OWN—Knowledge!
EXERCISE INNER STRENGTH—Self-control!
We come now to the 5th action-step: PERSEVERANCE. Perseverance is from the original word, which means to have the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty. It’s translated with endurance, patience, and steadfastness. It means to hang in there!
In the first four steps you have arrived at a level of self-strength or self-control. With this self-strength whose source is God, you might feel pretty good and secure, however this is the very time you must be ready for something even tougher to happen. Your self-strength will always be tested. That’s life! So, when you face something that is seemingly overwhelming to your strength, there is only one thing to do; you must hang in there. You must persevere in order to endure it—to get through it!
Perseverance is the action-step that brings a long-view to life. Most maturity takes time with very few short cuts. Life’s journey is not a sprint, but a marathon. Perseverance is how you are able to go the distance of that marathon. Perseverance is stubbornness with a purpose. Winston Churchill is known for saying: If you’re going through hell, keep moving.”
Great works are performed not by strength alone, but by perseverance. This is the beauty of moving from the action-step of self-control to perseverance.
The action part of the action-step for perseverance is best stated as to ENDURE. James teaches about perseverance in this way in the first chapter of his letter: Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:1-3) When you encounter the tough times, you can be confident that this is a testing of your faith and by this testing you will gain endurance (perseverance). Then, allow endurance to work in your life, which will produce a full and complete spiritual growth. James even says that you will be lacking in nothing, if you allow endurance to be added to your faith.
Both Peter and James intimately connect endurance or perseverance to your faith. I’ve always enjoyed this poem that expresses perseverance in a humorous way.
TWO FROGS FELL INTO A DEEP CREAM BOWL,
ONE WAS AN OPTIMISTIC SOUL,
BUT THE OTHER TOOK A GLOOMY VIEW,
WE SHALL DROWN HE CRIED, WITHOUT MORE ADO!
SO WITH A LAST DESPAIRING CRY,
HE FLUNG UP HIS LEGS AND SAID " GOODBYE"
SAID THE FROG WITH A MERRY GRIN,
I CAN'T GET OUT, BUT I WON'T GIVE IN,
I'LL JUST SWIM AROUND TILL MY STRENGTH IS SPENT,
THEN I WILL DIE THE MORE CONTENT.
BRAVELY HE SWAM TILL IT DID SEEM,
HIS STRUGGLING BEGAN TO CHURN THE CREAM,
ON TOP OF THE BUTTER AT LAST HE STEPPED,
AND OUT OF THE BOWL AT LAST HE LEAPT.
WHAT OF THE MORAL? TIS EASILY FOUND,
`IF YOU CAN'T GET OUT… KEEP SWIMMING AROUND!
Once you think you have everything under control, that’s the time you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by something beyond your control and strength. The only answer at a time like this is to hang in there—endure it until you get through it!
We’ve covered the first five transformational action-steps Peter sets forth in the first chapter of his second letter:
TRUST IN JESUS—Faith!
TAKE A STAND TO ACT LIKE IT—Virtue!
GRASP JESUS AS YOUR OWN—Knowledge!
EXERCISE INNER STRENGTH—Self-control!
We come now to the 6th action-step: GODLINESS. Godliness is an awesome respect for God, a devoutness, and piety. The word encompasses a lot; I want to highlight two aspects of godliness and then the action-step will emerge.
First: A healthy fear of God. When I hear anyone glibly denigrating the awesomeness of God, my entire body flinches. Our secular society just has no sense about a healthy respect for God.
This reminds me of my favorite story. It’s the transcript of the ACTUAL radio conversation of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1995.
Radio conversation released by the Chief of Naval Operations 10-10-95.
Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the
South to avoid a collision.
Americans: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees
the North to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Negative. You will have to divert
your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I
say again, divert YOUR course.
Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.
Americans: This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States' Atlantic Fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north, i say again, that's one five degrees north, or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.
Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.
Second: A devotional life. This is the kind of godliness that comes from disciplining yourself to reflect the character and behavior that is appropriate in response to the awesome God of gods. I think this is the action-step we’re looking for. It’s REFLECT GOD IN YOUR LIFESTYLE.
NOTE the progression so far. You begin with your faith, add virtue, knowledge, and self-control. Now, once you think you have a sense of self-control or self-strength and at that moment you can become overwhelmed with the waves and storms of life. This is when you need a significant back-up stance—perseverance. All you can do at this point is the hang in there and get through it all.
After you get through the fiery trials that have been thrown at you, you will discover that there is a wonderful result. You will find new character qualities of godliness, because you persevered and got through it. So, now add a growing reflection of God in your lifestyle! This will add to your maturity and show God off to the world!
We’ve covered the first six transformational action-steps Peter sets forth in the first chapter of his second letter:
TRUST IN JESUS—Faith!
TAKE A STAND TO ACT LIKE IT—Virtue!
GRASP JESUS AS YOUR OWN—Knowledge!
EXERCISE INNER STRENGTH—Self-control!
REFLECT GOD IN YOUR LIFESTYLE—Godliness!
We come now to the 7th action-step: BROTHERLY LOVE. Brotherly love is the word, Philadelphia. It’s a love of brother or sister—a family kind of love.
Agape love is the love that values and esteems. It’s an unselfish love, an unconditional love, ready to serve. Philadelphia or brotherly love is never the word that is used for loving God. It has a very unique and special, relational distinction. Brotherly love is the term for love in this passage: He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will disclose myself to him.” (John 14:21)
Brotherly love conveys the thought of cherishing the object loved above all else. It’s a fond affection, characterized by constancy with the highest motives. It’s a true and loyal friendship kind of love.
Jesus uses both agape love and brotherly love in his well-known list of questions to Peter. He asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?”. The first two questions, Jesus uses the agape love in his questions and Peter answers with brotherly love, not agape. Here it is: So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (brotherly) You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you (agape) love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (brotherly) You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”
On the third question, Jesus moves toward Peter’s level of understanding and switches from agape love to brotherly love. He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (brotherly) Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love (brotherly) Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (brotherly) You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
Peter was doing the best he could do in using brotherly love for his devotion to Jesus. Jesus didn’t criticize him at all. He moved to Peter’s choice of words and connected to Peter in the same way. Whatever the reason for this switch of terms, it’s clear to me that both Jesus and Peter were resonating with what Peter finds so important here in his list of action-steps. It’s vital that you add brotherly love to your faith. The action-step? COMMIT TO A FEW LOVING FRIENDSHIPS. Don’t even think of living your life alone. Travel in the power of the few!
We’ve covered the first seven transformational action-steps Peter sets forth in the first chapter of his second letter:
TRUST IN JESUS—Faith!
TAKE A STAND TO ACT LIKE IT—Virtue!
GRASP JESUS AS YOUR OWN—Knowledge!
EXERCISE INNER STRENGTH—Self-control!
REFLECT GOD IN YOUR LIFESTYLE—Godliness!
COMMIT TO A FEW LOVING FRIENDS—Brotherly love!
We come now to the 8th and final action-step: AGAPE LOVE.
Remember, the first action-step here from Peter is faith. This is not faith as a noun, but faith as a verb—a proactive, personal trust. I love it that Peter completes his list of action-steps with another proactive, quality—agape love.
Agape love is the highest of all expressions of love. It’s interesting to note that this word just wasn't used much in the 1st Century culture; it was pretty rare. However, it became an extremely common word in the early Jesus community. Early writers of the New Testament appropriated an uncommon word for love and used it to convey a very special kind of love—a love, which gives without thought of what it will get back. It’s completely unconditional!
Agape love is natural for God and a love that we humans strive to emulate—to observe what Jesus commanded us and to do our best to love like Jesus. Check out these references: "We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19) "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
Jesus teaches us to love in the same way: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)
How can those who claim to be believers or followers of Jesus seem to be in a spiritual coma? It's like when the Indians were discussing their problems with the white man. One asked, "What went wrong?" Another answered, "Apparently, when we smoked the peace pipe, somebody didn't inhale!"
Yes, it’s easy to be an active member of your faith-based world without personally inhaling. I did this for years! It’s my opinion, most are brought up to view their faith and love as part of their belief systems. But faith and love are boring nouns, not proactive verbs. Faith must move into personal trust; love must move into being a lover.
What’s interesting to me is that the 8 action-steps lead us right back to our original mission—to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. The final action-step is the ultimate action-step to BE A LOVER. This is Jesus’ answer to the question: “What is the greatest commandment?” This is the ultimate action-step that Jesus embodies and empowers us to join the revolution of love!
After Peter sets forth 8 action-steps, he offers four incredible promises on the condition that these qualities be fully supplied to your active faith. They have to do with usefulness, fruitfulness, perfect perspective, protection from stumbling, and enthusiastic approval from your Creator. However, these same life issues if handled poorly will produce the most annoying and unsatisfying sound ever—like the sound of an ill-timed, ill-played, clanging cymbal.
Let's briefly take a look at the promises you can count on, if you fully supply or add these listed qualities to your faith.
FIRST: The promise of productivity! Peter says: For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you are careful to add these qualities or action-steps to your faith and continue to grow in them, you will experience outstanding fruitfulness in your life.
SECOND: The promise of perspective! Peter says: For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. If you lack these 8 qualities or action-steps, you will be blind—not be able to see where you are, short-sighted—not be able to see where you're going, and forget how your sins have been forgiven—not be able to see where you've been.
THIRD: The promise of protection! Peter says: Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble. If you not only embrace these 8 qualities or action-steps for yourself, but practice them, you will never, in any way stumble.
FOURTH: The promise of prosperity! Here Peter says: for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus, the Christ, will be abundantly supplied to you. You will be presented a special entrance into the Kingdom with all of its abundance.
It begins with your faith and ends with love. But note one thing. He says be diligent to supply all these things to your faith—virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly love and agape love. The word "supply" is an interesting term. As we discussed several days ago, it means that you are to fully underwrite or sponsor these qualities to your faith. It was used in the Greek city-states and referred to a wealthy citizen who was asked to underwrite or sponsor the next big event for the city.
You aren't to pray for these things, but you are to do these things and practice them with your faith. You are to do them—virtue (an initial step of commitment), experiential knowledge, self-control (self-strength), perseverance (the ability to hang in there), then when you have been hanging in there through the difficult times, you will learn so much and acquire qualities of godliness. Don't try to do these things alone, but practice brotherly love and then supply unconditional, agape love to your faith.
What's very interesting is that the same term is used in the fourth promise. Only this time, it is said that God will abundantly supply (underwrite or sponsor) a special entrance into the Kingdom just for you. The image here is an Olympic Champion who is welcomed home by making him a special door or gate named for him to honor him. In this case, if you richly supply these qualities or action-steps to your faith, God will abundantly supply this sort of special entrance for you. And it won't be just a gate to the city, but an entrance into the Kingdom of God.
There is no other Scriptural passage that is as clear as II Peter 1 about what promises you will receive, if you do these certain things. Embrace these 8 qualities for yourself as action-steps and enjoy the most specific promises from God, Himself!
MAKE THIS YEAR THE BEST YEAR OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!