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3 Practical Steps to Turn Your Faith Right-side Out

faithDo you too often feel like you are doing religion instead of living out an abundant relationship with Jesus? If you tend to fall into legalism, busyness, or burn out, your faith just may be “inside-out!”

In Monday’s blog post, we defined inside-out faith and explored three consequences of doing Christianity instead of being in a relationship with the Object of our faith. Today, we will consider three practical steps that will help us turn our inside-out faith right-side out.

Unlike inside-out faith, right-side out faith is characterized by surrender and discipleship. One verse that consistently challenges me describes what it looks like to be completely surrendered to Jesus.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Our culture has a negative view of surrender, but if we want to experience the full, abundant life Jesus promised, surrender is vital. Surrender means we “die” to our own will and way and yield to the authority of Jesus. We no longer live for ourselves, but we allow Jesus to live His life through us.

Discipleship goes hand-in-hand with surrender. After we surrender to Jesus’ lordship, we then purposefully follow Him wherever He leads.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Luke 9:23-25

3 Practical Steps for Right-Side Out Faith

So, how do we do this? How do we purposefully live faith with our focus on Jesus and our relationship with Him instead of going through the motions of religion? The following three practical steps will help us put the relationship first, allowing the works of service and obedience to flow naturally from Jesus through us.

  1. Seek Jesus First – Our top priority should be to foster our relationship with our Savior. That means spending regular time in His Word and prayer, listening to Him. Initially, it make take disciplining ourselves. (For some helps, tips, and resources for spending time with God, check out my resources page.) But just as we can develop a craving for sugar – the more we eat, the more we crave – our discipline will turn into delight! Soon, we will run to meet with Him each morning. (See Matthew 6:25-33.)
  2. Follow His lead – God has a specific purpose for you. He has specific works for you to do. And His way in every circumstance is always best. But how can we know where He wants us to go and what He wants us to do? If you have a saving relationship with Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives within you. He is waiting for you to listen to His leading and follow Him. Read Romans 8:5-14 for more about following the Holy Spirit.
  3. Live it in Community – God has designed us for community, to do life with others. We cannot be everything God wants us to be or fulfill the purpose for which He has called out, outside of a vital connection to a local body of believers. A church will encourage, support, equip, and challenge you! (See Ephesians 4:11-16.)

Don’t keep living your faith inside-out! You will miss out on God’s best for you.

Have you been living your faith inside-out? Maybe even in little ways? What do you see that needs to be turned around?

My book “Fed Up with Flat Faith” may also be helpful as you seek to turn your faith right-side out. 

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Diversity and Unity – God’s Heart for the Church

I saw a video yesterday that perfectly illustrates God’s design for the church – diversity within unity. This commercial for Android features two grand pianos. Both have 88 keys. One has the full range of notes. The other has 88 keys all tuned to middle C.

I’m going to admit it right up front. I heard the illustration in church yesterday. I did not come up with it, but I did ask the pastor if I could borrow his idea for today’s blog. Check out the short video now:

 

The music from the piano on the left sounds like the composer intended. Full, rich, a harmony of sound blending together into something greater than the sum of the individual notes.

The music from the piano on the right is monotone. Flat and lifeless.

God designed the church to be like the piano on the left. Eighty-eight keys each playing a different note, but working together in perfect harmony:

  • Each with a different gift (Romans 12:4).
  • Each given by God for a specific purpose (Romans 12:7).
  • All of us working together to serve the same Lord (Romans 12:5).
  • All working to build up the Church and share Jesus (Ephesians 4:12).

Different gifts, different tasks, but the same goal. One heart, one mind, one faith (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Together but not the same. Diverse, but unified.

Maybe if the Church plays loud enough the world will hear.

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Following Jesus is either the BEST Decision or the WORST

Yesterday, while visiting another church in our new area, one of the ministers said something that bothered me the rest of the service and into lunch. The children’s minister introduced a ten-year-old girl who had recently decided to follow Jesus. Right before he baptized her he said, “It’s one of the best decisions she will make in her life.”

As soon as we got in the car, we began our after-church, church search routine. We shared our thoughts about the church, the service, and whether we think this might be the church God has for us.

“I was really bothered by the minister’s statement about that girl’s decision to give her life to Jesus,” I said.

“Yeah. That struck me too.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard a Christian say that. He probably didn’t even realize what he said. But it puts a decision to follow Jesus right up there with who to marry, what career path to follow, and how to invest your money.”

Maybe you think I’m making a big deal out of nothing. Getting on a soapbox over a slip of the tongue. But I don’t think so.

There are other vitally important decisions in our lives, ones that impact our health, relationships, and livelihood. There are even decisions with eternal consequences like whether to tell others about the salvation found only in Jesus or to keep it to ourselves.

But the decision to follow Jesus – or not follow Jesus – is the only decision a person can ever make that determines her or his eternal destiny.

If there is life after death… If we need a Savior because of our sin… If trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only way to be made right with a holy God… Then choosing Jesus is the BEST decision you’ll ever make.

But if this life is all there is… Or if your soul gets absorbed into the universal cosmos (or some other silly nonsense)… Or if you can choose your own path to God… Then choosing Jesus is the most ridiculous, time-wasting, WORST decision you’ll ever make.

Choosing to give your life to Jesus in exchange for the eternal life He offers is either the BEST decision you’ll ever make or it’s the worst decision you’ll ever make. Period.

Have you made the BEST decision in your life? If you want to know more about eternal life found only in Jesus, click here.

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5 Signs of Authentic Faith

Are we living out true, authentic faith in Jesus or simply fooling ourselves? It’s easy to tell, if we take an honest look. The apostle John challenged first century believers – and believers today – to do just that. In his first letter, John clearly laid out signs of authentic faith. And he clearly stated his purpose in writing:

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

John wanted his readers to be sure they were saved. He longed for them to stand firm in God’s truth and not be swayed by false teachers. And he wanted “false believers” to wake up.

He did not tip toe around the truth. That would not do them, nor us, any good. In the first two chapters of First John, the apostle gave us 5 signs to test our faith. His “If we…, then…, but…” style describes what a true relationship with Jesus will – and won’t – look like.

5 Signs of Authentic Faith

  1. If we walk in darkness, then we do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light we have fellowship with God.
  2. If we claim to have no sin, then we are deceived and we call God a liar. But if we admit and confess our sin, God will forgive us and give us Jesus’ righteousness.
  3. If we do not obey God’s commands, then the truth is not in us. But if we obey God, it reveals we truly know Him and His love is made complete in us.
  4. If we do not love fellow believers, then we still live in darkness and prone to fall. But if we love other believers, we live in the light.
  5. If we love the world, then it proves we do not have God’s love. But if we do not love the things of the world it shows we truly have eternal life.

So, how are we doing? Are we walking in the light or in the darkness?

You may also be interested in: How to have a relationship with Jesus

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Healthy Church or Unhealthy Church? 7 Signs to Check

healthy churchWe’ve changed churches eight times in 34 years of marriage. No, we aren’t “church hoppers,” we’ve simply moved a lot with my husband’s job. In fact, my husband and I are currently visiting churches after our recent move to a new city. With all that “church searching,” we’ve learned to spot a healthy church and we’ve learned some marks of an unhealthy church.

After each church visit, Wayne and I talk about the experience. What did we see and hear? What sense did we get of the church body and its leadership? What did we learn about the church that helps us understand its priorities? What did we witness that was either positive or threw up some red flags?

Although not an exhaustive list, the following seven areas will help you diagnose the health of your church or one you are visiting.

7 signs to help you know if your church is healthy or unhealthy

  1. Quality of the Fellowship – God designed the church to do life together, not just gather for a brief time on Sunday mornings (Acts 2:42-47). Do the members  engage with one another before and after the service? Do they connect at other times during the week? Another important question – is their fellowship inclusive or exclusive? A healthy church will reach out to visitors with genuine interest and attempt to include them.
  2. Centrality of the Gospel– The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus should be of “first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). Topical messages and sermon series are helpful and needed, but we should never neglect the Gospel. Whether a formal presentation or sprinkled throughout the Sunday message, the Gospel should always be in mind. How often do you hear it at your church? When was the last time someone responded to the Gospel invitation with a profession of faith in Christ?
  3. Involvement in missions – Jesus commissioned His church to take the Gospel to the world (Matthew 28:16-20). How involved is your church in sharing the Gospel and serving others in the name of Jesus, both locally and around the world?
  4. Attitude and atmosphere – transparency, share struggles and victories as fellow faith travelers, worship, prayer
  5. Commitment to spiritual growth – Commitment should start at the top. The church’s leaders should be personally committed to spiritual growth and maturity and they should purposefully work to guide the church to grow. Things like corporate prayer, Bible study, mentoring, and discipleship indicate a strong commitment (Ephesians 4:11-16).
  6. Accountability for its members – This is an area of weakness for any the healthiest of churches. Our culture has conditioned us not to mess in other people’s business. But that’s not how God designed the church. God calls us to holiness and calls us to encourage others to holiness. (1 Corinthians 5: 1-12, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Hebrews 3:12-13, James 5:16).
  7. Passion for Jesus – The church not only belongs to Jesus, it’s all about Him. A church can work hard, preach the Word, and impact the community, but if Jesus isn’t her “first love,” her heart is not in the right place (Revelation 2:1-5).

What About Your Church?

Numbers, prestige, and celebrity pastors don’t mean much. I’ve seen huge mega-churches that weren’t spiritually healthy. I’ve visited small, country churches that shone with spiritual vitality.
As our church search continues, we are aware God may direct us to either a healthy church or one that needs some spiritual healing. That’s His choice. We will do our best to serve Him and the church where He calls us.
Are there any marks of a healthy church you would add to this list? If so, feel free to share them with a Scripture reference! 
Other posts in this series on the church:
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I Don’t Want to Go Church Shopping

church shoppingMany of you know my husband and I recently moved to a new area and are now looking for a new home church. We are just a couple of weeks into the search, but I already have a bit of a battle going on inside me. The church shopping mentality threatens to take control. My desires are trying to push their way to the front.

I want a church that… I’m looking for a church that will… I’d really love for our new church to… Wouldn’t it be nice if…

I have this idea of the church I want. It combines the best of our past church homes. Incredible, worshipful music. Solid, engaging teaching. Believers that do life together. Heavenly involved in missions. Strong community outreach. Active women’s ministry.

And we could look for a church like that and probably find one. We could make a list of all the attributes we desire in a church and compare each one we visit to that list. Does this one meet the criteria? Does that one make the cut? Do we cross off that last church?

But Lord help us – and I mean that as a prayer – I don’t want to find our new church home that way. In fact, I will boldly say, God doesn’t want us to find our new church home that way. I don’t want to choose my favorite; I want to search for and find the church God has already chosen for us.

The term “church shopping” rubs me the wrong way. Yet, sadly, not only do many of us use it, but it also adequately describes how many of us look for a church. We shop for one like we do a car or a prom dress or laundry detergent. Honestly, it’s easy to fall into that mindset. Our consumer-oriented culture programs us to think that way.

But God doesn’t do things the way we do. The Bible tells us that God puts the body together like He desires (1 Corinthians 12:18). He places the people He has chosen into leadership (1 Corinthians 12:27-28). He determines the gifts to individual believers and selects their place of service (1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-28).

God’s Word applies to my life today. He already has a church and places to serve picked out and waiting for us. I am determined not to “shop.” I want to seek His will and then follow it. May He help us do just that.

How does this biblical view compare with what we usually hear?

You may be interested in the following:

 

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Does it Matter What My Church Believes?

church doctrineJust last month, my husband and I moved to a new town. Yesterday, we began the search for the church God has for us. Our actual address may be small town Texas, but since we live on the fringes of the Dallas/Ft Worth area, church choices abound. We could visit for months – maybe even years – without attending the same church twice.

How do we begin? How can we narrow our search? Before we made the first visit, we narrowed the possibilities significantly based on what the church believes.

What? Doesn’t the preaching and the music and the programs and the community involvement carry a lot of weight? Does a church’s doctrine really matter that much?

Yes, a church’s doctrine is that important. Not only do the biblical truths and principles on which it stands shape its people and its ministry, but if what it believes does not align correctly with God’s Word, then the church is not following Christ.

I realize that’s a bold, brazen statement, but it’s based on the teaching of the New Testament. For instance, in Paul’s letters to the churches in Corinth and Galatia, one of his primary purposes in writing was to combat false teaching and to admonish them to cling to the truth of Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Galatians 1:6-9). Paul describes the warped gospel they were following as “no gospel at all.”

And in the book of Revelation, Jesus Himself called the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira to repent from following false teaching before they experienced God’s discipline (Revelation 2:14-16, 20-22).

Yes, what a church believes – and therefore teaches and acts on – absolutely matters.

I can hear wheels turning. Do you mean everything? What about the differences between denominations? Are you saying that only one denomination is right?!

Many differences between denominations and even individual churches within denominations are peripheral to the heart of God’s gospel. They do not impact key doctrinal truths. These kinds of differences can be held loosely. In fact, we can enjoy and even celebrate the variety within God’s church.

Things like style of music, order of worship, and areas of ministry focus broaden and strengthen the worldwide church. Even other beliefs like the role of women in ministry, the view of end times, and the structure of church leadership are not considered core essential truths. These types of areas are considered “minor doctrines.” There is room for differences.

But in other areas, those considered to be “major doctrines,” there is little if any room for difference. With these doctrines – ones that are central to Christianity and have significant impact on other doctrines – we must hold firm. These fundamental truths flow from the nature and character of God and His saving work.

We can’t fully cover all these major doctrines in one blog post. But here is a quick list of many of these essential truths:

  • The nature of God
  • The Trinity
  • The deity of Jesus
  • The authority of the Bible
  • The nature of mankind and our need for salvation
  • Salvation solely through faith in Jesus
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus
  • The return of Jesus

What a church believes about essential doctrines are deal breakers for me and my husband. For instance, if a church believes there is something more required for salvation than faith in Jesus – or that salvation can be found anywhere else – that one doesn’t make the cut. If a church doesn’t hold to the truth that God is one God yet three distinct persons, there is no need for us to visit.

Why are we so dogmatic? A church that does not hold to the essential truths of the Christian gospel is not following the gospel at all. Overall, as believers, we can be gracious in those minor doctrines, the non-essentials, but we must be hold tight to the essential truths of our faith.

If you aren’t sure what your church believes about the major doctrines, find out. Many churches have “statement of beliefs” on their website. (I even have one on this website!) If you aren’t sure what you believe, start studying! Of course the Bible is your first and primary source. But if you’d like some additional resources, check out the list below.

Do you know what your church believes about the major doctrines? Does it matter to you?

Suggested Reading:

 

 

 

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Let the Church Search Begin

churchFinally! No more boxes! (In the house anyway. The garage does not count.) Pictures even adorn the walls.

Our moving adventure hit full swing three weeks ago today. Now that we are able to function in the house it’s time to begin finding our place in our new community.

In 34 years of marriage, our family has moved 7 times. After unpacking boxes, our first priority has always been to find a new church home. Now it’s that time again. It’s time to find the church God has chosen for us.

Our family does not “church shop.” In fact, I really dislike that term. It implies that believers should look for a church like we look for a new car. That we find the one with all the desirable features. That we chose the one that will serve and suit us best. After all, we want to get the most “bang for our buck.”

But that’s not what the Bible teaches about a believer’s relationship to a local church. Sadly, many of us today have unknowingly allowed our consumer culture to shape our thinking about the church. We look for the church that will meet all our “needs.” Then when it doesn’t we move on down the road to the one with the more dynamic preacher or better youth program or better entertainment value. (For more on church shopping and church “hopping” check out this post and this one.)

I admit, this attitude affects me too. That’s one reason I want to share my “church search” experience with you here.  I pray that the transparency will keep me from falling into that trap.

I want to seek and find the church God has already chosen for us. The church where He already has a place for us to serve. The church where the body needs us and the gifts God has given us.

3 key truths the Bible teaches about a believer’s relationship with God’s church

If this way of thinking about church is “new” to you, maybe these points will help.

  1. God wants me to use the gifts He has given me to serve a local church (1 Corinthians 12:4 and following) – My God-given gifts and talents are not for me. He intends me to use them for the good of other believers – particularly in committed relationship with a local church.
  2. God has a particular spot for me in a particular body (1 Corinthians 12:21-27) – Which church and which place of service is NOT my decision. God has already chosen it. It’s my task to discover His will and obey it.
  3. God works through the local church to grow me up spiritually (Ephesians 4:11-16) – I cannot be everything God intends for me to be without being vitally connected to a local church. God matures me and strengthens my faith within that context. He has designed faith to be a corporate experience. We cannot adequately follow Christ on our own.

I miss our church in Houston. But I am also excited about what God has planned for us here. Over the next few weeks, I plan to share that journey with you and talk more about the church. I’d love for you to share your thoughts with me too!

Are you actively connected to a local church? If not, why not? If so, what led you to that specific church?

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In the Midst of Change, the Best Remains the Same

I feel as though my life is all boxed up, but change is coming…

Literally, our life is in boxes. My husband’s retirement in December started it all. He had planned to work another two years, but when his company offered an early retirement opportunity, we knew it was time. We decided to move our plan forward – to sell our home in Houston and move to the Dallas area where our daughters and their families live.

After the holidays we began working to get the house in top shape. Power wash the driveway. Weed the flower beds. Paint some walls. Then came all the staging work – pack away the family photos, take the animal heads off the walls, and pack up the “extra” decor.

The house officially hit the market April 20th. We really expected it to take a few weeks at least. But we received three offers in the first three days. The biggest problem was we had no where to go. So, we took a quick trip north to find a new home.

We closed on the new place last Wednesday and minor renovations began the next day! The movers come to help us make the actual move next week! All our stuff should be inside the new place by mid-June!

In the meantime, I’m packing. And packing. Selling a few extra things and donating some others. Everything else has been put on the back burner. That includes blogging! But I wanted to work this one in to give you all an update.

Oh, and in the middle of it all, I received a contract from my publisher for a new book! That project is at the top of my list – right under “unpack boxes!” (Watch for more about this later!)

I’m in the midst of a lot of change right now – husband’s retirement, moving away from a church family that I love, selling one home and buying another, changing cities, and moving my elderly parents from Louisiana to Tennessee to be near my brother (that’s a whole other story!) But the best of it all remains the same. My husband has been consistently at my side for almost 34 years. Our family still loves and supports one another.

And, most importantly, my God is the same faithful, all-powerful, gracious Father I’ve always known. He is the same God in Dallas that He is in Houston. Or New York. Or Mozambique. We will find a place among His people in our new home. And He will have work for us to do there. I can’t wait!

 

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14 One Anothers for the Church Today

God does not intend for us to live out our faith on our own. When He saves us, He saves us into His family, the church, so we can live and grow together with other believers. We cannot be everything God desires for us, we cannot fulfill God’s purposes for us, we cannot receive everything God has for us, without a vital connection to a local church.

One another churchGod designed the church to be a unique fellowship. The Bible uses the Greek word koinōnia to describe this spiritual relationship between believers (Acts 2:42). Koinōnia means “having in common, sharing, partnership, fellowship.” Individual believers both receive what they need and give what others need within the context of the church.

 So, what does this giving and receiving – this koinōnia – look like? There is not one single passage in the Bible that gives a detailed, all-encompassing description. However, the New Testament is peppered with examples, principles, and commands about what believers should be for each other. For example, the phrase “one another” is frequently used to point to a specific way believers should relate to other believers. Although the following list is not comprehensive, these 14 “one anothers” are a great start to helping us understand the koinōnia of the church.

14 “One Anothers” for the Church Today

  1. Love one another (John 13:34-35, 1 John 4:7)
  2. Comfort one another (2 Corinthians 13:11)
  3. Serve one another (Galatians 5:13, 1 Peter 4:10)
  4. Restore one another (Galatians 6:1)
  5. Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
  6. Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32)
  7. Build up one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  8. Honor one another (Romans 12:10)
  9. Do good to one another (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
  10. Meet one another’s physical needs (James 2:15-17, 1 John 3:17)
  11. Pray for one another to be healed (James 5:16)
  12. Show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
  13. Teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16) – correcting wrong belief and behavior and instilling correct belief and behavior
  14. Spur one another to good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)

These “one anothers” reveal the scope and depth of our koinōnia relationship – from putting the needs of others before our own to allowing another believer to hold us accountable for our behavior. This spiritual relationship is so different than anything we can find in the world. Only in the church can we give and receive everything God intends. He has provided everything we need through “one another.”

In what ways have you experienced the unique koinōnia of the church?

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