Heard & Seen

“Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” (1 John 2:7-8 NIV)

Truth be told, I’ve always found these verses in 1 John to be challenging to understand. It seems like he contradicts himself–is the command a new one or not? The command itself is to live as Jesus lived by loving one another. We see this in the immediate context of vv. 3-11. Jesus gave this command to His disciples in John 13:34.

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV)

But how is this a “new command”? Leviticus 19:18, written about 1,400 years before Jesus’ miraculous birth says this:

 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbors as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18 NIV)

I’ve puzzled over these verses for years, never fully comprehending the old vs. new concept. Then, as I was talking through this with the Lord over coffee, the middle of John’s old and new command teaching seemed to stand out as if it were written in bold and italics, like this:

“Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”

The command itself is an old command. What makes it new is that in Christ it is seen, not just heard. It’s not just a principle we read about in an ancient book or print on a coffee cup. We actually see this command embodied in Jesus.

Further, not only is it seen in Christ, but it is also seen in us. There is something incredible that happens when Jesus moves from a message that is heard to a person who is seen in us. The difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus is as profound and “new” as if it were actually new teaching we’d never heard before. When God becomes more than just a concept, it’s as if we’re discovering Him for the very first time–even if we’ve grown up in church and know all the Bible stories by heart!

Of course, this applies to everything the Bible teaches. Love one another, serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, forgive one another, care for those in need, be humble, don’t gossip, put off the old self with its sinful desires… all these are “old commands” we have heard. Are they “new commands” that are seen in our lives as we have seen them embodied in Christ?

My prayer for the week is that God will show us a specific old command that needs to become a new one seen in us.

Is This Uncomfortable?

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21)

Note: This post comes from Kim Devore, the LVStudents Director at LakeView Church.

This past year my family and I left home, friendships, and family to move to a land where we knew no one. We planned to remain near to our family and many friends. However, God had other plans, and He called us to unfamiliar territory: Wisconsin. This move was filled with excitement for a new beginning, yet also with a fear of the unknown. “What if the job does not work out?” “How will the kids navigate their new high school as a senior and a sophomore?” “What if our kids choose friends who make poor choices?” “Can I really homeschool my 11-year-old while chasing a 2-year-old?” “Who will our friends be?”… The list of questions went on. With all the fear and worry, we were very uncomfortable through this change.

When God calls us to move, it is not always comfortable. His calling can look very different for each of us: grow a family, change jobs, change schools, move to a new house, a new state, a new country, etc. When God is moving and asking us to move, in whatever area of our lives, it can be scary. Fear is often what holds people back from following God’s call. And this fear sometimes comes from the enemy working hard to try and stop the work God has called us to do. Our fear, then, tends to be bigger than our faith.

We can find some peace knowing that God’s calling His children to something uncomfortable is nothing new. Throughout Scripture, we see many instances of this. For example, Noah walked out in faith by trusting God and building a massive boat to survive the catastrophic flood that was to come. Scripture does not directly speak of how uncomfortable Noah and his family were during this time, but let’s take a moment and think about it. We know that Noah had to bring “two of every creature” (Gen. 6:19) into a ship that was about half the size of the Titanic. He and his family shared their space on the ark with all those animals for 150 days. I’m guessing the smell and constant clamor caused many sleepless nights. Noah probably would have preferred to be in his old bed and tent, but he was faithful and obeyed God’s calling.

Being called is not always easy or comfortable, but remember God’s promise that He never leaves us and goes wherever we go (see Gen. 28:15a, Deut. 31:6, Josh. 1:5, Isa. 41:10). We just have to take that step of faith and trust that He has a great plan and purpose for each one of us. When we put our faith and hope in God, we can see the beautiful and wonderful blessings He has already granted. We may not know or understand our future, but we trust that God does, we embrace the now, and we praise God for each blessing He has provided and will provide. May God bless you and walk with you through each journey.

Thanks, Kim, for being a guest contributor!

11 Tips for Reading the Bible

“… our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand…” (2 Peter 3:15b–16a, NIV)

I smile every time I read these words. If you’ve ever read through something in the New Testament and sat there scratching your head, you’re not alone. Even the great Apostle Peter had a difficult time understanding some of the things the Apostle Paul wrote! There is much in the Bible that seems clear to us, but there is also much that is difficult to understand. So, to help us get started on this journey of discovery in God’s Word, here are 11 tips for reading the Bible.

  1. Pray before, during, and after you read. Reading the Bible is having a conversation with God. He inspired the book, so why not talk to Him about what it says? Remember, we’re not just reading historical stories, we’re interacting with a living God who still speaks today.
  2. Get a Bible buddy. This will not only help you be accountable and stay on your reading, but you can also read the same book/passage and discuss it together.
  3. Get a study Bible. Study Bibles are filled with a wealth of information that will help open the meaning of God’s Word to us. Read the introductions to each book before you read the book, and look for the major themes and ideas. When you come to a difficult passage, read the footnotes for additional insight. My #1 recommendation is the Life Application Study Bible, which you can buy in many different English translations.
  4. Be consistent. Reading the Bible can be hard, and learning to recognize God’s voice in Scripture takes time and practice. The more you read and re-read, the more you’ll begin to see the flow and meaning of the text, and over time, it will become more apparent. Don’t give up!
  5. Look at a passage in its context.  What came just before this passage?  What follows immediately after?  How does that affect the meaning?
  6. Stick with a translationThere are many different English translations, and it’s important to stick with one that you can easily engage with. To save money, try reading the same chapter in several different English versions for free here. When you find one that resonates, that might be your version to buy. My top recommendations are the NIV, NLT, ESV, or CSB (we mostly use the NIV in worship at LakeView).
  7. But browse others from time to time. Even though you’ll have your primary translation (mine is the NIV), it’s still a good idea to sometimes read a passage in another version. Sometimes a different English translation can open up the meaning of a passage from a fresh perspective.
  8. Try listening, not just reading. It’s only been in the last 200 years or so that Bibles became affordable and available to a majority of people who could read. For most of Christian history, most Christians engaged God’s Word by listening to it. My favorite audio Bible is Inspired by the Bible Experience, although you can get others for free.
  9. Get an app. There are many Bible apps available, and one of the best is YouVersion.
  10. Use a devotional. Devotionals often unpack a verse or phrase in a thought-provoking way. My favorite devotional is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. The Daily Audio Bible is a great podcast & app audio-devotional.
  11. Search online, but be careful. Google will find everything, good and bad alike. In my experience, there’s more bad than good. The best biblically sound online resource I’ve found for Bible and theology questions is GotQuestions.org. You can type in a question about a specific verse or topic, and almost always find at least one answer.

My prayer for the week is that we all get inspired to dig into God’s Word!

Does This Offend You?

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?” … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6:61, 66, NIV)

In our society, one of the worst possible sins you can commit is offending someone. We think we have the right to not be offended, but at some point in our walk with Jesus, He will say something to us that offends us. It happens to every disciple, there is no avoiding it. Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword. Jesus told Ananias to go pray for a man named Saul who was actively persecuting Christians.

When Jesus offends us, it is the true test of our faith. It’s easy to follow someone you agree with, but much harder to devote your life to someone who challenges your convictions. There are things the Bible talks about, whether directly or implicitly, that we try to avoid because they make us uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the Bible’s teaching about human sexuality that we find offensive because of a friend or family member whose life doesn’t align with that standard. Maybe it’s something like the story of creation in Genesis 1-2 that we think is outdated and has been “proven wrong” by science. It could be a hot-button political issue, like how we should treat immigrants or what we should think about abortion. Whatever it is, it forces us to decide what we actually believe about Jesus and evaluate why we’ve been following Him. By putting us on the spot, Jesus brings us to a crossroads where we have to decide what or who we love more.

So, rest assured, if you are following Jesus there will come a time when He turns around and says something that cuts to the heart, offends you, and requires a decision. In John 6, after Jesus’ hard saying, “many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.” When Jesus offends you, what will your decision be? My prayer for the week is that when you and I face the test, we choose Jesus.

Not Ashamed

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16a, NIV)

Somehow those of us who follow Jesus have become ashamed of the gospel. We live by the old adage, “There are two things you don’t talk about: religion and politics.” Except we do talk about politics, incessantly (just scroll Facebook sometime… on second thought, don’t waste your brain on Facebook). We’re not ashamed of whether we support the President or wish he would resign early. Yet, we feel like we have to hide our allegiance to the only One who really matters. I wonder what would happen if we were as passionate about our King as we are about our President?

We’re worried our friends will be offended if we talk about Jesus. We don’t want our neighbors to think we’re weird. The last thing we need is more awkwardness when our extended family gathers for a holiday. Even church leaders have bought into this thinking.

For 30+ years, many churches have felt the need to downplay their Christianness and disguise their churchiness. Let’s build church buildings that don’t look like church buildings. Let’s dress in less churchy clothes (gone are the days of wearing your Sunday best to meet with the King of the Universe… I wonder how we’d dress to meet with the President?). Let’s make the music in worship more of a show than a corporate act of praise. Let’s make the preaching less “offensive” and more self-help pop-psychology. Instead of serving others and meeting the needs of our community in the name of Christ, let’s plan more entertainment for people. Maybe somewhere along the way we can pull the old bait-and-switch. They thought they were coming for free candy, but they got a Bible verse instead!

Standing with Paul and declaring Romans 1:16 for ourselves is part of what God is calling LakeView to do as He leads us into a new era of being (not just doing) the church. We are not embarrassed to follow Jesus. We don’t need to downplay the fact that we the people of LakeView are a family of disciples living for the glory of Christ and the common good. In a world where every movement contrary to God’s Word celebrates its own “pride,” we stand resolutely on Jesus’ side without apology. We don’t fight with the world–our battle is won through love, sacrifice, and suffering. We serve, we give, we worship, we proclaim the good news of Jesus. We don’t hide our faith. We are not ashamed of the gospel!

Hopefully, that’s becoming true of us individually as it becomes true of us corporately. Warren Wiersbe once said, “If you were arrested today for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” My prayer for this week is that we all go and start leaving evidence!

A Walk Down Memory Lane

“Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac…” (Joshua 24:1–3, NIV)

This morning my devotional reading pointed me to Joshua 24, in which Joshua gathered all the people of Israel, most of whom were children when Moses led them and their parents out of Egypt through the Exodus. They had seen the plagues and miracles God worked with their own eyes. Joshua reminded them where their nation began and how it is that they ended up enslaved in Egypt. And then, even though they were eyewitnesses of most of this, Joshua recounted what God had done to bring them into the land of Canaan. God had promised to give this land to Abraham’s descendants, and now they were here, ready to settle it.

He reminded them how God miraculously brought them out of Egypt, gave them military victories over armies stronger than theirs, protected them from spiritual attacks and curses, sent hornets ahead of them to drive their enemies out, and gave them a land on which they did not toil, cities they did not build, and vineyards and olive groves they did not plant.

As I was reading what God had done for them, I started thinking of what God has done for me. I took a walk down memory lane in my own life and thanked God for many things I haven’t thought about in years. Here’s my challenge to you this week: Choose a morning to sit outside with a cup of coffee and the Lord, and starting from your earliest childhood walk through your memories, thanking God for all He’s done for you. Remember things forgotten (maybe even sketch out an outline of God’s work in your life), and remember how much He loves you.

Discipleship Includes Evangelism

“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47b NIV)

As most of you know, our church, LakeView Church, is entering a season of transition as God has called us to a new way of being the church as opposed to doing church. While I would love to tease out the differences between being and doing church, that will have to be a separate post. In this post, I want to look at a question several people have asked about our shift in direction.

In a letter to the congregation on Feb 6, 2019, I talked about LakeView’s history following a church movement pioneered by Willow Creek Church, a massive 30,000-member church in Chicago, known as “seeker-sensitive.” I pointed out that our mission as a church is not to get more people attending our events, but to make disciples, and in order to do that we needed to become “sticky,” focusing our time, energy, and resources on helping people stick, rather than merely drawing them in to an event. (By the way, if you want to read a little more about the seeker-sensitive movement, and why many churches are abandoning it, read this article from The Gospel Coalition or this article from Got Questions.)

Several people have asked if this new focus means that LakeView is going to stop caring about reaching the lost, or if we’re going to stop caring about seekers. The answer is a resounding NO! Our mission as a church is to be disciples who make disciples for the glory of Christ and the common good. The first step in being a disciple is come to Jesus. That means someone who isn’t saved hears the gospel, believes, and chooses to turn from their sin and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. And, the third step of discipleship is share Jesus with others. That means evangelism and outreach are part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus–discipleship includes evangelism!

As we focus on being disciples who make disciples, our value on reaching the lost is actually higher than before. Now we see outreach as more than just an event or a program. It’s an integral part of our personal obedience to Jesus–it’s part of how we show our love for Christ, by sharing Him with others. Now everything we do is outreach, not just a few special events we plan each year.

Now outreach is not something planned and conducted by a committee. Sharing Jesus with others is something all of us do individually, in small groups, and collectively as the Body of Christ. We can no longer say, “I don’t have the gift of evangelism. I’ll let the outreach team do that.” It’s your responsibility and mine as obedient disciples of Jesus.

Now the goal isn’t just to get a few hundred people to attend a great event. And, people aren’t projects we only care about because we’re trying to get them to pray the sinner’s prayer. Now the goal is to help people we know and love–our family members, co-workers, neighbors, classmates, and friends–discover the life-changing love of Jesus. We care more about building real relationships with people and loving them than we do about the next big “outreach” event.

Does that mean big events are of no value? Are we going to stop doing them? No. Special events have their place in the life of the church, and we have several fun things planned for the upcoming ministry year. But let’s not confuse “church” and “outreach” with “programs” and “events.” The church is a family of believers, not a building, a service, or a program. And outreach is part of our DNA, an essential step for all disciples following Jesus, not an event planned by a committee.

As we pursue a life of following Jesus, we will actually find that we are more “sensitive” to seekers, not less. And as we are filled to overflowing with the love of Christ, we will actually see more people saved and encouraged in their walk with Jesus.