My last post tackled the upper left circle in the Life Worth Imitating matrix – the cross (Gospel). Simply put, the first and most important reality for a Christian leader (and every leader would benefit!) to have a life worth imitating is a living relationship with the risen Christ. If you’re already a Christian DO NOT bypass this as if it were a given. Christians are wonderful at teaching and preaching the Gospel, and then promptly forgetting all about it in their daily lives. (I should know…)
The upper right circle is a triangle. This triangle is a simple visual for a deep and abiding truth that forever sets the highest priorities for every Christian. Jesus was asked in Matthew 22 what was the greatest commandment. Even though Jesus knew his enemies were trying to trap him in his words he gave the following answer: “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind…and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Want to bottom line the Christian life in four words? Love God. Love people.
OK, so 99% of us would probably agree with the assertion by Jesus that we should love God and love people. Pretty basic, right? But what happens when we ask a slightly modified question, such as:
“What are the sustainable patterns in your life that demonstrate your love for God (the top of the triangle pointing UP), your love for his church (the bottom right of the triangle pointing IN), and your love for those who do not yet know Jesus (the bottom left of the triangle pointing OUT)?”
In other words, how have I patterned my life around the passions of Jesus? The answer to this question will reveal how far I have progressed as a learner – a disciple of Jesus.
First, we look at the example of Jesus. In Mark 1 we see the following:
Jesus LOVED GOD
Jesus is baptized and his Father speaks to him saying, “You are my Son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” After this beautiful affirmation by his Father, Jesus enters the wilderness for 40 days of fasting and prayer. He has been assured of his identity, and now takes his first steps to obey the Father’s will through solitude, prayer, fasting, and resisting Satan’s temptation. In all of this we clearly see Jesus living an UPWARD life. He connected on a regular basis with his Father, heard him speak, and responded in submissive obedience to him. We see it again a few verses later when Jesus gets up early (before sunrise) to spend time alone with his Father. All through the Gospel accounts Jesus consistently lived out the priority of loving God first and with all of his heart.
Jesus LOVED his followers (the church)
In that same chapter of Mark we read:
As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into a lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once, they left their nets and followed him.
From the very beginning of his ministry Jesus expresses his love for his followers by inviting them into relationship, giving them access into his life, and training them to embrace their identity as God’s children and live out their calling as God’s representatives. Jesus met them exactly where they were, challenged them to follow, and promised transformation.
Jesus LOVED the lost and oppressed
Later in Mark 1 we find Jesus in Peter’s (Simon’s) home. After healing his mother-in-law word gets out and the whole town literally shows up at the door. How does Jesus respond?
That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons…
He responds with love and compassion for those who were sick and spiritually oppressed. He heals them. He frees them. He loves them.
So, what has my personal experience been so far?
When Sandi and I moved to South Carolina in 2013 we were challenged to follow the example of Jesus by tangibly loving God and loving people. The specific challenge was to make these UP/IN/OUT relationships a part of our normal life. But, where to start? It was suggested to simply begin by setting aside one meal per week for UP (we connect with the Father as a family around the dinner table), one meal for IN (we have dinner with Christians to befriend, encourage, and bless them), and one meal for OUT (sharing a meal with new people we were meeting in the neighborhood – some Christian and some not).
How is that working for us after 18 months? Actually, it is working extremely well! On Tuesday nights we eat dinner as a family and read a chapter from the Bible (tonight will be James 3) and then pray for one another. On Thursdays we invite a family or a few friends to dinner and share our highs and lows for the week and just respond to whatever is happening in their lives (often that includes praying for them). Once a month on Saturday morning we invite our neighbors over for brunch. People bring a dish to pass and we thank God for the food and just spend time getting to know one another (we met almost all of these neighbors on our evening walks – so far we have had over 30 of them in our home).
From time to time we miss one of these meals due to something outside of our control. But we don’t worry about it. We just pick back up next week or next month and carry on. Our goal is 3 out of 4, or 75%. If we can do that we feel good about it. The results so far?
- We are on a first name basis with over 20 neighbors and have prayed with several and served during some family crisis situations
- Prayer walking is becoming a normal activity for us
- We are modeling UP with our children and they are growing in their faith
- Sandi and I began praying every night before going to bed – a major breakthrough
- We are getting to know some families at church and building meaningful friendships
- We are challenging other Christians to imitate us as we imitate Christ – and it doesn’t feel fake or forced
What are the take aways for leaders? How does the triangle equip you to better disciple?
- You can only reproduce who you are, not what you know. To make a disciple who loves God and loves people you need to first be one. Ouch…
- People who take small steps and attach the desired behavior to something they are already doing have more success. The reason we have had success? We were already eating dinner and taking walks. We just made those activities more intentional.
- You can’t love people well if you are not loving God well. The UP overflows onto the IN and the OUT. Encourage people to focus first on the UP and then on the IN or the OUT. Do not attempt to focus on more than one new behavior at a time – this is a slow process and we take one step at a time.
- Make peace with focusing a lot of your time and energy on a few people. This is not a democracy. Jesus chose the 12, and out of the 12 he chose the 3. The key is to properly discern who God is giving you for IN and OUT (a topic for a future post).
- Remember, Jesus came full of grace and truth. As we follow him we will need to inject large doses of both grace and truth into these relationships. Grace without truth is a license to rebel; truth without grace is condemnation. Grace with truth is love.