On Tuesday night, SE7EN celebrated its one-year anniversary. As a ministry that places primacy on educating, equipping, and empowering youth while sharing the gospel of Christ with the lost, we were overjoyed to reflect on our past successes and look forward to doing more work for God’s kingdom in the year to come. While the celebration of our one-year anniversary was special in and of itself, the fact that our senior pastor and visionary Bishop Eddie L. Long delivered the word made the night even more significant for everyone. In reflecting critically on the message he shared with us, it seems that SE7EN leaders and members must step up to the task of making God their first priority and serving Him fully.
Although Bishop Long could’ve picked any biblical text to explain the importance of consistently choosing and serving God, he chose a passage that really resonates within many people: I Kings 18:21. There, the prophet Elijah asks the people an important question: How long will you falter between two opinions? After asking this question, Elijah urges the people to decide whether the Lord or Ba’al is really God, and thus serve one or the other. In connecting this passage to our personal lives, Bishop Long discussed the fact that God now requires that we make up our minds to serve Him fully. When we say yes to this call and begin following Him fully, we’ll recognize that what God requires is order and a teachable spirit. When these things are in place, He will show up and we will know it.
In short, God’s looking for a remnant people that will say yes to His will and allow Him to live through us in a manner similar to the principle outlined in Galatians 2:20. There, Paul states that in being crucified with Christ, Christ now lives through him. It is this type of selfless and completely consecrated life that we must live if we are to please God and accomplish the purposes that He has for us.
This past Tuesday, Joel delivered a powerful message regarding the importance of believers having meaningful relationships with other Christians. Although the word he gave was full of important advice and ideas, one of the most significant things that he stated was that Christianity makes believers one in Christ. This theme is discussed in numerous key passages throughout the Bible, but it is particularly evident in the scriptures Joel grounded his sermon in: I Peter 2:1-10. In verse 5, Peter states that the body of believers are “lively stones” being built up as a “spiritual house.” In discussing the significance of this verse, Joel noted that the body of Christian believers are ultimately a community. Although broadly defined, the phrase “community” generally references a social group who reside in a specific region, play a role in a government, and have a common historical and cultural heritage. Each of these distinguishing factors of a community point toward one key reality: unity. Despite the fact that the term “community” references unity amongst individuals, however, it seems that many Christians find themselves continually isolated from one another. In discussion factors that can lead to this isolation, Joel noted that many believers feel more comfortable associating with their unbelieving friends because it gives them an opportunity to engage in sinful behavior without experiencing the sense of conviction that would result from performing an inappropriate act in front of other believers. Thus oftentimes our desire to be sinful without feeling guilty can be the motivation for failing to form meaningful relationships with other believers.
In addition to discussing why many believers isolate themselves from other Christians and thereby fail to form the type of godly relationships that God would have us to, Joel explained why actually forming these friendships is good and important. In talking about the matter, he discussed the fact that “iron sharpens iron,” an old adage that-in the context of Joel’s argument-references how believers can make one another more intellectually and spiritually astute through continual interaction. Joel also pointed out that being around other believers exposes our dark side. Having this dark side exposed is important because the process of repentance and spiritual growth often begins when we recognize that our attitudes and behaviors do not parallel the personhood and principles realized by Christ. In discussing this matter, Joel unveiled the fact that developing a meaningful community of believers who love and correct one another is an important and godly endeavor. In creating this type of godly community, we can all realize the paradigms Peter outlines in I Peter 2:5 when he calls believers “lively stones” caught up in the process of becoming a “spiritual house.”
As SE7EN continues to build its ministry to reach the lost for Christ, its leadership and members have begun recognizing the importance of both individual spiritual growth and transforming the lives of others. In teaching on this very concept, Jocelyn discussed the power and importance of the internal/external growth principle. Derived from C. Peter Wagner’s important book The Everychurch Guide To Growth, the principle is based on two concepts:
-Internal growth: A process in which members of a local church body experience substantive spiritual growth on an individual level. This growth can include a wide range of things, including deeper commitment to Christ, prayer, fasting, work within the church or the removal of a long-standing stronghold. All of these things give us a greater ability to know God and do His will. The importance of the internal growth principle is clearly conveyed in Romans 12:1-2, where we read that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God and be transformed by the renewing of our minds in order to know what His perfect will is.
-External growth: A process in which unsaved individuals repent, accept the salvation offered by Christ, and begin attending a local church. The importance of the external growth principle is outlined in I Timothy 2:3-4, where we learn that God wants all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
In understanding the definitions of internal and external growth, one may be able to discern the connection between the two. In short, external growth can happen at any time. Nevertheless, it often happens more rapidly when internal growth is transpiring. For this reason, it is important that God’s people pay attention to areas in their lives where they need to grow. This could include anything from doing spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study more consistently or breaking away from an ungodly soul tie. When God’s people begin to display the type of spiritual maturity and authenticity that results from this kind of growth, the lost will see the personhood and principles of Christ and subsequently be drawn to Him. This is God’s heart for His people and the lost.
While there are many biblical themes that Christians should place primacy on, none seem as powerful as the subject of love. On Tuesday night, Anthony discussed the power and importance of recognizing and receiving God’s love. In discussing the matter, Anthony referenced Romans 8:38-39, which reads: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Although these two passages contain many themes, one simple concept dominates the scriptures: we cannot be separated from the love of God. This love is realized through Christ Jesus, the Lord who sacrificed His life so that we could have new life.
Although much can be said about the love of God, Anthony emphasized some important ideas surrounding the matter. One of them-which seems to be a popular topic amongst both believers and unbelievers-is the fact that many people choose not to attend church because they do not sense the love of God there. When this is the case, the culprit may be that Christians themselves are not experiencing God’s love and are therefore incapable of demonstrating this love to those who do not know Him.
In addition to discussing how sensing a lack of love in the church keeps people away from it, Anthony talked about things that can cause us as believers to feel separated from the love of God. Amongst the primary culprits were sin and failure to forgive ourselves. When we continually engage in behaviors or maintain attitudes that do not please God, these forms of sin alienate us from the love He wants to shower on us. In addition to this, our recognition of and reflecting on sins we have committed in the past often makes us feel that we cannot be loved by God. Yet this assumption is false and must be challenged if we are ever to live the Spirit-filled life God has for us. Because this Spirit-filled life is grounded in recognizing the love God’s son showed for us when He died on the cross, an inability to receive that love renders us powerless to live victoriously and win others to Christ.
Despite the challenges that believers may have when they find themselves feeling separated from the love of God, Anthony reminded us that it is possible to continually experience it. The key is often asking difficult questions, such as whether or not we know God’s heart. Anthony also emphasized the fact that there is no perfect church or perfect pastor. Thus when we recognize God’s willingness and inability to demonstrate His love to and through imperfect people, we are often better able to go after lost souls. And that, after all, is the heart of Christianity.
This past Tuesday, Pastor Anthony Guase preached on the importance of John 14:6. The passage reads: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Although complex, the passage can be simplified by stating that Jesus is the medium through which all individuals gain access to life. Additionally, he is the source through which all truth and life spring. When one considers everything that this scripture conveys, the ultimate meaning is clear: Jesus is and should be the spiritual center of a believer’s life as she or he seeks an intimate and authentic relationship with the living God.
In light of the spiritual edicts outlined in John 14:6, one wonders why so many believers make secular ideologies integral to the way they lead their lives. Oftentimes, individuals professing Christ as Lord and Savior will immerse themselves in elements of pop culture that stand in direct opposition to the principles and personhood of Christ. For example, many Jesus followers still listen to the music of pop singer Britney Spears despite the fact that much of her lyrical content and music video images are hypersexual and eerily similar to pornography. Thus although Spears is talented and has made many contributions to the world, her music often promotes ways of being and knowing that are contrary to the doctrine of Christ. This fact becomes plain when one considers scriptures like Ephesians 5:3, which say that there should not be a hint of sexual immorality amongst those professing Christ. Yet many believers buy her CDs and flock to her concerts to express unabashed adoration of the work she has produced. This fact is both perplexing and problematic.
As individuals who pay attention to the music industry know, Britney Spears’s music is just one example of ostensibly spiritual people making secular worldviews a central aspect of their existence. And despite the pervasive nature of lyrics rife with immoral messages, believers cannot argue that the seemingly ubiquitous nature of such music makes listening to it an unavoidable endeavor. Clearly, there are more reputable music artists that a God-seeking believer could listen to. Thus the fact that music with depraved lyrical content is being pursued raises questions. Specifically, why is the depraved music being listened to at all? Although there are several possible answers, one might be that many believers are not willing to make the lifestyle change that is necessary to rid the self of prurient music lyrics. Or, it could be that the depraved lyrics and images we expose ourselves to are still appealing to our lower nature because we have not-as Paul discusses in Galatians 5:24-crucified our flesh.
As made evident by John 14:6, it is Jesus-not musical artists whose lyrics promote promiscuity and lasciviousness-who is the way, the truth, and the life. Irrespective of the reasons why we as believers allow secular principles to displace Jesus as the center of our lives, these depraved influences must be eliminated from our diets if we want the truths of John 14:6 to be realized in our lives.