Gospel - The Bread Of Life

Much of the world is dying of starvation, and they have all the food they could ever dream of eating. Full, but empty. Clothed, but naked. Rich, but unbelievably poor.

One of the worst ways God can afflict us is to satisfy us in this life that we no longer need him, no longer even think of him. It's the most extreme, most devastating malnutrition. Human starvation - a real, excruciating tragedy today - is light and momentary compared with the spiritual and eternal reality it pictures. Whole nations are so gratified by this world that God is an after-thought or no thought at all. We are eating and eating, and never satisfied.

All-You-Can-Eat-Dreams

When God was angry with Israel - a people he'd chosen for himself, delivered from captivity, and promised everything - he cursed them with an intense and insatiable hunger. "They slice meat on the right, but are still hungry, and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied" (Isaiah 9:20).Binge eating, but starving to death. 

Later, Isaiah explains God's judgement against those who oppose or ignore him:

     As when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating and awakes with his hunger not satisfied,or as     when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he is drinking and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched,     so shall the multitude of all the nations be that fight against Mount Zion. (Isaiah 28:8)

The men or women fixated on experiencing as much pleasure as possible here on earth is like those who dream they are eating and drinking, but wake up hungry, thirsty, and without anything to eat or drink. The beautiful banquet before their eyes - perfectly grilled meats, colorful and fresh fruits and vegetable, bread right out of the oven, the fountain of wine - is all just a mirage, a cruel figment of a hungry person's imagination. The worst first world problem is that so many of us are living the dream, not knowing that the sun will rise and open our eyes to reality. Every delicious dream must end.

And when that day comes, those who have fed on this world will frantically try and offer all their expensive possessions in exchange for real food, real life, and be found wanting forever. They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity. (Ezekiel 7:19; see also Micah 6:14)

Israel's rebellion and God's response should fall on us like grave and spiritual Surgeon General's warning. We bury ourselves in food, drink, and Netflix, not realizing we are deeply and utterly famished, dehydrated, and bored. Consumption can be a destruction worse than starvation, because it's iced with sweet deception.

The dangerous difference between over-consumption and starvation is that consumption feels safe and sated. We forget we ever needed anything. God becomes a nice addition to our living rom - a new comfierrecliner or a vintage frame for the mantel - instead of being the waterline. 

A Better And Never-Ending Banquet

The problem is not that we are hungry, but that we're hunting in the wrong pantry. The cravings deep inside of us are a mercy from God meant to lead us to God. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matthew 5:6). God wired appetites - intense biological, emotional, spiritual, unavoidable desires - into every human soul so that he could fill them. He wants you to be full, not empty. He made you in his image, to display his glory. He didn't mean only to beautifully decorate you with himself, but to deeply satisfy and fill you with himself.

And he will fill you. Hunger is a temporary this-life means to meeting a greater need.  Whoever chooses the bread of life over the bread of the moment will eventually be freed from hunger altogether. "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'" (John 6:35). The cravings we feel three or four or ten times a day will be foreign and distant memories. "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore" (Revelation 7:16; see also Isaiah 49:10).

True fulfillment, then, is found not in frantically (or lazily) tasting all the flavors and pleasures in this life, but in feeding the hunger beneath every other hunger. The secret is not not hungering anymore, but being utterly satisfied - full - while craving food or water or comfort or rest (Philippians 4:12). When a man truly lives, he does "not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8:3; see also Matthew 4:3 & John 4:34).

Many have rightly said, "Give a man a fish and feed hime for a day; teach that man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Spiritually, the world can satisfy a man for today and ruin him for eternity; feed that same soul for eternity and he will have all he needs for today.

Gospel - Pointing To God Through Giving

Following God means following his commands and following his generous examples of giving.

     "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son..." John 3:16 (ESV)

We may ask, "Well how much exactly does God want us to give? Where does tithing 10% of your income come from?" If this is the only line of questioning, we may be missing the point.

Recall the Old Testament command of tithing God required His people to offer a tenth of all that God would give them back to Himself. Everything comes from Him in the first place, so why would He ask for it back? So that we would know that it all came from Him.

When we give a tenth back, we're saying that we indeed know this. The tithing command asks you if you believe God gave everything that you have.

     "Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes            and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.               Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the       test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a        blessing until there is no more need." Malachai 3:8-10

God tells His people they're robbing Him. They're refusing to give Him what belongs to Him. They're refusing to believe that He gave all they have to them.

He is not a stingy father who wants to take from them. He's a father who wants to give. So he tells them to test Him, to bring their tithe so that He will open up the floodgates of blessings upon their heads. But he gives a condition that they bring the whole tithe. He's not a father that will give in negligence. He is generous with provision and blessing.

Everything written in the Old Testament finds fulfillment in Jesus. Jesus is the full blessing that God promises to those who seek Him.

   "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every                 spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." Ephesians 1:3 (ESV)

We received such a blessing in Christ, because of God's Generosity. We obey God's commands, including commands to give, in joyful response to what God provided in Jesus.

    "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,          not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

The story of the Bible is not, "give and then you will be blessed," it's, "you have been blessed, therefore give." God is not withholding anything from you. He didn't even withhold His own Son, but gave Him up for us all. How would He not, along with Hom, grciously give us all things (Romans 8:32)? How should we respond to a truth like that? What should our giving look like in light of that truth?

New Giving

Should our giving remain the same as the Old Testament? Should we just keep on tithing at ten percent, because that's what He commanded back then? That would communicate that nothing new has happened! If our questioning remains focused on how much, we're still missing the point.

The gospel ought to change our question from, "how much should we give" into "how much should we keep!" Have you ever asked yourself why God has blessed you so much? What does He want us to do with all of it?

Giving is a physical pointer, a demonstration, to the gospel. We give to missions because the gospel says when Jesus died on the cross He had people in mind from every tongue, tribe and nation. The Bible tells us that we are blessed so that we may be a blessing to the nations.

We give to the church, because Jesus gave to the church. We give up our first fruits and tithe because God gave His first fruits, His Son, to the church. We give to orphan care, because we’re reminding ourselves that while we were orphans, Jesus came to take us to the Father. We give to the poor and needy, because we’re pointing to the truth that says when we were poor Jesus came to meet our needs.

When we give to the point that it hurts, not just out of our excess, we're pointing to the truth that Jesus, though He was rich, gave it all up, so that we would become rich. By giving, we're pointing to the reality and the truths of the gospel.

The question is what kind of gospel are we pointing to through our giving? I'm afraid the American church is pointing to a sad gospel. The average American church member gives away 2.58% of their income. Twenty-five percent of the average church member gives nothing at all. What kind of gospel is that pointing to? We have to preach a better gospel.

Our giving starts, not when we get jobs. It starts when we get saved. There's beauty in giving when you feel like you have nothing.

    "And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.           Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which     make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, this poor widow     has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of       their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." Mark    12:41-44 (ESV)

God doesn't need your money. If he did, he would be much happier with large sums of money because His desire not your money, but your heart, He sees the widow and is more pleased with that. She gave out of her poverty, because she knew that her treasure was found in heaven, where moth and rust cannot destroy.

There was once a small band of believers, two thousand years ago. History would say they flipped the world upside down. Unbelievers would write about them, calling them, calling them crazy, not caring about their money, selling their possessions to care for the poor. Why were they able to do that? Because they knew they had been blessed in Christ, because of the gospel, with every spiritual blessing. They were full and able to give. So with their giving, they pointed to an awesome gospel.

What if we did it again? Let’s flip the world upside down!

Moms - Serving With Little Ones @ Home

How Can Busy Moms At Home Manage To Serve Others?

There is a great fog that surrounds moms with newborns and toddlers at home. As kids are older – looking back on old videos brings to mind those days where showers were few, the house was a constant disaster and more often than not there was spit-up on my clothes or in my hair (so gross).

Those days can often seem difficult, lonely, mundane. Often moms feel like they’re operating in an isolated bubble, disconnected from everyone. They still want to serve others, but what could that look like with their littles in tow?

Here are a few things that may work for this particular season:

1. Pray

That seems so simple, right? Before having children, some moms may not rely as much on faith in or understanding of prayer. The book, A Praying Life by Paul Miller, can be helpful in getting started. When you are stinky, sleep-deprived and bound to your couch while you nurse your infant, you can still pray. As you scan through Facebook and read status updates, you can pray. When you are up at 4 a.m. and all is quiet, you can pray. As you are walking around your neighborhood pushing the stroller along, you can ask God to move in the hearts of these people. Anywhere and at all times, we can pray . . .  and God has so much that He intends to do through the prayers of His saints.

 

2. Write Encouraging Letters, Texts, And Emails

Who doesn’t want to do a better job at this? In just a few minutes, you can write thoughtful words and send them to someone. People on the receiving end of these words, even three sentences jotted down or a short text can make such an impact. Other moms like you, out there, feeling alone or struggling with how God is working in them, may also need to be reminded of all the Truth that you need in this season.  And as you write, more often than not, God is reminding you as well. So many times while texting something about God’s sovereignty and His ”working all things for our good and His glory” – the author realizes that yes, this is true, right here - even right now.

 

3. Meals

Likely, there are people that you are connected to that are sick, or having babies, or having a difficult time, and they could use a meal dropped off at the door so there is one less thing they need to worry about in a day. Now, signing up to deliver a meal – it is often the only single thing that moms plan to get done that day. Between naps and changing diapers and tantrums –it can seem impossible to get even one thing accomplished. But, when people receive meals in times of transition or grieving, it means so much to them that you have made such an effort for them, in your circumstance. They feel so loved by people showing up and hugging them, giving food and caring about their life circumstance.

 

4. Have People Live With You

This is obviously a little more involved than the previous ideas. It is both wonderful and difficult; it both blesses you and stretches you. Some families have had other people live in their home during busy seasons, including when they had littls babies. They've hosted women who were college students, family members or about-to-be-marrieds. Though opening up their home does provide a room and a bed, it also serves people by allowing them into your lives, to be part of a family; many have found this so much more the blessing.

Being a mom with young kids at home is a special season with all sorts of wonders and joys, and limits and responsibilities. Some days, serving your family and keeping the kids alive is all you can do. But, other days there is grace to do a little more and to serve the Body, even amidst the craziness and chaos.

Mission - How We Live Everyday

Mission is not an event we tack onto our already busy lives. It is our life. Mission should be the way we live, not something we add onto life: "As you go, make disciples"; "Walk wisely towards outsiders"; "Let your speech always be seasoned with salt"; "be prepared to give a defense for your hope."

We can be on mission in everyday ways without overloading our schedules. Here are a few suggestions that create intention with what you already do and open doors as you join in with others:

1. Eat With Non-Christians

We all eat three meal a day. Why not make a habit of sharing one of those meals with a non-Christian or with a family of non-Christians? Go to lunch with a co-worker, not by yourself. Invite the neighbors over for family dinner. If it's too much work to cook a big dinner, just order pizza and put the focus on conversation.

When you go out for a meal, invite others. Or take your family to family-style restaurants where you can sit at the table with strangers and strike up conversation. Barbeque and invite Christians and non-Christians. Flee the Christian subculture.

2. Walk, Don't Drive

If you live in a walkable area, make a practice of getting out and walking around your neighborhood, apartment complex, or campus. Instead of driving the distance to the mailbox, convenience store, or apartment office, walk to get mail, groceries, and stuff. Be deliberate in your walk. Say hello to people you don't know. Strike up conversations. Attract attention by walking the dog, bringing the kids, taking a 6-pack (and share). Make friends. Get out of your house! Take interest in your neighbors. ASk questions. Pray as you go. Save some gas, the planet, and some people.

3. Be A Regular

Instead of hopping all over the city for gas, groceries, haircuts, eating out, and coffee, go to the same places regularly. Go there at the same times weekly. Get to know the staff by name. Ask questions and listen with care, you may become friends.

Who wouldn’t like having friends at Starbucks who donate leftover pastries to church groups for specific gatherings or occasionally to give out to homeless shelters in your area? Build relationships through being a regular.

4. Hobby With Non-Christians

Maybe you have wanted to get out and try new things, pick up a hobby that you can share and enjoy with others. Instead of waiting for a church group to inspire you - try recreation sports leagues, community wine and paint nights, local rowing or cycling teams. Share your established hobby by teaching lessons. Teach sewing, piano, violin, guitar, knitting, or tennis lessons. Be prayerful & intentional. Be winsome, have fun being yourself and Christ will shine through. 

5. Talk to your co-workers/other at-home parents

Consider leaving your cellular device behind as you take your breaks with intention to connect - make eye contact and chat. Show interest in your co-workers. Go out with your team members after work. Pick four and pray for them. Form a mom's group in your neighborhood and don't make them exclusively Christian. Schedule play dates with the neighbors' kids.

6. Invite others to volunteer with you

Do you volunteer regularly at a school, periodically at a non-profit in your community or take one day a month to serve your city? Bring your neighbors, your friends, or a small group Christians. People are drawn to lending a hand and will be attracted to serving alongside you and they may learn about Jesus through your compassionate and generous attitude.

7. Participate in city events

Instead of the usual playing X-Box, watching TV, or surfing the net, participate in city events. Go to fundraisers, festivals, clean-ups, multi-cultural shows, and concerts. Participate intentionally with gospel in mind. Strike up Conversation. Study the culture. Reflect on what you see and hear. Take note of needs. Pray for the city. Love the city. Participate with the city.

8. Serve Neighbors

We all have jobs to do around the house - weeding, mowing, building a shed, fixing a car. Take note if others are in need on your block - mow your yard and theirs. Help them with the projects they are already doing.

Stop by the neighborhood association or apartment office and ask if there is anything you can do to help improve things where you live. It could become contagious; maybe neighbors will be looking for ways to help others too. Together you could ask local Police and Fire Stations if there is anything you can do to help them as they serve the community.

Don't make the mistake of making "mission" another thing to add to your schedule. Instead, make your existing schedule missional. As you live everyday with mission in mind, it becomes a lifestyle and you will be surprised how many doors open for revealing Jesus in daily life.

Mission - It’s Where You Live

Mission Is Where You Live

By Jeremy Writebol

“I just don’t know any lost people.” “I find it so hard to meet people that don’t know Jesus.” “Sharing my life and faith with unbeliever is so difficult. Apart from going to a bar I don’t know where they are at.” These are all excuses I’ve made for my failure to know, bless, and share Jesus with unbelievers. I hear these statements regularly among other Christians as well. It’s as if unbelievers are actually physically lost, and finding them is like finding a unicorn or a white elephant–exceptionally rare. Underneath these excuses is a common reality: I haven’t really been present in the locations where I’ve lived.

Recently, it occurred to me that I’m not really thinking about the whole concept of mission and evangelism in a clear light. A friend asked me a pointed question once that brought me to repentance and helped me rediscover an important tool in living a life “on mission.” The question was this: how could I live in the same house for over three years and not know the stories and situations of the people that lived within 100 yards of me? Several answers were apparent (lack of love, disobedience, etc.) but the real answer that stood out was that I wasn’t really present in my neighborhood.

Oh sure, I was physically there. I ate, drank, slept, played, worked, laughed, cried, and did everything a physically present person would do. However, none of my neighbors would have known it or cared about it. To them I didn’t exist. And they didn’t exist for me either. So when I said, “I don’t know any lost people,” I was technically right. I had failed to live my life in their life. And this was the beginning of the awakening for me. How did I come to know God? He actually came and lived in my life. How can I find lost people? Live my life, where I am at, in their life.

I'm willing to bet that if you are reading this, you have a similar situation. Most of the world lives in highly dense, urban areas, surrounded on all sides by neighbors. Over eighty percent of Americans live in what is classified as an urban area. All of that to say the lost are out there; you probably live next to them. But do you really live in their lives? Would they be able to affirm your existence?

John’s introduction to his Gospel brings this aspect of the presence of God fully into view. Jesus, as John writes, became flesh and dwelt with us (John 1:14). God with us. Jesus is the one who fixed the break between God and man. He is the presence every shadow-symbol of the Old Testament points toward. As John put it, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he [Jesus] has made known” (John 1:18). God became a man and lived among us. He lived in our lives. God with us.

Not only is God with us, but he is God for us. Jesus came not just to hang out in our ghettos (as compared to heavenly realms, that is); he came to live the life of righteousness we failed over and over again to live. He came to die the wrath-deserving death we were entitled to because of our rebellion (Galatians 3:13). He came to live again so that the reality of rebirth would be ours and his power would be shown to encompass all things.

 

Living In The Lives Of Others

My neighbor, Herb, walks his dog up and down our street daily. Usually in the early evening right before dusk, I see Herb plodding along with his dog. Does Herb know I exist? Would he care?

If we see that God has not abandoned us, and has not withdrawn his presence from us, but actually has done the exact opposite and inhabited our world, then we can begin to see how to live among our neighbors. Herb knows I exist, but that’s because I’ve gone out to Herb. I’ve lived in his life. I’ve invited Herb into my life. When Herb walks his dog, he stops and talks and tells me his story. As I learned how God has always placed his presence in the midst of His people, I began to see how I can meet and befriend and know lost people. I must live in their lives.

So how do we live in the lives of our neighbors? How do we inhabit their world so that we can show them a God who has inhabited our lives?

Be Present In Your Neighborhood. For so many, especially in the suburbs, it’s easy to come home after work, pull into the garage, and disappear into our homes. We must be intentional to be outside our homes. Use every opportunity to leave the garage door open, be in the front yard, out in the open amongst your neighbors. Talk with them, learn their names, invite them into your space, go to their space.

 

Bless Your Neighborhood. It used to be that when a new person moved into a neighborhood, a few neighbors would go visit the new neighbor and bless them with some cookies or pie or something as a way to meet and get to know the new folks. I’ve moved into three different houses in the last seven years and have yet to see a plate of cookies. I use this as a small example to challenge us to live in a neighborhood intentionally to bless and give. You don’t have to take cookies to the new neighbor, but do something to bless a neighbor. Walk over and give in some way, bless and be kind to them.

 

Bring In Your Neighbors. When was the last time you invited a neighbor over for dinner or barbecue? We can live in the lives of our neighbors by inviting them into our homes, into our spaces, and letting them see our lives up close. How will our neighbors know what the love of Jesus is like if they don’t see the love of Jesus lived in our homes and families. What would happen on your block or in your apartment complex if you invited a neighbor over for a meal on a frequent basis?

Being, blessing, bringing are three simple strategies toward living in the lives of our neighbors. As we pursue Christ and bear the image of a God who has lived in our lives by living in the lives of the lost we will find the lost. 

Mission - “Follow Me,” The Sent One

Throughout the Gospels & Epistles it becomes clear that believers are called to "go and make disciples", following the leader's examples as a sent one, who sends. As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sent us. That means that if we can discover how the Father sent Jesus, then we will see how we have now been sent. We can become disciples who make disciples in the process. So, just how was Jesus sent?

The Father Sent Jesus....

With the Holy Spirit:

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will." (Luke 10:21 ESV)

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:22)

For the Purpose of Reconciliation:

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29 ESV)

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." (John 20:23 ESV)

Incarnationally:

Jesus came in "the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:7 ESV)

God sent Jesus "in the likeness of sinful flesh." (Romans 8:3 ESV)

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV)

In Humility:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7 ESV)

With The Father's Love and Validation:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (John 15:9 ESV)

I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:26 ESV)

In Perfect Unity With Himself (The Father):

I and the Father are one. (John 10:30 ESV)

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 ESV)

With a Purpose, With A "Commission":

For the son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10 ESV)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching the, to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

To Glorify The Father:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:4 ESV)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)

To Guard The Flock of God:

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has not been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:12 ESV)

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28 ESV)

To Bring the Father's Words:

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:14 ESV)

For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. (John 3:34 ESV)

...but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:4 ESV)

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:17 ESV)

With the Witness and Vindication from the Father:

And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. (John 5:37a) ESV

So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. (Acts 14:3 ESV)

...while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:4 ESV)

With Authority:

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." (Matthew 28:18 ESV)

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. (Mark 6:7 ESV)

As a light:

I have come into the world as a light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:46 ESV)

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV)

Gospel - Patience With Discipleship, Its a Process

Patient Discipleship

Discipleship is really messy and more of a slower process than we want or realize. The strongest among us can find ourselves in the most difficult of circumstances, the lowest of spiritual times, and even find ourselves in difficult patterns of sin. The same is true of every believer.

Discipleship has often been viewed as an up-and-to-the-right straight process of successful growth, but discipleship is way messier than that, involves setbacks, patience, and a belief in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to overcome every sin, struggle, and trial. The only way we will make actual disciples of Jesus instead of religious look-alikes is to embrace the mess, get dirty ourselves, and push through the mud to model Jesus’ incarnation.

Discipleship is: a process of becoming like Jesus Christ in our affections, our thoughts, and our behavior.

 

A Process Of Becoming Like Jesus Christ

The scriptures all point to Jesus and Romans 8 directs us to the aim of our salvation as being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. It begins with God’s work of regeneration and in Romans 8:30 it moves quickly from justified to glorified, but a lot happens in the middle.

The stress, struggles, and sinfulness of life gets in the way to remind us that we are not like Christ at all. We find ourselves discouraged if we keep looking at these snapshots of our lives that involve fear, guilt, and shame. It can leave us wondering if we will ever “get there” as a disciple.

If we begin to see discipleship as a process with many iterations, like the iOS system on an iPhone, we would find more peace, joy, and hope in the struggle of everyday life. Each day then allows us to experience more of God, realize more of our need to be conformed and trust that God’s word is true; that He will conform us to Jesus.

We can then see ourselves as being formed into a beautiful statue worthy of the Louvre, but needing pieces carved away, refined, and added to fully look like the artist’s design.

 

Our Affections

The first area that God seems concerned with is our affections. When Jesus is asked what is ultimate, He immediately goes to love in the greatest commandments. He follows that with the great one another, revealing we are disciples by loving fellow brothers and sisters as Jesus Himself loves us. Only then does mission make any sense.

Our desires overwhelm our thoughts and move us to action. The most intellectual can be swayed by the cravings within them. Each day our actions reveal a depth of desire that needs to find its spring in Jesus and no longer in our self. In light of this, worship, scripture, prayer, fasting, and other devotional practices actually appear to be the gifts that God declares them to be, the means by which our affections get redirected and conformed appropriately.

Our Designer recognizes our need and gives us a new heart in our new birth, so our affections can have a reset button to be more like Jesus.

 

Our Thoughts

But God has not made us as beings only governed by our heart, which is great news for all of us. As He gives us a new heart, He has also written eternity on it so that it can join God’s word in renewing our mind.

The challenge from the scriptures is to take every thought captive and conform it to Christ, but we are typically too lazy and prideful for this activity.

We need the space to be challenged, have our thoughts exposed, and find a hospitable place where we can be vulnerable about the natural thoughts of the mind. Instead of embracing our individualism, we must embrace our identity in Christ as the new definer of our thoughts.

We will then begin to see that right loves with right thoughts lead to right behavior.

 

Our Behavior

Our behavior is where most of us in church start as we consider what needs to be changed. Our natural desire is to make everything a religious do-this, don’t-do-that law that would make our hearts and minds satisfied.

The order of my definition was intentional. God’s covenant promise is to change our hearts, purifying us by the blood of Jesus Christ, transforming us by His death and resurrection, so that our lives will be drastically different. Lasting and significant change comes from the inside out, not merely by cleaning up the outside.

I’ve seen no one change their behavior for a long period of time without their loves and thoughts changing first. Anyone who has tried this has found that they become more frustrated in life, and begin to live 2 different lifestyles without any real joy.

But we also can’t shy away from calling people to change in their behavior to be like Jesus. Our behavior reveals our thoughts and our affections, allowing us to address the full breadth of conformity to Jesus.

 

One Day The Process Will End…

The good news is that one day the process will end. The mess will become marvelous, the ashes will become beauty, and the perishable will become imperishable. Jesus will come to get us at a trumpet’s blare or welcome us home at physical death and we will experience that final rest and perfection we want.

Until then, Jesus promises rest, peace, joy, and patience as His Spirit works in us to be reminded that we are sons or daughters of God by faith in Christ, not our progress in the process of discipleship.

 

 

Gospel - Making More Of Jesus

Many Of Us Wake Up Wanting To Be Someone We’re Not

Many of us spend much of our lives aspiring to be more than what we are. More money, more exercise, more job satisfaction, more followers on social media, more children. And that means we're often left looking for someone else as the goal or standard - the person with more than us. We want to be them. We may not say it that way, or even consciously think about it that way. But we'll spend our time and energy striving to become that better, more respected, more loved me.And that desire can make it hard to watch others, even other Christians, continue to succeed or acquire more than us. 

The Famous Friend Of Jesus

At least one note-worthy man in history settled happily into the background of another story. John was born at the most pivotal point in history, and was chosen to pave the way for the most important person in history.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. (John 1:6-8)

These verse come right on the heels of one world-changing sentence ("In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," John 1:1) and right before another ( "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," John 1:14). John, the Gospel writer, interrupts his account of the infinite, almighty God coming to earth to become human like any other human to introduce a guy like any other guy, John the Baptist. Put your name in for John's in verses 6-8 and the read John 1:1-14. Jarring, right? Why would John, the writer do that?

I Must Decrease

He introduced John the Baptist because he might just be the second most important human to ever live. Jesus himself said, "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:11). Not Moses. Not David. Not Peter. John was the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy (seven hundred years before), a voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God...And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Isaiah 40:3-5)

John came to fulfill hundreds of years of waiting and watching. He came as the chosen one to prepare and present the coming of the Messiah, the promised Savior of the world. There hasn't been anyone else like him before him or after him. In the greatest story ever told, he was perhaps the greatest character not named Jesus Christ.

Trading Fame For Fidelity

Standing center stage at the highest moment in history, privileged with unprecedented anointing and authority, John launched his personal campaign with these seven words, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). Jesus must be put forward and followed, and I must fade further into the background, into Jesus's shadow.

The people acknowledged John's amazing gifts and his crowds of followers, and they wanted to promote him and his platform (John 1:19-22; 3:26). John rejected all their acclaim and advances. "I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him" (John 3:28). John came alive as the nobody next to Jesus. Even before he was born, he loved who he was not (Luke 1:41), because his life was God's and not his own. His life was about Christ, not himself.

All From Grace, All For Christ

What we learn from John the Baptist is that the greatest glories in this life are not in receiving attention or fame, but in funneling it all to Jesus. The biggest, longest lasting statement John could make to the world was not in the number of his follower, but in how he responded when his followers fled to Jesus (John 3:25-29).

The key for the Christian life is to rejoice in whatever ministry we've been given. We never deserved to be part of this story in the first place, and it's the greatest story ever told. Any part we play is all from grace (1 Corinthians 15:10), and it is all for Jesus (Galatians 6:14).

John saw what God was doing in the world, even if he wasn't at the center of it, and he loved it. The same calling is now on all of us, to rejoice in what God is doing in the world, whatever our individual role is - for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, until death brings us to God.

In The Shadow Of A Savior

Our relationship to Jesus, surrendering our own fame and our own interests, also transform our relationships with those around us who have more. It frees us to joyfully accept who God has made and called us to be. And it frees us to love and celebrate how he's gifted, called, and placed other believers in our lives.

This kind of humility and joy isn't the end of all ambition in the Christian life. The same Paul who says it's all of grace and all for Christ also says, "I worked harder than any of them" (1 Corinthians 15:10). True humility is the end of all ambition not aimed at the fame of Christ, and all ambition that cannot gladly celebrate the success and flourishing of others, especially other Christians - the friend with more followers, the neighbor with the better yard, the colleague with the better title, the pastor with the bigger church, the mom with more kids.

John the Baptist knew the joy and freedom of being found in God’s hands and Jesus’s shadow. We must learn how to trust in God and love who we’re not, even when someone else is living our better story now.

 

Gospel - Jesus Won't Waste Our Weakness

Don’t Waste Your Weaknesses – John Piper

Millions of people have read books and taken inventories designed to find their strengths. These are useful for positioning people in places of maximum effectiveness.

 

God’s Work In Our Weaknesses

Instead believers should give attention and effort in finding their weaknesses and maximizing their God-given purpose. The Bible tells us what that purpose is in 2 Corinthians 12:8–10. Paul had been given a “thorn in the flesh” which was one instance of a “weakness.” Why?

 

A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

Paul mentions four purposes for his weaknesses.

1.       “To keep me from becoming conceited” (v. 7).

2.       “Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9).

3.       “So that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (v. 9).

4.       “When I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).

 

Paul’s Humility And Christ’s Power

Even though this weakness of the thorn is called “a messenger of Satan,” the purposes are clearly not Satan’s. Satan does not want Christ’s power to be made perfect! God does. So God is overruling Satan’s design with his own. In other words, wherever the Christian’s weaknesses come from, they have a God-given purpose. They are not fortuitous.

We can sum up the purpose of Paul’s weakness like this: securing Paul’s humility and showing Christ’s power. That’s why God made sure Paul had weaknesses — to keep him “from becoming conceited” and to give him a more obvious experience of the power of Christ resting on him.

Be humble and to magnify the power of Christ. One key strategy to doing this is to identify and exploit your weaknesses.

What does this mean? Negatively, it means that we stop complaining (to God and to people) about the things we are constitutionally not good at. And, positively, it means that we look for ways to turn our weaknesses into a Christ-exalting experience.

God has ordained that, through genetics or life-experience, we are limited, broken, weak. Paul asked that God would take his weakness away (verse 8), but God said no. This means that sooner or later, we should stop praying against the weakness and accept it as God’s design for our humility and the glory of Christ.

 

What This Meant For Me

I’ll use myself as a simple example. I read slowly — about as fast as I speak. Many people read five or ten times faster than I do. I tried for years to overcome this weakness, with special classes and books and techniques. After about two decades of bemoaning this weakness (from age 17 to 37 or so), I saw there would be no change. This is one reason I left college teaching and the academic life. I knew I could never be what scholars ought to be: widely read.

What did it mean for me to identify and exploit this weakness? It meant first that I accept this as God’s design for my life. I will never read fast. It meant I stop complaining about it. It meant that I take my love for reading and do with it what I can for the glory of Christ. If I can only read slowly, I will do all I can to read deeply. I will exploit slowness. I will ask Jesus to show me more in reading little than many see in reading much. I will ask Jesus to magnify his power in making my slowness more fruitful than speed.

In realizing I cannot read many books, I will pour my limited scope into reading one book better than any other — the Bible. If I must read fewer of many books, then I will read more carefully the greatest book.

 

Exploit Your Weaknesses

Now after all these years, I say with Paul, “I boast all the more gladly in this weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (verse 9). Christ has been faithful to fulfill his purpose. He has magnified himself in this weakness.

If I had angrily resented God all these years that he did not let me be a comprehensively well-read scholar, I would not have exploited this weakness. I would have wasted it.

So, don’t focus too much on finding your strengths. Give attention to identify and exploit your weaknesses. God has not given them to you in vain. Identify them. Accept them. Exploit them. Magnify the power of Christ with them. Don’t waste your weaknesses.

 

Family - Part Of Our Everyday Mission

God’s Call To The Family

Throughout the Bible, God turns His people toward the home. After giving the Shema in Deuteronomy 6, God commands Old Testament Israel to teach this crucial declaration to their children in as many everyday ways as possible. This sentiment is echoed throughout the Old Testament, as God instructs His people to make His ways known to their “children and your children’s children”.

Later, Jesus famously invited children to Himself, even as His disciples pushed them away. And He often used elements of children’s faith as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. Some of Jesus’ own family members were among His first followers: two of his brothers penned biblical letters, and His brother James was leader at the world’s first church.

Family imagery fills the most common metaphors for the Church in the New Testament. Patriarchs and matriarchs of a family are baptized “with their [household] as well”. Still true in much of the world today, extended families in Bible times all lived in one home. When a child got married, a room was added to the house and life went on. Children apprenticed to continue the family business. Fathers led families as patriarch pastors.

Missional leader Mike Breen (not the sportscaster; this one has an awesome British accent) explains that the Greco-Roman oikos (“extended family”—a group of 20–70 people) was a primary venue for the gospel spread in the early church. He argues that since families were close-knit, if one person began following Jesus, family members often followed—thus the “household” references in Acts.

We don’t live in homes of twenty people today. At most, parents or in-laws may live with us, or a sibling for a season. We might follow Chevy Chase’s example of a full house for the holidays, but everyone goes home. We may not live in the same city, or even nation, as our parents.

The most often we might see anyone outside our immediate family is at a reunion. In that context, they might be as excited to talk about Jesus as they are about the commemorative iron-on t-shirt your aunt insists on making everyone.

But unless your family is uniquely blessed, there are likely people in our own genealogies who don’t follow Jesus; some probably reject Him outright.

Our #1 Priority?

We must close with an important question: is family a more primary mission field than non-family? Jesus’ own family became believers. But He did not seem to allow His heartstrings to be tugged exclusively to His parents and siblings. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” while “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life”.

Before they believed He was the Messiah, Jesus’ family rejected Him. But that did not deter Him from his mission to fishermen, tax collectors, and prostitutes. At one point when His family sought to speak to—and likely distract—Him, His response seems downright harsh: “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ . . . He said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’”.

As everyday missionaries, we pursue mission wherever God has sent us. So on one hand, our family is the closest, most heartfelt mission field. On the other hand, we must guard against “family idolatry”—putting more value on our families, simply because we have longer history and an abiding love for them than our neighbors and co-workers. So is mission to family primary? It must not be lost as a priority, but the safest biblical line to draw is that we must guard our emotions, motives, and idols from making it the priority.

We must neither ignore our families for the sake of everyday mission, nor ignore everyday mission for the exclusive sake of our families.

Consider This?

If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, God calls you his missionary. You may never go halfway around the world. You may not raise financial support. But because of God’s gospel work in you, you are on mission: to people in your work, school, neighborhood, and those in need. As everyday missionaries, God has sent us to live out his Great Commission in the ordinary, normal, all-too-busy, and even most mundane moments of our lives.

  • But what exactly does an everyday missionary do?
  • Where and when does everyday mission happen?
  • And how can you possibly share the gospel, without killing your relationships?

Additional Resources

 A Field Guide for Everyday Mission (Moody, 2014): “Who Is My Everyday Mission Field?”  for more: visit everydaymission.net 

 

Community - Ways To Engage & Live Together

If Christians are going to take seriously their call to make disciples, they must recapture the art of hospitality with our neighbors – What better way to demonstrate the Gospel?!  The Bible is clear that hospitality is key to creating “life on life” engagements. This goes over and above a weekly meeting or information exchange as “training” for believers.  Romans 12: 1-11 shows Paul’s instruction for showing hospitality; Hebrews encourages readers not to neglect the gift of caring for others “Do not neglect showing hospitality to strangers”… 1 Peter 4:8-11 says to show hospitality to one another … as each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.  Have you considered your community, your home, your neighbors a blessing; each contributes to the context of your gospel life - to be shared as demonstration of God’s love?

It is often helpful to have practical ideas to start engaging the people around us. Most of the things on this list are normal, everyday things that many people are already doing. The hope is that people would do these things with Gospel intentionality.

This means you do them:

  • In the normal rhythms of life pursuing to meet and engage new people
  • Prayerfully watching and listening to the Holy Spirit to discern where God is working.
  • Looking to boldly, humbly, and contextually proclaim the Gospel in word and deed.

Below is a top 25 list some have used in showing hospitality. Not all of these are for everyone, but hopefully there will be several ideas on the list that God uses to help you engage your neighbors.

1. Stay outside in the front yard longer while watering the yard

2. Walk your dog regularly around the same time in your neighborhood

3. Sit on the front porch and letting kids play in the front yard

4. Pass out baked goods (fresh bread, cookies, brownies, etc.)

5. Invite neighbors over for dinner

6. Attend and participate in HOA functions

7. Attend the parties invited to by neighbors

8. Do a food drive or coat drive in winter and get neighbors involved

9. Have a game night (yard games outside, or board games inside)

10. Art swap night – bring out what you’re tired of and trade with neighbors

11. Grow a garden and give out extra produce to neighbors

12. Have an Easter egg hunt on your block and invite neighbors use their front yards

13. Start a weekly open meal night in your home

14. Do a summer BBQ every Friday night and invite others to contribute

15. Create a block/street email and phone contact list for safety

16. Host a sports game watching party

17. Host a coffee and dessert night

18. Organize and host a ladies artistic creation night

19. Organize a tasting tour on your street (everyone sets up food and table on front porch)

20. Host a movie night and discussion afterwards

21. Start a walking/running group in the neighborhood

22. Start hosting a play date weekly for other stay at home parents

23. Organize a carpool for your neighborhood to help save gas

24. Volunteer to coach a local little league sports team

25. Have a front yard ice cream party in the summer

Pick one of these ideas and act on it this week.

Sharing stories of how you have lived some of these out or other ways you have engaged your neighbors can additionally expand the possibilities and God’s Kingdom.

 

 

Community - Suffering Together

Why Does God Allow Pain & Suffering – Jen Hatmaker

Suffering transcends all class, race, ethnicity, culture, privilege. The wealthiest, most successful man on earth could lose his only daughter in a car wreck this afternoon. There is no corner untouched by grief, no demographic, no alliance. If you haven’t yet suffered, just live longer.

With anything so viscerally devastating, the Christian community has long tried to explain it. At the beginning of the written word, we see this tension: Job has suffered in ways incomprehensible leaving a wake of crushing confusion. God tells us it was Satan, Job tells us it was God, his friends tell Job it was him. The finger-pointing is instinctual, because what we have always wanted to know when tragedy strikes is WHY.
 
To this end, the church has a history of formulizing suffering, giving it tidy origins and endings and whitewashing the horrid, debilitating middle. We’ve assessed the complicated nuances of universal sorrow and assigned it categories, roots, principles. Or in the face of uncertain causes, we recite some of the coldest, inhumane theology:
 
"God is sovereign. Deal with it."
 
In an attempt to understand the ordinary grief of human life, I fear we’ve reduced a complicated reality to an unmanageable burden; we’ve put a yoke of despair on people who mourn, assigning accolades to those who “suffer well” and, in ways overt and subtle, urging our brokenhearted to buck up. Then adding insult to injury, we fall into the trap of explaining suffering, as if any one of us could possibly understand its eternal scope.

 

Here Is What We Know About Suffering From Scripture:

 

  • Sometimes people suffer because of self-inflicted misery. Humans have long been their own worst enemies. We are a self-destructive people. Adam, Eve, Jonah, David, Saul, Judas.
  •  Sometimes people suffer at the sins of others, which God would never cause, endorse, or initiate. It is contrary to his holy, perfect nature. Bathsheba, Daniel, Tamar, Hosea, The Good Samaritan, Paul.
  • Sometimes people suffer through no human fault at all. The best of God’s saints had their night. This is no indicator of divine disfavor. Life is simply hard.
  • Sometimes people suffer because people get sick and die. This happens to every person, family, and community on earth. There is zero immunity from death. Even Jesus wept salty, human tears at death and the grief of his friends.
  • Sometimes people suffer because we live on a physical earth involving tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, tsunamis. Natural disasters are a part of any living, shifting, fluctuating planet. (And the longer we irresponsibly plunder and harm it, the greater it will groan and creak and protest, but that is a different blog.)
  • Sometimes people suffer because we have a vicious enemy who hates us and is out to steal, kill, and destroy everything redemptive and beautiful.

The point is, there is no formula for suffering. There is no one answer. There is no pat explanation. Simply stating that God is sovereign is woefully incomplete theology, as Scripture has clearly identified numerous root causes of suffering, some of which are entirely incompatible with God’s character. 
 
Suffering invites us to be radically human with one another, perhaps doing nothing more than reaching across the table, clasping hands, and weeping together. We are afforded the chance to create a safe place for someone else to mourn; nothing is needed but space, proximity, presence, empathy. You cannot possibly give an answer, so don’t try. Grief cannot be sidestepped; it must be endured, so may we be a people who endure with one another rather than constantly mitigating, explaining, propping up. Let’s just hold one another through the dark night and wait for the sun to rise.

Though it is human nature to master all knowledge, we simply must concede that so much of life is a mystery, as is the way God moves and redeems. How can we possibly fathom it all? We don’t always get the answer to WHY this side of heaven, so we need to stop talking about spiritual mysteries as if we are in possession of all understanding.

What We Know About Suffering And What We Should Cling To:

  • God is impossibly loving. He loves us. He loves our families. He loves creation.
  • God restores things; all of history points to a God who makes sad things right.
  • God doesn’t tempt, abuse, endorse wickedness, abandon, or hate.
  • In our darkest moment, when we are crushed, Jesus is as close as our own breath.
  • He has given us to one another as agents of love and grace and safety.
  • He told us 100s of times to comfort each other, making sure we are cared for.
  • Jesus wept over death and grief; shed your tears, friend. We have a Savior who cries.
  • It is not the Body’s responsibility to explain why. We are family. We circle the wagons. We make casseroles. We weep with those who weep.

Pastors, friends, church, let’s be gentle with our broken. Let’s hold fragile hearts with loving hands, terribly careful with our theology, using it as a balm, not a bludgeon. May we be slow to formulize and quick to empathize, because life is so very hard and until God makes all things new, people are dying for a cold cup of water in their suffering.
 
If you are suffering today, imagine me grabbing both of your hands and inviting you to mourn; we will stand watch while you grieve. No need to pretend or whitewash. That is unnecessary among brothers and sisters. We may not get a why, but we know the how: together. Jesus is so good and He loves you. The sun will rise with healing in its wings, but until it does, may we all learn to be a soft place to fall, cushioning the blow of suffering until Jesus turns it all into glory.

Community - What If I’m Not A People Person?

An Introvert’s Guide To Making An Impact - How To Minister Without Getting Peopled-Out.

By Craig Greenfield

Relationships transform lives. People with people. Iron sharpening iron.

I'm convinced of this truth, and I've dedicated my life to seeing lives—especially the lives of the vulnerable and poor—transformed through relationships.

For the past 15 years, I've lived in vibrant slums and inner cities, places overflowing with life and people. We established an intentional Christian community in inner-city Vancouver, living together with a dozen people and practicing radical hospitality by inviting our homeless neighbors to join us for dinner almost every night.

Our motto was "Cook too much food. Invite too many people."

In our current home—nestled in a crowded little Phnom Penh slum—there are probably 100 people within a few meters of me at any one time.

In the past, I would lament and complain about how God wired me: a cringing introvert.

But over the years, I've come to see that being an introvert is a gift, even in the ministry of hospitality. Deep thinkers, thoughtful readers, folks with a quiet presence—are all desperately needed in the world, and especially in ministry.

As I've grown more comfortable in my own skin, I've picked up a few strategies to make sure my life and ministry are sustainable. No, I don't need to move to a hermitage somewhere in the woods. There are better ways to remain engaged while taking care of my need for solitude.

Here are my top 3 tips for thriving as an introvert, even in the midst of a needy crowd:

1 - Establish Rhythms Of Engagement And Withdrawal

The kids in my slum know that when Uncle Craig pulls up on his motorbike in the late afternoon, they will be welcomed inside the house to play. I lie on the hammock in my living room and the neighborhood children make Lego creations, dance around wildly and alternate between laughing and fighting. Sometimes these shenanigans continue for hours, other times, I kick them out after 10 minutes.

But I can do this because I have periods of solitude and quiet at other times during the day. And I have a weekly rhythm that includes a quiet Sabbath and occasional holidays (Holy-days).

Selfishly speaking, I personally need these times of engagement with the neighbors—for my own growth and learning, for the way God speaks to me through them, and because they take me outside my comfort zone.

But I also equally need times of prayer and quiet to replenish my soul and gather my thoughts.

Jesus knew and practiced these things (Luke 5:16). So, over time I've developed a set of daily rituals of engagement and withdrawal that mirror some of how Jesus lived, and still suit my own energy levels and capacity for relationship.

I try to approach each of these moments mindful of God's presence and open to what He wants to do or say.

2 - Establish Places Of Privacy And Rest

You have heard it said, "A man's home is his castle," but I say to you, "A man's home is his place of hospitality. His bedroom is his sanctuary."

I'm a little cautious about the common cultural practice of maintaining our homes as a "No-Go Zone" except for friends and family. I have experienced the beauty in other cultures of practicing radical hospitality in the home, and I have grown to love the biblical value of welcoming those from the margins. Jesus says, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me in" (Matthew 25:25).

But every introvert understands the need for some place of escape. And that, for me, is my bedroom. Few people, outside my immediate family, ever set foot in that room. And it is truly a comfortable place of escape, rest and rejuvenation. Thank God for my bedroom.

3 - Establish Communities Of Welcome To Share The Load

I love how four friends brought one paralytic to Jesus—not the other way around: one super-Christian bringing four paralytics to Jesus! Our individualistic cultures are hung up on promoting the myth of the Lone Ranger: the super minister who can do everything by herself.

We desperately need to develop new ways of doing ministry that will spread the load between folks in a committed team or community of people. When one of us is feeling weak (or peopled-out!), the others carry the load of hospitality.

Even Jesus had a team of people traveling and ministering with Him.

For some, this could mean considering intentionally growing our households in order to grow our capacity for hospitality. For others, it might mean joining forces once or twice a week with friends to be intentional in welcoming others.

Whatever God calls you to do, consider this: God is community, three-in-one. And He gently invites us into community ourselves.

Community - Becoming God’s Peace Makers

Becoming God’s Peace Makers

The first step in responding to God’s peacemaking call is for people to ask themselves a personal question, “How do I become a peacemaker?” Until we are personally invested in responding biblically to conflict in our own lives, it is hard to build relationships that help others do so. 

Scripture tells us that every Christian is to be a peacemaker. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” the apostle Paul urges in Romans 12:18. This sort of personal peacemaking begins at home, in our closest family relationships, and extends into our workplaces, our churches, and the communities in which we live. It assumes that Christ is at the center of our lives and that peace with God is a reality we live out day to day. This peace overflows into our most personal relationships as we incarnate Jesus’ commands to love one another and do good to those who oppose us.

Peacemaking is more than something we do. It is who we are. If we are not incarnating the peace of Christ in the way we live, we should not expect to be very useful in bringing the peace of Christ to our churches and communities. On the other hand, if we are alert to all the peacemaking opportunities around us, personal peacemaking can easily become a full-time calling.

 

But It Does Not Stop There…

From time to time, God affords us opportunities to provide counsel to friends and acquaintances–people in our relationship networks who are themselves involved in conflicts. The apostle Paul seems to have this in mind when he instructs the Galatian church: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. …Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2).

One-on-one conflict “coaching” settings are wonderful opportunities to “carry each other’s burdens,” as we listen, encourage, and suggest ways to respond biblically to the problems of everyday life. I use the word “coaching” deliberately. When we assume this role, we are like a coach helping prepare an athlete to compete.

Coaches do not take the field themselves; they equip others to do the work. Similarly, a “conflict coach” does not resolve the conflict, but guides and encourages others to approach their problems biblically and to live out the gospel faithfully.

Sometimes opportunities arise to serve as facilitators between people in conflict. When this happens, we take on the role of conciliator, providing a structured forum where Christ-centered discussion can bring reconciliation and healing.

God regularly uses seemingly ordinary people like you and me to bring together quarreling family members, to resolve conflicts between church members, or to ease tensions and promote reconciliation between neighbors. You may find this to be particularly true if you have children, are a classroom teacher, or manage others in some capacity–as much of each day, it seems, is spent trying to resolve the conflicts of others.

Being involved in day-to-day conflicts does not typically result in headlines. Nonetheless, common as they are, such opportunities are not trivial. Instead, they are common circumstances in which God’s uncommon power is on display–as we depend on him and obey his commands.

Opportunities for peacemaking are available to all believers all the time. There is never a shortage of peacemaking work for those whose ears are open to God’s call.

 

Judging Facts & Circumstances With Love

In community, instead of judging others critically, God commands us to judge charitably. Making a charitable judgment means that out of love for God, you strive to believe the best about others until you have facts to prove otherwise. In other words, if you can reasonably interpret facts in two possible ways, God calls you to embrace the positive interpretation over the negative, or at least to postpone making any judgment at all until you can acquire conclusive facts.

Jesus’ command in Matthew 7:12, sets forth the Golden Rule. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” How do you want others to judge you? Do you want them to believe good about you instead of evil? To interpret your actions in the best possible way? To really try to understand your side of the story before drawing conclusions or talking to others about you? If so, Jesus commands that you do the same for others.

Our responsibility to judge others charitably is reinforced by Jesus’ teaching on the second great commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). Just think of how quickly we judge ourselves favorably! When we are questioned or criticized, our natural response is to explain our actions in the best possible light and make excuses for any perceived wrong. If this is how we are inclined to love ourselves, it is also the way we should love others.

The Apostle Paul’s teaching on love in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 further supports peace making with Love in the center.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Paul teaches that love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In other words, love always looks for reasonable ways to trust others, to hope that they are doing what is right, and to interpret their words and actions in a way that protects their reputation and credibility.

Christ-followers seek to represent Him in love, as individual peacemakers, mediators and friends.  What better opportunity to display the gospel then to display love while seeking resolution to circumstances of conflict.  Matthew 5:9 emphasizes specific, eternal benefits, “Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called sons of God”.

Children - We Are On Mission To Them

No one is better positioned or equipped to share the gospel with a child than his or her mom and dad. The sheer amount of time spent with their children gives parents a great opportunity to declare and demonstrate the gospel consistently. Because parents know their children best, they also know best how to communicate the gospel to them.

Rarely, if ever, does a Christian parent disagree with the fact that they are called to be on mission to their children, to do their best to lead them to love and follow Jesus. Most parents want to disciple their children, and desire to help and support to that end. Our prayer is that Westport can be a part of the help they are looking for.

When it comes to parents being on mission to their children, there is no better passage than Deuteronomy 6:4-8:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

 

“Teach Them Diligently”

The most often quoted part of this passage seems to be verse 8:

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

This is a great verse that speaks to the need to teach the commandments of God to children. As parents, we need to teach our children the word of God. We need to tell them the gospel. We need to do this in intentional moments, like family worship times or family prayer times, and along the way, as this passage indicates: “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

 

“On Your Heart”

Just before verse 8, God talks specifically to parents.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

Before parents teach their children God’s commandments, they must first be ingrained on the parents’ own hearts. Those of us who have been on an airplane ride are no stranger to this principle. The flight attendants tell us before each takeoff to make sure to secure our own oxygen masks before helping any children who are with us. It’s a good thing to want to help the children with you, but if you run out of oxygen first, you aren’t going to be much help!

This same principle applies to the discipleship of our children. We can’t give children a faith that we don’t have ourselves. The first step in leading our children to have a loving relationship with Jesus Christ is first pursuing a deep relationship with him for ourselves. Otherwise, our instruction and discipleship will be hypocritical.

 

“Hear O Israel”

The least talked about part of this passage is perhaps the most important. Listen to the first words God speaks to the assembly through Moses:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Moses was talking to the entire assembly of God’s people while giving this address. He didn’t say “OK, those of you who don’t have children, you’re dismissed. The rest of you, hang out for a few minutes. I’m going to talk about your children.” God gave his instructions on raising children to the entire assembly of his people, together, regardless of their stage of life.

 

This tells us that parenting was never meant to be done in isolation. God designed for parents to lead their children in the context of community. While parents have a primary role in the discipleship of their children, the act of leading children to Christ is a community project.

The smallest unit of this community is your marriage. For families that are blessed to have both a mother and a father at home, God has designed your marriage to proclaim his gospel by the way you love, respect, support, encourage, and minister to each other (Ephesians 5).

The larger faith community also plays a role in partnering with you on mission to your children. A missional community, or other small group of believers on mission together, is hugely important to help you live out your faith in front of and with your children. In addition, healthy and Biblical ministries to children and students can be great partners in your mission. We pray that partnering with Westport Church will help you see how to work with the church at large in leading your children to Jesus.

We pray that you will be encouraged and strengthened in your God-given calling to be on mission to your children.

20-Something: Why Shouldn't I Leave The Church?

Why shouldn’t 20-somethings leave the church? The church appears to be tumbling toward irrelevance for 20-somethings, but the opposite is reality for those who choose to stay and be the church instead of leave the church.

One important reality - No one really leaves the church in their 20s, they take their worship to a new church. A church where God is not, but temporary pleasure, satisfaction, peace, and success is promised yet never fully enjoyed or achieved. This is the sad lie that few identify until it is too late. My encouragement to 20-somethings: don’t leave behind your angst with the church, but use that angst to become the church God longs for.

4 Reasons 20-somethings Shouldn’t Leave God’s Church

·         Experience Healing & Strength

·         A Hopeful Community During a Messy Decade

·         Ask Not What Church Can Do for You, but what You can do for Church

·         Your Future Depends on It

 

Experience Healing & Strength

As I watch 20-somethings, and as I consider my own life in my 20s, a lot of time is spent seeking healing and strength. I may not have described it like that or you may not see that in yourself, but all of our striving has deeper roots aiming for healing and strength in life; healing from core hurts and deep wounds of family, friends, careers, and bad relationships. The power for that healing is sought in success, beauty, approval, and sexual satisfaction. These pursuits only cause more hurts. I’ve loved watching the people of God be the place of healing and power through Jesus Christ that 20-somethings are seeking.

This is always unexpected in the church, but God loves to do the unexpected. The healing has ranged from physical to emotional and spiritual. For many, it involves the healing of hurts from the church itself which becomes a beautiful picture of redemption.

I see this happen on a Sunday in worship and when a message is preached with the Spirit’s power. I see it happen even more often in the community of God that is vulnerable about their need for God and then transforms lives by the love of God flowing through them.

 

A Hopeful Community for a Messy Decade

Being just removed from my 20s (and therefore an expert), I look back on a messy decade full of job/career transitions, marriage challenges, starting a family, and facing the messy baggage of my past. The 20s are a messy decade. What other time do you leave the comforts of established friendships, try to establish your career while trying to establish the person you will be?

This messy decade needs more than an equally messy community. It needs a hopeful community that can bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the specific challenges every single day. The church can be this place of hope better than your college friends who are dealing with the same things as you.

Find a church where you can be messy like the disciples were in the Upper Room and find the same hope they did in Christ.

 

Ask Not What Church Can Do For You, But What YOU Can Do For The Church

This challenge invites us to wonder if the church has problems because of us instead of because of “them” (them being the older Christians, leaders, and pastors). When John F. Kennedy challenged the country with this rhetoric in his inauguration speech in 1961, he inspired the country to take ownership of the future of America. It’s time for us to ask the same question and take ownership of the church.

Let’s say you share your faith at work and your co-worker comes to faith. What kind of church do you want to bring them to?

A church you have loved and seen grow into the humble and Jesus-exalting mission we see in the New Testament. How does this church become like that? It’s more than the pastors, it is you. You make the church what it will be in the future…if you choose to.

 

Your Future Depends On It

This might be a bold statement, but I do believe it is true. If you leave, you won’t come back and if you don’t come back, you won’t stay in Christ and will settle for less than joy in life. Name your favorite Lone Ranger Christian. You likely can’t, but you can name your favorite podcast pastor or Christian blogger. Do you think your podcast pastor or favorite women’s blogger became that way on their own? Not at all.

Their lives have been shaped and formed by the community of God more than the local Christian bookstore. Becoming like Christ requires that you walk in 1 Corinthians 13 love, a love that bears, endures, forgives, and hopes all things.

Your future joy in life and hope in Christ is dependent on you sticking it out with the church community.

 

Love the Church The Way Jesus Loves You

While I understand every reason people choose to walk away from the church, my encouragement is ultimately that Jesus never walks away from you. He never grows weary of the highs and lows of your life and loves you forever.

As you experience this love, Jesus told us the world would know we were His disciples if we loved one another with this kind of love.

May the church become the place for 20-somethings and all generations to see Jesus and may it be that place because we all love the church to make it that way.