Friday, June 29, 2007

You Are Powerful

If you are a Christ follower, you are powerful! When I talk to people who are Christ followers, they often feel insecure in their faith, untrained and not capable of really doing too much more than setting up chairs, directing traffic or maybe teach Sunday School if there is pre-planned material for them to read from. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH! If most Christ followers do think similarly to the folks that I talk to, it will lead to an anemic faith that is always dependent upon someone more trained or skilled than they are (ie pastor, teacher or elder). Although we do need pastor's, teachers and elders etc, we do not need to lean on them in order to have a strong faith. They are helpful but the strength of our faith does not depend upon them. In fact, it should be their job to introduce us how to actively live out our faith in powerful ways that keeps us from being dependent upon them! Allow me to simply remind us of a few verses that speak to this issue. 2 Peter 1:3 3 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. You already have everything you need to live a godly, spirit filled life. You need nothing else according to his verse! Eph. 2:10 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. You ARE God's masterpiece. You were created to do great things for God's kingdom and He planned those a long time ago. We simply need to walk out what in faith in the way that God leads us. Philippians 2:13 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 4:13 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Nuff said there... 2 Cor. 3:6 6He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant... You are already competent from the moment you became a Christ follower. So, the bottom line is that God has already given us everything we need to live lives that are full of effectiveness because Jesus resides in us. He has already planned some awesome things for EVERY Christ follower to live out - not just the pastor's, teachers, elders, deacons or you fill in the blank. He wants YOU to do amazing things with eternal results for His kingdom. Now just imagine if every believer walked out that truth. Imagine!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Following Jesus' Way of Living

*Some of the following thoughts are born out of reading Alan Hirsch's book "The Forgotten Ways" In AD 100 there were between 25k & 100k believers In AD 310 there were between 15 million & 20 million believers How does that kind of growth happen in 200 years? When you add the following elements to that growth, you really begin to scratch your head: • It was illegal in most places to be a Christ follower. • No buildings or common meeting places existed. • No Scriptures (small portions at best). • No professional leadership. • No ’hot’ services to attract folks. • It was hard to join the church – you had to prove yourself. What is different between the believers before AD 310 and believers today? We have the same God. We have the same Holy Spirit. We have more knowledge, resources and tools. We live longer. We are more mobile. One might think we should be at least as potent in our cultures. We have lost something. For the next few weeks, I think we are going to be discussing two important concepts that need to be rediscovered in the church today; Mission and Discipleship. I think we may have lost the original intent of these concepts in the church. Mission: the idea of personal responsibility to take Jesus to everyone we know as a way of life. Discipleship: following Jesus and becoming increasingly like Him. We cannot become missional nor disciples based on a consumeristic approach to church – we cannot consume our way into mission or discipleship. We have tried for the past 40 years of the church and the church is still declining in the west It is true that some churches are growing – but most are growing from ‘switchers’. Those who have bought into the consumeristic concept of church jump from one church to another based upon what feels best or good for them. This makes perfect sense because it is what the church has promoted for the past 4 decades. Hopefully together we’ll discover mission and discipleship in fresh(er) ways. Contributing problems There are a few contributing problems that have caused us to lose a truer sense of mission and discipleship and they need to be acknowledged (not knocked) so we can be informed move beyond them. Church = Church has become to mean meetings like this one. In our culture and experience, church is a set location that we go to in order to hear talks (like this one) and to experience God. It is a place many Christians go to ‘get fed’. This understanding of church has caused us to be consumers where at best 80% of the people are in the audience and 20% actually ‘minister’ or put on the service. It might actually be more like 95/5% ratio. Our Mission has Followed Church = Church is confined to a set location or event and our concept of mission (evangelism) has also been confined to a location or event. At best mission is for a select few ‘super saints’ who go to foreign lands to share Jesus. Professional Clergy = The common belief is that the clergy have the answers, they know what to do, they have a closer relationship with God than the common folks, they are the leaders and in authority. Most things need to be ran by them because we need to do things orderly and in a biblical manner. This has lead to weak anemic people who don’t know the Bible or what to do if the leader is gone. Intimacy with Jesus = Intimacy with Jesus has become diluted to tasks that need to be done like Bible reading, prayer and attending meetings. These are not bad nor wrong concepts, in fact, they should be continued. However, doing them void of intimate engagement with Jesus will never produce a close bond. We would do well to teach people how to be intimate with Jesus while surfing the web, mowing the yard, shopping for new shoes or playing a video game for the first time. The Answer We must follow Jesus’ example of living life for God. We must dare to be dangerous in our following Him. We must be willing to be holy rebels if we are going to change church. Allow me to give you some initial thoughts on Mission from Luke 4-5. (Are there any questions before we dive in here?) Jesus was on Mission from the Outset. Luke 3:21-22 Note that Jesus was pleasing to God – He always did the will of His Father. Luke 4:1 Jesus was led by the Spirit of God – even into uncomfortable and hard places (a 40 day fast followed by a great testing by the Devil himself). Luke 4:18-19 This is Jesus’ job description if you will. This job description is wet with mission. Here we find at least 5 assignments or principles that Jesus is to live out. All of them are outward focused: • Preach the Gospel to the poor. • Proclaim release to the captives. • Recovery of sight to the blind. • Set free those who are oppressed. • Proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. Jesus certainly began by being outward focused and on mission. There is no hint of consumerism in his job description. Notice verse 22, the people were blessing Jesus. When he read these words (above) from Isaiah and said that He came to do those things, the people who heard it thought it was for them and they were blessing Him. More on this in a minute… Luke 4:25-26 Here we see that God has always been on mission to those much different than His chosen people. Jesus is addressing the same crowd of Jews in a synagogue and reminds them that God is on mission (just like Him) to those who are different or outcasts. Elijah and Zarephath. Elijah was a Jew and Zarephath was a Gentile. There should not have any dealings with one another according to Jewish law. God, however, sends one of the greatest prophets Israel had to a poor Gentile women and food was provided for her until the famine was over. Luke 4:27-28 teaches us again that God has always been on mission. Here we learn about Elisha (Elijah’s protégé) and how with all of the leprosy in Israel, God brought the enemy, a Gentile, to him to be healed of leprosy. Through the reading of Isaiah about the Messiah being on mission and through Jesus relaying these two stories of how God has always been on mission and moved towards those different and further away from God, Jesus was teaching the world that He was on mission and so should those following Him. When the people heard these things, verse 28 tells us that the same people who were blessing Him a few minutes earlier (v. 22) were now filled with raged when they heard these things. They were taking Jesus out to a cliff and were going to through Him off to His death, but He slipped away. The Jews liked Jesus when they thought that He was going to come and teach, heal set free and proclaim the Lord’s favor on them. However, when it was clear that He was for all people and that it wasn’t all about them, they were filled with rage. Luke 4:42-44 Jesus left Nazareth and was off to Capernaum. He cast out a demon (v. 33-35) and healed many in that city (v. 38ff). The people were again clamoring for Him to stay and not leave. Just like the folks at Nazareth, they wanted Jesus all to themselves as well. Verse 42 tells us that when the day came for Jesus to leave, the crowds followed him and tried to keep Him from going away from them. Jesus tells them His mission. “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” Luke 4:43 “Just as the Father as sent me, so send I you.” Just like Jesus, we are on mission for our whole lives. Luke 5:1-11 This passage teaches us about how Jesus’ first disciples were called to follow Him. Jesus uses this opportunity to begin with the end in mind as He calls His first disciples to follow Him. He begins by breaking or challenging their paradigm about what they knew most about, fishing. After He taught the crowds, He instructed Simon Peter to shove off into the lake and fish. Simon had fished all his life and he knew that this was not the time to go fishing. He also knew that the fishing was lousy. They has spent all night fishing and had caught nothing! They had just finished the laborious job of washing their nets and now, a non-fisherman wanted them to do something unconventional. It would cause them to have to haul their nets back to shore to washed yet again. Something deep in Simon stirred and He did as Jesus instructed and there, they caught a large amount of fish. Jesus often does things that are not the normal way of doing things. We must be careful to listen to His Word and His voice in our lives. As soon as they arrived back on shore, Jesus invites them to follow Him. He tells them that they will in deed continue fishing, but no longer for fish, but for men. Jesus begins by telling His first disciples that following Him has mission at the center of the task! Mission is at the center of being a Christ follower. They left everything and followed Him. Luke 5:11 Questions, Comments, Concerns or other Discussion on this topic?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Simple Evaluation Tool for Your Church

Do you lead an organic/house/simple church? Here is a basic way of evaluating her health. A healthy organic church will have...

Divine Truth permeate the church on a regular basis. The Word of God will be discussed, read, taught, studied and meditated on. These do not need to happen each week, but one or more should be normally/regularly engaged. There should also be an engagement with the Living Word of Jesus who resides in all believers. This can happen through prophetic words (1 Cor. 14:1-3), words of encouragement and the practice of spiritual gifts. A healthy organic church will be actively involved in

Nurturing Relationships. It is good when phone calls, e-mails, texts or getting together with others happens naturally. There are many ‘one another’ in the Bible and practicing them must happen outside of formal meetings if a church is to be considered healthy. A healthy organic church will be strong in

Apostolic Mission. There should be times of prayers for our lost friends, relatives and neighbors. We would want to hear fresh stories of how God is using us to speak truth into people’s lives that we are engaging. We should be encouraging one another to be bold in our witness for our King.

 Take a look at your church and see if these three elements are in healthy balance and practiced regularly. If they are, stay the course. If not, then simply pray about how to address the weakness, speak to another organic church shepherd or one of our elders and communicate to your church your observations. This will all cause for a healthy organic church.

 Always remember that we can never lead anyone else to a place where we have not been. We cannot teach people faithfulness if we are sporatic in our commitments. We cannot help folks become others focused if we think about what we want to do before considering what is best for others. We will not develop strong disciples (and therefore strong churches) if we are not daily touching the heart of God in meaningful ways like interacting with the Word, prayer and listening to His heart. This is simply following the example of Jesus as He walked on the earth.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

One Focus

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket 4"Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6"These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7"You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up. 8"You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9"You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Distractions. Life is full of them. Competition is fierce for your energy, dollars, time and learning. Commercials are screaming or alluring your thoughts and heart to want whatever it is that they need you to buy or believe. Without a compass, without a focus, we can easily end up drifting through life, moving at the will of the swells and currents around us instead of setting a course that brings glory to our God. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is not one voice in the midst of the world asking you for your focus. This section of Scripture is giving us the one focus necessary for true fulfillment, happiness and purpose. There is only one God in all of creation and our allegiance is to be His alone. I’m sure that one reason that the Bible states that there is but One God is that there actually are other entities vying for our attention – powerful things that promise fulfillment, even only if it is temporary. Because there are things to distract us from having a primary focus on the One who created us, we should be reminding ourselves, our families and our friends that God is One and He is to be our One focus. Verse 5 teaches me that God wants everything about me to be focused on Him, my love, my being my mind and even my energy. To respond to the God who gave me life in a lesser fashion is diminishing His influence in my life. Verse 6 tells me that this is actually a command. God is commanding my all be focused on Him first and above everything else in life. God desires that my love for Him stems from my heart, not just because I’m suppose to love Him. Verse 7 teaches me about the importance of living out God being One and the center of my life, my one focus. We are to teach or discuss this single principle of God’s supremacy at every opportunity that we have with our children. We should recognize God in our drive to the supermarket, as we put a loaf of bread in the basket, when we stop and fill up the car with fuel or when we put on our gloves to pull weeds in the yard. We should teach our family to be thankful when our pay checks are cashed or our car breaks down. Verses 8-9 teach me that I’m very forgetful of God’s graciousness to me. I’m so forgetful that I should put reminders on my hands, my forehead and on my front door along with on my refrigerator. I need not so subtle reminders of God’s goodness and supremacy in my life. He is God and there is no other. What does a One Focused life look like? I would like to encourage you to think through that for yourself and your family. What changes in you when you filter all of life’s decisions and distractions through Jesus?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Be Available

I was sitting around a backyard last night with some friends. Some friends were new and some were long timers. Evenings in Phoenix during the summer are most often very hot. If there is a breeze, it is so thermally induced that it is not very comfortable. Last night was very different. The weather had cooled down nicely and the breeze was refreshing, a wonderful break from the desert’s heat. My friends and I enjoyed a great dinner together. Conversations were engaged around various tables. Some children were running around the grass while others were playing with their superhero characters on the rocks. The food, the breeze the friends were all very refreshing. As I listened in to some of the conversations around the tables I heard discussions about family members, family history, business woes and current heart issues. Prayers were offered, laughter rang out and giggles filled the air. It was really a refreshing evening. I almost missed this wonderful evening. My wife and daughter had just returned from Los Angeles. We had driven all day and we were tired. We arrived home about 4:00pm and church began at 6:30pm. When I walked in the door, there was a whole stack of mail that needed to be gone through. Our white tile floors had a whole lot of dirt marks on them; the pool was dirty from the windstorm that obviously had occurred in the past few days and the e-mail…it is always beckoning for more attention. The thought crossed Debs and my mind that maybe we don’t need to go tonight. We had just returned home and we were tired and certainly folks would understand. But we went to be with our friends, to bless them and to be blessed by them. We wanted to encourage and be encouraged – and we certainly were. After we ate together, we pulled up chairs in a circle and two guys got their guitars out and we began singing and praying. We were encouraged to think about the concept of being available to be used by God as we sang and prayed. Soon after the singing and praying, we were asked to share a story about how we have been available to be used by God or how others were available to be used by God in our lives. One person shared how they were dealing with some challenging things in their life and one person in the circle happened to be taking a walk at the same time they were. Words were exchanged and prayers were offered and encouragement was received. Another shared how that while they were traveling they saw a single gal waving down folks for help and stopped to lend a hand. The lady was out of gas, no money, not gas can and not ID. So off to the store to get a gas can and filled it with gas to help out the poor soul in need. Another shared how they were hanging out with a friend who was in rehab to get over a drug addiction and they ended up sharing about Jesus with them. These stories were great sermons in and of themselves. They were teaching the rest of us about the value of being available. After the stories, a few additional thoughts were shared from God’s Word. Isaiah 6:8 God was looking for someone to send on His behalf to the world. Isaiah thought about it and raised his hand and said, “Here I am God, why not send me?” God did. Isaiah was available to God to be used. Isaiah was not forced but drawn to serve His King. Luke 5 There are a couple of stories here where Jesus invites a fisherman and an IRS dude to follow Him. Both of them left everything to follow Jesus. They choose to be available to be used by Jesus for His purposes. Jesus invites us all to follow Him but we have to choose to raise our hands like Isaiah and say I’ll go with you God. How can I be available? 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 Here we find some folks who are having a really bad time in life. They are oppressed and really poor. These folks hear about another church far away in Jerusalem who need some assistance and they choose to pool their resources and send it to their brothers in the faith. The Scriptures here tell us they gave generously, beyond their means. Then Paul, the writer of the letter, says that he was startled because they not only committed themselves to God but to Paul as well to do the will of God. These hurting folks choose to not focus on their own pain, but to look beyond themselves and reach out to make themselves available to serve God. We ended the evening by sharing the bread and cup and remembering what Jesus had done for us and that He is coming back for us. We also committed ourselves to being available to God to be used for His glory. It was a wonderful evening in a back yard in Phoenix with a cool breeze and the breathe of God upon us all.