Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Why Do So Many Spiritual Conversations Take Place on Airplanes?

I often hear stories about God conversations on airplanes.  I read about them in books, I write about my experiences in articles and tell about God conversations at seminars I teach.  Just a couple of weeks ago my friend Bill was telling about a recent trip he took and lo and behold he shared a spiritual conversation on the plane with the guy next to him.
I was at a conference and the speaker was talking about evangelism. He opened up his talk with a story about a Jesus conversation on an airplane.  My mentor in Evangelism, Juan Isais, often told stories of conversations he had on airplanes.
On my way home from Florida recently, Debbie and I were sitting in a plane with three seats on each side.  A man was sitting on the window side, Debbie and I had the middle and aisle seats.  I 'graciously' gave her the middle seat and settled into the aisle seat and began to read a book.  I was not very loving to place my wife in the middle seat next to a man so I deserved what came next.  Debbie leaned over to me and told me that she was going to the restroom that I should consider moving to the middle seat when she returned.  She was right and I made the switch.
About an hour later, refreshments were served and I introduced myself to my neighbor by the window.  His name was John.  I learned that John was returning from Central America where he was free diving and filming whale sharks.  He even got his camera down and showed me his pictures.  They were amazing.  
Once we finished talking about scuba diving and whale sharks, John asked what I do for a living.  The conversation quickly turned spiritual and I found out that John had some rough spiritual experiences and was in need of healing from those wounds.  I was able so share Jesus with John and I hope to connect with him more in the future.
So why do so many spiritual conversations take place on airplanes?  I think we simply slow down and are forced to sit next to strangers for long periods of time.  In that situation you either say little to nothing to your stranger neighbor or you enter into conversation.  When the conversation takes place and you are spiritually sensitive it just flows naturally.  The key seems to be we are slowed down and in a way forced to interact for long periods of time with people.  
My theory is that if we took the time to slow down and have extended conversations with our neighbors, co-workers or strangers at a coffee house or bar, we would be finding ourselves having spiritual conversations a whole bunch more often.  Why not give it a try?  Slow down, take a stroll when your neighbor is playing catch with his child and just begin to talk.  Watch what Jesus does and follow His lead.  Use you PhD in Missional Living :-)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Really Good Question

I was sitting in a room full of high school students talking about the reckless, rugged and rejected Jesus of the New Testament.  I was not talking about the tamed Jesus of the western Christian church.  I was having the teens take a fresh look at Luke 10:1-3.  Here is what that text says:
 "Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.  And He was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.  "Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves."
I began our discussion by asking these teens, none of whom I had ever met, to tell me something they were passionate about and something that they believed God to be passionate about.  Some were passionate about dance, music, writing, the opposite sex and so on.  As they talked about what they thought God was passionate about, they were pretty much in unison.  Their answers were about how God loves people, or wants them to love Him or wants them to know His Son etc.  After their answers, we began to talk about Luke 10:1-3.
I told them that Jesus was passionate about those very things that they believed God to be passionate about.  He was so passionate that He sent out 70 novices to carry the most important news of the world and to sort of pave the way for Jesus' coming into their towns.  Jesus was sending 'newbies' into unknown and probably dark places.  He sent them to 35 different locations (two by two).
Jesus told them that in those towns there was a great group of people who He knew were ready to come and realize that they needed Jesus.  The problem was that there were not enough people to send out.  Apparently 35 groups of two are not enough to get the job done.  Jesus told those 70 people to beg God (the Lord of the harvest) to send out workers into the fields.
Now where were these new workers to come from?  From the 35 cities He was sending His disciples to.  From Jesus' perspective, the next wave of missionaries (Christians) were not yet saved.  They were in the cities doing business, lying, being abusive, doing some good for their families etc.  Some may have even got drunk the night before and woke up in the wrong persons bed that morning, but very soon, they would know of their need for Jesus, respond to Him and become a harvester as a novice as well.
I encouraged the teens to be with those people who they felt the Spirit of God would lead them.  I told them that maybe those people would not be the nicer people of their school or work, but with those who are left out of spiritual things.  I also cautioned them that Jesus sent people out in teams of two.  In teams of two you can be accountable, pray together, encourage each other to leave if things get rough or people are drinking.  
As we looked at verse 3 of Luke 10, it says that Jesus intentionally sends out novices (sheep) into dangerous places.  We talked about the kind of shepherd who sends out defenseless sheep into the midst of a wolf pack.  Their minds were racing and the conversation was flying.
Then came the really good question.  "Ed, if what you are saying is true and we should be going and hanging out with people who are sinners and at parties and all, why do the spiritual leaders I know tell me to stay away from those people and those situations?"
It is a very profound question.  What would you say to this teenager?

THE POWER OF TWO OR THREE

(Note: Here is an article we just completed - I hope it is of some benefit to each of you!)
BY CHURCH MULTIPLICATION ASSOCIATES‐ NEIL COLE, PHIL HELFER, MIKE JENTES & ED WAKEN

It took six open‐heart surgeries to get Zac’s attention. While he was recovering from the last surgery, he sensed the call from God to initiate a non‐profit organization for young people. He explored and listened to the needs of his city to see how his burden for youth would fit. Zac buzzed around the city trying to start a few things, but none of his efforts were gaining traction. His heart grew for his city, particularly for the youth and their unmet spiritual needs. He prayed, planned, poked around, only to become provoked when he couldn’t break through. At this point of provocation, he met Brent.  

They had a conversation at one of Zac’s son’s baseball games and a special friendship was kindled. Brent was a believer and solidly involved in a different local church than Zac. As their friendship developed, Zac shared his heart about what God was calling him to do for the youth in their city. A huge smile came across Brent’s face as he shared a similar vision.  In short order Zac, Brent and their families joined hands in reaching out to the youth of their city.  

They prayed, strategized, networked and eventually formed a youth ministry (www.youarespecial.net) and youth council for their city. This youth council was recognized by the city council and now they directly report to them as well. The youth council offers a variety of programs to help youth and adults. They are not only investing in the lives of young people, but also into their families. People have come to Jesus and the city’s spiritual needs are beginning to be met.

Zac and Brent are regular guys who go to different churches, yet chose to link arms because of the common call on their lives to reshape the youth of their city. They both found a place to serve, God brought them together to partner and they have brought God’s plan of peace into the lives of hundreds as a result. Apart they both seemed to be spinning their wheels, but once God brought them together things began to happen.

The book Ephesians reveals that the church is the fullness of God on earth and He wants to use the church to fill all things (Eph. 1:23, 3:8‐12 & 19‐21, 4:7‐16). This can only be accomplished as every believer embraces their identity as an ambassador in the mission field where God has planted them. As we have seen in the story above, God’s divine work often begins by using two or three.

A THEOLOGY OF TWO OR THREE

In the Beginning God

This phrase is the starting point of the Bible: “In the beginning God…” (Gen. 1:1). Our God exists in a community of three—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It may not have been crystal clear when Genesis 1 was written, but from the whole of the Scripture we know that our God is not just one, but three‐in‐one. God was, is, and always will be the Trinity. We often

glide over such an obvious truth.  

It’s Not Good for Man to be Alone

 And the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion...." (Gen. 2:17). Prior to this passage God had called everything He made good: the sun, the moon, the plants, the animals, everything! Then He sees a person all alone and says, "This is not good." People are made for partners.  

While God is remedying the problem, listen in to the conversation: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…He created them” (Gen. 1:26a, 27c). The beginning of the human race was a party of two (Adam & Eve) created by a party of three (Father, Son & Spirit). Every human family since has started with two as well!

Two or Three Throughout

The Bible often elevates a group of two or three to significance. For example, “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Deut. 19:15) This is grace and wisdom in action. Protection from the ill will of one person is the purpose here.  The last phrase is important: A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three.  To see something established, it requires more than one.  

Both the Old and New Testaments mention the phrase "two or three." It is interesting that at least ten other times “two or three” is suggested as an ideal size at which to conduct ministry. The Bible does not say “two or more” or “three or less,” but regularly “two or three." Perhaps it is good to have some flexibility without too many options.  

In the wisdom literature, Solomon shares, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work… Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecc. 4:9–12) Solomon certainly advocated for groups of two or three.  

The New Testament contains several other Scriptural reason why two or three may be the ideal size for effective fellowship and ministry.

Accountability & confidentiality are stronger with two or three. Whether concerning an accusation against a brother or sister in the church (Matt. 18:15‐17) or an elder (1 Tim. 5:19), instructions around handling these issues requires two or three.  Two or three provide simpler and more balanced communication. When there are many voices, it is difficult to hear and difficult to speak. 

Two or three is the perfect size group for clear communication and for everyone to participate. With several perspectives, the group can have a more balanced conversation and conclusions as well. Paul wrote the following regarding gatherings of the church: “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church…two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time…Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said….For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:26–33) 

More flexibility is another strength of two or three. Most of us have had the experience of trying to coordinate the calendars of a handful of people. An advantage to a group of two or three is a better opportunity to actually schedule time together. In addition, Jesus says, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matt. 18:20) Jesus makes the meeting when two or three come together, no matter where or when they are together.  

Extending Influence by Twos

A couple of important examples of the expansion of ministry appear in the New Testament.

In the Gospels

[Jesus] sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.” (Luke 10:1b) The whole of this chapter is full of important items, yet here we will emphasize only this verse. Notice that Jesus didn’t send a core team, or an individual—He sent a team of two. This ought to encourage the most common person to engage in

ministry in the context of two or three.  

The spiritual accomplishment of these dispersed teams was so great that Jesus is “full of joy” upon their return (Luke10:21). Often people wonder, “How much can just two people accomplish?” It’s clear when these teams are directed by Jesus they can accomplished much—even making Him joyous!

In the Acts of the Apostles

In a gathering of five church leaders who were seeking the Lord’s face for direction, another insightful example occurs “The Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2b‐3) Don’t miss that it was the Holy Spirit who instructed the group to send a team of two. Paul and Barnabas operated as traveling evangelists covering 1500 miles (Acts 13:4‐14:28) with much fruitfulness! 

We see in these two examples that as God seeks to expand His work in the world, He calls and He sends out workers two‐by‐two. Jesus describes the kingdom of God with the parable of the mustard seed, which starts small and then eventually grows very large.  “Again He said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade." (Mark 4:30‐32) 

The growth of the kingdom of God must start at the smallest grouping of two or three. Jesus reinforced that the kingdom must start small and grow via multiplication to have great and expansive influence. Not surprisingly, He is consistent with who He is and with His wisdom as articulated throughout the Scriptures.

EVERYONE CAN PLAY

Kylee and Tara were second grade friends in a public school whose hearts were soft toward the Lord. They were part of different churches and still decided to have a time together each week to share about what they were learning from the Bible, what was going on in life, to pray for others, and to play!

A classmate named Megan was intrigued that these two were getting together after school.  They told Megan what they were doing together and invited her to come one week. Megan asked her mom if she could be part even though they weren’t part of a church or even religious. She got permission and started coming to talk and play afterschool once a week.

As the weeks rolled on, Kylee and Tara continued to live out their faith in front of Megan.  Soon Megan decided to follow Jesus as well. She was led to follow Jesus by her two friends—kids who were ambassadors for Jesus. The group of three kept on going!

Chad and Missy were praying for Chad to find a good friend. On his first day of a new job, Chad met Ron and they hit it off immediately. In addition, another co‐worker named Stacey became friends with both Chad and Ron. Over time, it became apparent that Chad and Stacey were believers and Ron was not.  

Night after night Chad would tell his wife Missy about how much he appreciated Ron’s friendship. This couple, along with Stacey began praying for Ron’s salvation. Chad and Missy also shared Ron’s story with their house church and more prayers were being offered up for Ron’s soul.  

Missy invited Ron over for a meal, and Stacey as well. Together the all enjoyed conversation, laughter and good food. After several more months of prayer, connecting and conversation, Ron and Stacey were invited to Chad and Missy’s house for a church gathering.

Ron and Stacey came to that gathering. Ron had never heard about Jesus from the Bible. He never heard about creation or many other Biblical teachings. He was so full of questions and wonderment. God was stirring Ron’s heart and using Chad, Missy and Stacey to draw him to Jesus.  

All of this happened so naturally and effortlessly. They had a whole bunch of fun as two or three simply engaging common friends. After a few weeks of Ron’s involvement in the church gathering, the Holy Spirit convicted his soul, he admitted his need for Jesus, and committed his life to Christ. Ron is now sharing Jesus with his co‐workers, family and friends.

The power of two or three is part of the wisdom of God, chronicled in the Scriptures and is working itself out in the lives of Christians everywhere. Groups of two or three are a simple and powerful component of the growth and expansion of the Church. Won’t you step out with one or two others and be a part of God’s work?

Weblinks & Resources:

“Increasing the Workforce for a Greater Harvest.” By Neil Cole

http://cmaresources.org/node/211

“It is not Good for Man to Be Alone.” By Mike Jentes

http://cmaresources.org/node/200

“Multiplying on the MicroLevel: We All Began As a Zygote.” By Neil Cole

http://cmaresources.org/node/183

“Missional Success.” by Ed Waken

http://edwaken.blogspot.com/2009/02/missional‐success.html

The Day of Small Beginnings.” By Mike Jentes

http://www.thequestcolumbus.com/emailarchive/email08.17.06.html

“The Networking of Groups.” By Neil Cole

http://cmaresources.org/node/65

“The Secret Source of Unlimited Leaders.” By Neil Cole

http://cmaresources.org/node/273

“Why Less is More.” By Neil Cole

http://cmaresources.org/node/64

Search & Rescue: Becoming a Disciple Who Makes a Difference. By Neil Cole

http://cmaresources.org/search‐and‐rescue

*Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION(R). Copyright ˝

1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights

reserved.