Thursday, December 02, 2010

Evaluating Health in Your Church

Is your church healthy?  How would you know?  Measuring numbers of people or dollars or activities don't really tell the story of health.  Sometimes, if these numbers continue to grow, it may indicate poor health like spiritual obesity or a growing spiritual tumor that shuts down other vital organs of the body.  Every person should be concerned about the health of their church.  If numbers (the current but changing standard of measuring health) are not an accurate gauge, then what is?  I believe that every church should measure their health by their interaction and obedience to the Word of God, with their interaction to love and serve each other and with their interaction with those not yet following Jesus.  Here then, is a simple way for every person to measure and address the health of their church.

First, be familiar with the DNA of a church.  If you are not, simply click on DNA and take a very short refresher course.  If you are familiar with DNA, move on to the next point.

Get the past 2 to 3 months of your church life together in your head and ask these simple questions with answers ranging from 1(poor) - 10 (great).  If you answer with 1-4, some strong conversation is needed in your church on that area of health.  If your answer is 5-7, you should make a comment to the church and be more intentional in that area of health.  If your answer is 8-10, keep on the same path in this area of health.  Here are the questions:

1. How are we doing together at interacting with the Divine Truth (both Living and Written)?  How am I doing personally at interacting with the Diving Truth?

2. How are we doing together at loving and caring for each other and those in our lives?  How am I doing at loving and caring for my neighbors?

3. How are we, as a church, doing at engaging those not yet following Jesus?  How is our passion and concern for lost people?  How am I doing at sharing Jesus with others?

Do take some time every several weeks to discuss with your church where your health currently is and then make adjustments to help stimulate more health (Hebrews 10:24-25).  This health score card should be an ongoing process, realizing that no church will ever 'arrive' but will always need to be making adjustments in their spiritual health.  If your church is mostly strong in these areas or is aggressively addressing weaknesses, you will be a powerful entity in your community and therefore healthy and therefore, matter what size you are :-)

If you have any questions about this post, please send your questions to me!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Worship Service or Service of Worship?

This post may get me in trouble :-)  I wanted to warn you before reading any further.  Worship has alway been a hot topic in the church.  Sometimes it gets so hot (read; controversial) that you don't want to enter in and at other times it gets so hot (read; really exciting) that you can't stay out.  Worship has drew large crowds and split churches.  Worship has been both toxic and intoxicating.  
Worship is best viewed as a way of life, but is most often reduced to music and singing in a corporate gathering on Sunday mornings.  It is in this 20 to 30 minute experience of music where many church wars have been fought.  People many times choose which church to attend based upon the type or style of worship.  People leave churches after years of attendance simply because the style of worship was changed and they didn’t like it.  All of this is far, far from what worship should be.  We should ask if worship is for us (consumerism) or are we made for worship?  
Worship is not a preferred music style but an attitude of the heart that is concerned about elevating and honoring the name of Jesus in all that a person does.  Worship was meant to continue when our eyes open in the morning, in all that is done throughout our day and continued as we fall asleep only to be carried on the next day or in the middle of night when we use the bathroom (Dueteronomy 6:4-9).  This pattern certainly includes gatherings of believers on Sunday mornings or any other day of the week (Colossians 3:16).
Worship must get beyond music and worship services but this will take a long term intentional focus.  The title “Worship Service” tends to limit our understanding of worship as a way of life and attitude of the heart.  When we say we attend a “worship service”, we are implying that we are not worshipping until the service begins.  We certainly need to think of and employ ways of reinventing worship to become holistic.  
The Scriptures seem to indicate that worship is more of an act of obedience in the way we live than a set of songs we sing together.  I love singing songs to God and the more dynamic the crowd and the more quality the music, the better, I’m no different than the next person!  But those mini experiences pale to the exhilaration I sense when I follow God’s Word and trust Him through a difficult situation or when I choose to walk away from a temptation or when I see another person humbly lay down their desires to follow Jesus’ desire.  For me, it is easier to join a crowd of people, raise my hands and sing with a robust voice than to spend time loving an unlovely person as they walk through dark times.  
I know God loves music and enjoys the praises of His people (Psalm 30:4).  But singing songs of praise without a life throughout the week that is submitted to Jesus is far from worship.  So too are acts of obedience without love (1 Corinthians 13:1), it is nothing more than ‘clanging cymbal’.  We must all expand our understanding of worship as being a way of life.  Worship is what we live out in all of our waking hours; in prayer (Luke 18:1), in conversation with others (Malachi 3:16), in how we perform our work (Colossians 3:23), in our giving (Luke 21:1-3), in our sacrificing in life (Romans 12:1-2) and so on.  When we see our yard work, conversations and exercise routines as acts of worship, I believe that our corporate times of worship will only be enhanced.  

What do you think?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Saturday Mornings

I'm plowing through Job chapters 1-21 for about the 7th time in the past few weeks.  I'm reading these chapters a bunch because of group of guys I get together with on Saturday mornings.

These guys look forward to Saturday mornings.  Not because we can sleep in but because we get to meet early with friends.  We talk, laugh and enjoy some really good bagels.

We enjoy sharing our woes, joys, the way we messed up during the week, how we need to love our wives better - it is really encouraging to hear each others stories and give and get encouragement.

We talk about sections in the Bible we are reading and some really good insights get exposed to us.

We spend some time instilling in each other a heart and mindset of praying for and engaging people who really need Jesus.

Saturday mornings are a bunch of fun and it is part of the way we men are becoming like Jesus.  We are interacting with the God's Word, being honest about their lives and really begging God for people's heart ot be changed.

This spills out to text messages and e-mails throughout the week - some encouraging, some funny, some annoying - but we love each other and point each other to Christ.

Making disciples is simple - but it does take a commitment to a few, an investment of time and a desperate heart to know Jesus more deeply.  If you would like to join in on the fun and make disciples, check out this LINK to learn more!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Mike the Disciple Maker

A short video about the simplicity of forming disciples.

Here are two web pages that you can click on to find out more about forming disciples for the rest of your life!  Pass it/them on :-)

Forming Disciples

A Good Book on Making Disciples


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Can Making Disciples Be Simple?

I look forward to Saturday mornings.  Not because I can sleep in but because I get to meet early with my friends.  We talk, laugh and enjoy some really good bagels together (check out Tony's Bagels).  All week I pray about Saturday mornings.  I pray for my heart to be filled with love for my friends but also that their hearts would be filled with love for me.

When we get together, we enjoy sharing our woes, joys, the way we messed up during the week and how we need to love our wives better.  We share about our jobs and our attitudes and how our sports team did during the week.  We enjoy being honest and sharing life.  It is very encouraging to hear each others stories and to give and get encouragement.

We talk about portions of the Bible we are all reading and some really good insights get exposed to us.  We share things we understand, things that stood out to us, truths that seem distant or on the horizon.  Sometimes one of us is confused about things the Bible says and at other times, we find ourselves excited to be reminded of important truths.

About our second cup of coffee (soda for Zac :-), we find ourselves instilling in each other a heart and mindset of praying for and engaging people who really need Jesus.  Prayers begin to flow and a begging of God to move in the lives of our friends becomes our cry to heaven (Psalm 126:6).

Saturday mornings are a bunch of fun and it is part of the way that we men are becoming like Jesus.  We are interacting with God's Word, being honest about our lives and really begging God for people's hearts to be changed.  

Our time together on Saturdays spills out to texts, e-mails and phone calls throughout the week - some encouraging, some funny, some annoying - but we love each other and point each other to Christ.  Throughout the year we'll go camping, golfing, swimming, share meals together help each other with home repairs.  We will bring our families together and savor the life of our Savior in each of us.  

This is how disciples of Jesus are made.  LIfe on life and one step at a time.  Sometimes the growth in our lives is slow and other times we grow out of our agony...but we grow (Colossians 1:5-6), and we can see it in each other's lives.  I would guess that pretty soon, one of my friends will see someone on our prayer list decide to give their life to Jesus and then the two of them will begin the same process all over again.  One by one people come to Jesus and one by one in the groups of a few, men and women become followers of Jesus.  It happens through interacting with the Word, being honest with each other while loving well and by having a God size concern for those who do not yet know Jesus.  

If you would like to be part of one of these simple groups that see men and women become like Jesus, click will not be disappointed.  If you do begin one of these groups, please shoot me an e-mail and let me know.

Making disciples can be really simple; own it, do it, reproduce it! 

Thursday, September 09, 2010

You Are Worth It!

I wish I could draw and paint well enough to capture the expression on a ladies face that I had a conversation with last week.  Anything beyond drawing a stick person is a stretch for my creative abilities and there is no way I could capture this woman's expression but I really wish I could.  Maybe my words will give you some insight into what I saw.

The woman I'm referring to is an older woman with some mobility and health issues.  Carla (not her real name) has had a very hard life like so many others.  She has raised her kids and grandkids and finds herself still rescuing them from the challenges life brings their way.  I was attempting to encourage her because I know she is hurting.  I do not think that this dear woman is yet a follower of Jesus but I think she will be.  I was telling her how God saw her.  She had never thought about God even taking notice of her.  In her mind, she is not worth God's focused attention.  I shared briefly with her that she was created in the image of God and that she was a masterpiece, a one of a kind project that brought a smile to Jesus' face.  That was the moment I wish I could capture on canvass.

Her eyes turned downward as did the corners of her mouth.  Her shoulders hunched and you could just read her feeling that "I'm not worthy of such care".  If only I could capture her face on a canvass.  My reason for capturing her expression is because it is the face I see on so many when I speak to them about the goodness and grace of God which is at work all around them.  For way to many, they do not believe they are worthy or they simply do not want to believe that God would even bother with them.

Here are some verses that speak to the point that God is always about assisting us to become more and more like Him.  Every person (that includes you) is able to have a vibrant faith that is growing and spreading out to impact many.  Take a look at these short sections of the Bible and simply stop - stop, and meditate (think deeply for a period of time) upon them...

" previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth."  Colossians 1:5-6 (NASB)

"For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him."  Philippians 2:13 (NLT)   Here is Philippians 2:13 in the more recognized translation of the NASB, "...for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

After you have meditated upon these two sections of the Bible jot down what you sense is most important or that jumps out at you and your heart.  What is God speaking to your soul regarding these passages?  If you would, write your thoughts in the comment section below.  If many will do that, I think it will begin a revival of souls to see things truthfully, as God sees them.  Go ahead, jot down your thoughts and enjoy the work that God is doing in you...right now!

Next time, I'll give you some of my thoughts about these passages and the powerful truths that they reveal about God and about us.

Be encouraged because you are worth it!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

What Stops You...Part 2?

This week we enjoyed dinner in our backyard, on the patio with our children and grandchildren.  At the end of our dinner, my wife asked our oldest grandson if he would pick up the dog poop.  He agreed and began the not very pleasant task, taking breaks and teasing his younger brother (with the poop of all things)!  As he reached about the halfway point, he wanted to stop and forget about what His grandmother has asked of him.  It was at this point that his father called him over and had a chat about responsibility to do what was asked of him and to obey his grandmother.  My grandson responded with some reluctance but did a fine of job of finishing.  He was rewarded with two dollars.  It is good to instruct people regarding responsibility, obedience to those who lead us and the importance of finishing what we begin.  

Last time I began discussing the prime directive that Jesus left all of His followers - as we go through life, we are to be intentionally helping people become more like Jesus (we are to make disciples - Matt. 28:19-20).  This was not intended to be optional for you.  It was not intended to be only for the 'clergy' or the more spiritually mature.  This directive (command) was meant to for all followers of every generation and culture.  If it is important to teach our children to be obedient and responsible, shouldn't it also be important for children of God to be obedient and responsible to what He is asking of us?

Helping people to become like Jesus can take many forms and should happen in many ways.  It can take place on a camping trip, a trip to the mall, while doing chores or while sipping good coffee (or even bad coffee).  These times should be both formal and informal, intentional and spontaneous.  The key is for everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus to be about the business that Jesus left us to accomplish - encouraging others to follow Jesus with radical, passionate hearts.  

In defining discipleship, I would state that it is simply taking a long walk in the same direction (towards Jesus) with close friends.  However you practice making disciples, it must be intentional and a consistent part of your life, otherwise, you are not following through with what the King has told us to do while He is preparing places for us in heaven (John 14).  

For almost 20 years, I have been in an Life Transformation Group (LTG) with at least one or two other men.  LTG's are powerful, proven and productive in helping people become like Jesus.  They are simple, reproducible and I have not found another tool that alone accomplishes all of this and has the simple, reproductive part to the equation.  So, if you are not making disciples, what is stopping you?  If you are not in an LTG, what is stopping you?  Allow me to briefly respond to some of the most common questions and complaints that I have received from people who choose not to be in a LTG.

LTG's are a program and I want to be more organic.
LTG's are flexible and versatile.  They are not designed to be rigid - going through the same things in the same way each week simply to get the 'tasks' completed.  If that becomes your perspective, then LTG's can be viewed as a program.  However, if you have 2 or 3 people who know that they need Jesus' words in large quantities for their spiritual health and they are interested in truly loving those involved with them, you will find it hard to view LTG's as a program.  As I inquire further into what people mean by their wanting to be more organic, I usually find that they want to be spontaneous and free flowing which, when pressed even more, often means they aren't discipling anyone in intentional ways.

I don't retain things when I read 20-30 chapters of the Bible in a week.
Sometimes, there is a real problem with functional illiteracy in people where they are not able to retain what they read and this should be addressed (check out this web page on retention).  When this is not the case, most often people are simply not interested, not motivated or just plain distracted from wanting to consume large portions of God's Word by the cares of the world.  When one does discipline themselves to read 20-30 chapters of Scripture a week, their lives become enhanced.  It took a friend of mine about 3 to 5 months in our LTG before he started taking notes and finding nuggets of truth from the Scriptures.  If you are desperate and faithful to the process of this amount of reading, you will find gems that God will use to bless your life.

One of the biggest and most common mistakes made in LTG's is to diminish the amount of reading you are assigned in a given week.  Most frequently, this amount bottoms out at five chapters per week and even then, the reading doesn't get done.  If you find yourself in an LTG where this is happening, I would suggest you let it die naturally and find others who are willing to invest in consuming the Word of God in larger quantities.

I don't have the time to meet with another person for an hour or two.
We are all very busy but we must put first things first if we are to accomplish what is actually important.  Please evaluate your schedule and trim it down or re-prioritize your schedule to make room for an hour to meet with others in order to helped and to help others become more like Jesus.

I can't trust people with private information that I may share in an LTG.

Trust must be developed over time but even when you are comfortable with another, it is always possible that what you share may be 'leaked' out, whether innocently or intentionally.  Honesty and transparency is what is required of us to love others well.  We must take risks or there will be no reward.  We must trust Jesus or we will trust no one.  Start slow and listen to the Spirit; follow His lead in becoming more open with a few others.  You will gain more health and strength by doing so.  Secrets have power over you so ask God to bring one or two people into your life with whom you can share deeply.

I don't want to get close to people only to have to multiply and leave them.
This is similar to saying that you don't want to have children only because one day, they will move out on their own.  That would be a silly reason to not have children.  It would also be selfish.  It should be our goal to reproduce ourselves and watch them do the same, over and over again.  I certainly do understand this tension of wanting to stay together with those we love, trust and are comfortable with, but what is the Father requiring of us?  Do we not think He understands this need?  Do we not believe that He will meet our needs as He sees fit?  Be excited to help develop spiritual men and women of faith in Jesus - that is your task.

The bottom line is that we all need to be making disciples.  Jesus said it IS your responsibility.  There are many ways to accomplish this and LTG's are only one way - but LTG's are proven to reproduce, to make strong disciples and to work in many, many cultures around the world. 

Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.

P.S. Here are a list of very helpful books on Life Transformation Groups;

Search and Rescue (Neil Cole)

Click HERE to buy LTG cards to use in your ministry!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Stops You?

Making disciples of Jesus seems to be the prime directive to believers in the New Testament.  We should each be striving to become more and more like Jesus throughout our life time.  We should also be working intentionally to pour our lives into others to help them become more like Jesus too.

Jesus last words before he ascended into heaven were instructions for those who follow Him to be about developing disciples everywhere they go (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8).  As you read the story of Jesus' life in the Gospels, you will see Him continuously helping women and men to follow Him and His examples in life.  The Epistles (the letters found in the New Testament) are full of instructions, examples and admonishments for every believer to be about the focus of living for Jesus and leading others to live for Him as well.

If you believe that the chief end of man is to glorify God (Westminster Shorter Confession Question #1) and that we are to keep the greatest commandments (Love God with your all and love your neighbor as yourself) and the great commission (go and make disciples of all the nations...), then what better way of expressing this than through intentional reproduction of Jesus' life in others?

We should be asking ourselves if what we are doing as church or as followers of Jesus is actually accomplishing the task Jesus left us here to accomplish - to make disciples?  Do our Sunday morning worship times make disciples?  I would say they do.  But are we satisfied with the disciples that we are seeing raised up and if we are not, what needs to be changed?

Over this past year, I have spoken to many believers in Jesus who are simply not concerned about really making disciples.  Many are concerned to be in church as often as they can, but not so concerned about making disciples.  Most people I talk to do not believe they are ready to do this or they don't have enough time and energy or they have no idea how to go about helping people become like Jesus.  Somewhere in their faith walk, they learned there is a certain or prescribed way or standards that needs to be applied in making disciples and somehow they missed the classes or were not invited to learn how to do it.

When I proceed to tell them of a very simple way to go about making disciples (LTG's) they listen with hope until they hear that although simple, it requires discipline, an investment of time, effort, risk and energy along with a faithfulness to the process itself.  It really is hard work to walk side by side with people, helping them to become more and more like Jesus.

Recently, I had a conversation with a younger church leader who was full of excitement, vision and energy.  This younger leader was employing Life Transformation Groups (LTG's) in his ministry but finding that they were not reproducing nor were most of the people reading more than five chapters of the Bible in a given week.  When I pressed further, these LTG's were not really taking seriously praying for lost people nor connecting to those people.  As our conversation continued, it became apparent that each of the LTG's had a dominant leader who really directed the flow of the meeting.  All of these things pointed to the collapse of these LTG's in the near future.

LTG's consist of very basic Christian disciplines; reading the Bible, having honest conversations about areas in our lives where we struggle with temptation or sin and a time of prayer for people who do not yet know Jesus.  This sounds simple to do...but then there is life :-)  I'm curious as to why people want Jesus and to be like Jesus but do not want to spend the time to know Him and learn and imitate His ways?  I'm curious when people tell me what stops them from actually doing or participating in LTG's.

Is there something stopping you from participating in an LTG with one or two others?  I would love to hear about what those things are so they can be addressed in my next blog or two (e-mail me).  If we are not about the work of making disciples, we are disobeying the prime directive Jesus left us to do.  Let's stay on task so that rapid multiplication can occur and then the world will be impacted with the truth, love and values of Jesus Christ.

Here are a few of the reasons why some people do not do LTG's that I would like to discuss next week in my blog along with any comments you may make on what stops you;
LTG's are a program and I want to be more organic.
I don't retain things when I read 20-30 chapters of the Bible in a week.
I don't have the time to meet with another person for an hour or two.
I can't trust people with private information that I may share in an LTG.
I don't want to get close to people only to have to multiply and leave them.

The bottom line is that we all need to be making disciples.  Jesus said it IS your responsibility.  There are many ways to accomplish this and LTG's are only one way - but LTG's are proven to reproduce, to make strong disciples and to work in many, many cultures around the world.

Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.

P.S. Here are a list of very helpful books on Life Transformation Groups;
Cultivating a Life For God (Neil Cole)
Search and Rescue (Neil Cole)

Click HERE to buy LTG cards to use in your ministry!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Simple Reminders

What is your goal in life?  For those of us who are following Jesus, the answer should be pretty much the same.  We should have in our answer the concept of helping others to become followers of Jesus Christ.  Jesus told us that this is to be every believers focus when He said, "Go and make disciples of all the nations..." (Matthew 28:19).  For some, the concept of making disciples is too hard, too complex or requires more knowledge than they have.  If you have those sort of thoughts, I hope that this short post will help to change your mind.  Making disciples should be a priority and it should be simple (but never easy).

Throughout the New Testament, we find the writers reminding their readers of the same principles and truths over and over and over again.  Here are some examples: 

"For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church..." 1 Cor. 4:17

"Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you."  Philippians 3:1

"For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands."  2 Timothy 1:6

"Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers." 2 Timothy 2:14

"Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed..."  Titus 3:1

"I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder..."  2 Peter 3:1

"Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe."  Jude 1:5

Jude, Peter, Paul and Timothy all taught by reminding their audience of the simple principles and truths to be followed as they go about making disciples throughout their lives.  Here then are some basic simple principles that if each believer would implement with their whole heart, the church and the world would certainly be a different place:

1. Spend time with Jesus each and every day.  This can be accomplished both by being in the Word of God and by communing with the Trinity throughout the day in prayer, conversation, listening and worshipping both externally and internally. This first and greatest principle is what Jesus taught us in Mark 12:30.  we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Each believer is responsible for being intimate with Divine Truth.

2. Serve the world by treating others as more important than yourself (Philippians 2:3-4).  The second greatest commandment is like the first, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We are to employ our love and the gifts God gives us to serve each other, to encourage one another and to urge one another to move forward in our faith.  Each believer should be searching for ways to love those God has placed in our lives.  We should be Nurturing Relationships throughout our lives.

3. Spread the love and truth of God to anyone who will listen...and even to those who won't (Mark 4:1-20).  As Jesus began his journey to heaven in Acts 1, he told his followers that they would receive the Holy Spirit and power for the purpose of telling the world about all that God has done for them.  God uses his followers to give opportunity for anyone to join in following Him.  This is the great love that our great God has for people.  God has strategically placed and sent each of His followers around the world and throughout time to share the good news of Jesus.  We are all to be on a Apostolic Mission.

So there you have a short and sweet (simple) reminder of the basics of our faith.  What would happen if your church lived out these things with gusto?  What would happen if you would? 

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A Family Affair

A very good friend sent me this article on church being a family.  I thought this article was fantastic.  It is exactly one of the strong points that I have taught for years...but this guy says it better than I do so give it a read and let me know what you think.  I am not allowed to reprint the whole article here so I have only given you a teaser.  You can go the full article here, or you can read the first few paragraphs and see if it is worth an additional click :-)  Be blessed and let me know what you think...

A Family Affair
What would the church look like if it put we before me?
Joseph H. Hellerman
Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community. Persons who remain connected with their brothers and sisters in the local church almost invariably grow in self-understanding. And they mature in their ability to relate in healthy ways to God and to fellow human beings. This is especially the case for those courageous Christians who stick it out through the messy process of interpersonal conflict. Long-term relationships are the crucible of genuine progress in the Christian life. People who stay grow.

People who leave do not grow. We all know persons consumed with spiritual wanderlust. We never get to know them well because they cannot seem to stay put. They move from church to church, avoiding conflict or ever searching for a congregation that will better satisfy their felt needs. Like trees repeatedly transplanted from soil to soil, these spiritual nomads fail to put down roots, and they seldom experience lasting, fruitful growth in their Christian lives.  

Despite what we know about spiritual growth, nearly all churches in America are characterized by an unwillingness of members to commit themselves deeply to their respective church. For some, it means church hopping; for most, it means keeping the church at arm's length—that is, living as if the individual's life is primary and that of the church is secondary. 


Tuesday, May 25, 2010


"Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid.  Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident."  Psalm 27:3

Attack is not a word that we often associate with our Christian faith but I think we should.  For the past several months, I have certainly felt attacked with my wife's cancer, my daughters medical issues, the economic impact of the recession in my life, the pressure of helping brothers work through relational issues in India and some of my own personal struggles right here in Phoenix, Arizona.  It certainly seems like "...a mighty army surrounds me" these days.  As I was touring my neighborhood one morning on my regular two mile power walk, I noticed people leaving for work, city workers attending to street repairs, a woman walking her dog and a young boy out way too early for a summer morning.  As I looked at these people I wondered if they were attacked in some way and if so, how could I pray for them.  I didn't stop any of them to ask, but I did pray for their protection.

There is a constant war in the spiritual dimension to distract and destroy you.  Sometimes it spills over into the human dimension and we get a glimpse of how grotesque the battle is.  If you look and listen, I think you'll hear some spiritual voices calling for an attack.  Some of those voices are that of the enemy who wants us to be destroyed and left dead or at least spiritually impotent.  But there is another voice as well.  It is the voice of our King who calls out to His angels, His ministering spirits and commands them to attack.  He calls them to attack those who are attacking us and when He does, you can be sure that their defeat and His victory is sure.  

So take heart in the heat of any battle that you may be facing.  Keep calling out to the Lord asking Him to send His attacking force of angels to come to your rescue and deliver you out of all your troubles.  Listen to what Psalm 3:7 has to say, "Arise, O Lord!  Rescue me, my God!  Slap all my enemies in the face!  Shatter the teeth of the wicked!"  May the Lord smash the mouth of His spiritual enemies who may be attacking you.  May the Lord Jesus rule and reign in your hearts and give you the confidence to move forward for His glory.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How Common Folks Live Large For Jesus

I have had many conversations with people who think that they are not 'worthy' some how of knowing God deeply or living for Him wildly or drawing near to Him in meaningful ways.  There is a perception that has creeped into the church which believes that living strongly for Jesus is as uncommon as walking on the moon.  This should not be true, but it is.  As I read through Colossians this week for my Life Transformation Group (LTG), I ran across this verse and began to think about how common people (you and me) can draw intimately close to Christ when life is so hectic.  Here is what Colossians 2:3 has to say and what I hear Paul teach us about living in strong ways for King Jesus...

"...Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."  Col. 2:3 NASB

One truth from this verse is that the in order to have access to the treasure chest of wisdom and knowledge, we must first know Christ.  One should rightfully assume that the tighter you get with Jesus, the more His treasure chest will be made aware to you.  All of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in relationship with our Savior.  So how does one find what is hidden?  How does one get to know Jesus better so more treasure can be found?

There are at least five direct references to prayer in Paul's letter to the believers in Colossae.  It is important to note that this letter was written to the '...saints in Christ who are in Colossae'.  Saints refer to any person who is a Christian, not a super holy dude or dudette who is voted on by other holy dudes.  Common Christ followers are saints.  So Paul speaks of prayer at least five times in his letter.  This is significant.  Here are the phrases surrounding the word prayer or some form of it;

  • Colossians 1:3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you

  • Colossians 1:9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,

  • Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;

  • Colossians 4:3  praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;

  • Colossians 4:12  Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God

  • These verses on prayer range from Paul's conversation with the Father to Paul's encouragement for these people to be devoted in prayer to Paul asking for prayer for his own heart and finally he takes note of Epaphras' great love and earnest prayers for the believers in Colossae.  Prayer, or conversation with God, is vital to one knowing Jesus and therefore finding the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

  • If Paul were always praying for this city church (1:3) and was never ceasing to pray for them (1:9) how did he find time to love other churches, disciple people, plant churches and generally work hard at loving others?  I think the secret to prayer may be found in an ongoing mental conversation with God throughout the day along with concentrated times of prayer on your knees.  Many kick themselves much because they believe they should be spending more time on their knees instead of using their daily routines to afford times of thoughtful, ongoing conversation with God.  If I'm right about this, anyone can learn to 'pray without ceasing'.   

    For more insight on prayer, check out Malachi 3:16.

    Loving Others
    Paul never met the people of Colossae.  He never visited there and they never saw his face (Col. 2:1) yet he loved them deeply.  Paul was greatly concerned for believers and churches around the world.  Here are some phrases and ideas out of this letter that speak to his immense love for people and his desire for them to follow as hard after Jesus as he did;

    "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you sake..." Col 1:24
    Paul wants to "...present every man complete in Christ.  For this purpose, I labor striving, according to His power, which mightily works within me."  Col 1:29
    "For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf..." Col 2:1
    Believers should walk or live in a way that pleases God (Col 1:10, 1:23, 2:6, 2;19, 3:12-17 etc).
    Paul was concerned about family and work relationships as well (Col. 3:18-4:1).

    Pauls love for others and his desire for others to love deeply is clear through his letter to the common folks of Colossae.  I suggest you ask God to give you eyes and ears that see and hear how He may direct you to love one another deeply and live in fellowship with one another.

    Missional Focus
    Paul was of course very missional in his approach to life and ministry.  We have seen that Paul prayed much and we have also seen that Paul worked hard for the sake of believers that he gave care to.  We can also find in Colossians, Paul's encouraging and calling the Colossians to be very active in giving out faith in Jesus to the world of people they find themselves amongst;

    "...the constantly bearing fruit and increasing..." Colossians 1:5-6

    "...praying...that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ..." Colossians 4:3

    "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.  Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person."  Colossians 4:5-6

    If you didn't catch it, Paul encouraged the church in Colossae to be immersed in DNA.  The Divine Truth is found in the Prayer (Paul also teaches plenty about the truth of Christ in this letter).  Nurturing Relationships is found in the Loving Others and Apostolic Mission is found in the Missional Focus that Paul had and encouraged those in Colossae to have.

    It is refreshing to remember that Paul was instructing common believers - those who were barely getting by and those who were better off - to be in much prayer throughout the day, to love others and work hard to maintain the faith of Christ along with always being ready to share the wonderful truth and story of Jesus Christ with those who are not yet following hard after Jesus.

    The truth is that living for Jesus does take a focus, but doesn't take a monastic disruption of ones life.  Living for Jesus and drawing near to Him is mingled with times of focused interaction with God through prayer, meditation and His Word and times of living out the rhythms of life in normal ways, controlled by the Spirit of Jesus in us.  

    If I'm right (or close to right), the thought above sound like hidden treasure of wisdom and knowledge only found in the freedom and love of Christ.  Live large for your Savior!

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Focused or Distracted?

    I really like coffee and I like trying new coffee shops.  I prefer the Indy coffee houses around town but in my section of burbs, there really aren't that many.  I seem to be stuck with Starbucks, Coffee Bean and It's a Grind type joints or Indy Bagel shops that really don't do anything but blah coffee.  So last week, a couple of friends where coming into town from Globe Arizona, a small town outside of Phoenix, to pick up some folks from the airport.  They contacted me to see if I had some time to hang out with them.  Now my friends happen to work at a coffee house in Globe (Vida e Caffe) so I immediately suggested we hang out at a coffee house.  I searched the internet for an Indy coffee house close to the airport and found Drip Coffee Lounge.  It was a really cool sort of retro small coffee house so I thought I would meet my friends there for coffee and lunch.  

    I arrived early, had some conversation with the owner, ordered a Latte and wow was it good.  Great micro foam and all.  As my friends arrived, we ordered lunch and proceeded to sit outside.  It was a bright warm early spring day in Phoenix so sitting outside was an easy choice.  The Drip Coffee Lounge had great coffee, good food and a nice central location but it was on a busy commercial street that saw constant heavy traffic.  I could tell that concentrating on conversation would be difficult with large trucks whizzing by and constant road noise in our ears.  

    As we talked about life, loving people, church, Jesus and pain, I kept thinking that I so enjoy being with these friends from Globe that the environment of noise on the street really didn't matter.  I had to lean in more, concentrate and focus more, but the engagement was so precious that the distractions were losing the battle for my attention.  I knew I was suppose to be with these friends while drinking good coffee and mutually encouraging one another in the race that God had placed us in.  

    Today, many people find it difficult to stay focused on the path of life that God has placed them.  The noise pollution is so loud that their attention and focus quietly shift to easier, less noisy paths.  Many these days talk of shifts in their in careers, addresses and relationships.  With a tough economy and building stress, the noise of life captures their attention and then a strong pull to escape creeps in.  As I sat outside on that warm early spring day, sipping coffee and having wonderful conversation, a voice did seem to whisper in my ear, inviting me to go inside where there were less distractions and clearer hearing, but I resisted.  Something about the whizzing of the cars passing by and the horns honking reminded me of the people who need the touch and message of Jesus.

    As I recalled my lunch time meeting at Drip Coffee Lounge, I thought about a couple of of Jesus' conversations with His disciples in Matthew 9 and Luke 10.  In these sections of the Bible, we find Jesus sending His disciples into the cities that He Himself was about to go.  The cities were, as they are today, bustling centers of commerce.  Cities are where Jesus spent much of His time.  Cities are where most of the people are.  Cities are where there is much pollution, dirt, crime and crowds.  Jesus loves cities.

    I learned a valuable lesson that day at the Drip Coffee Lounge.  I learned that when I focus on the purpose or mission that God has sent me, my surroundings are not that important or distracting.  When I focus on my surroundings and the distractions it brings, escape is typically my first thought.  Yeah, I too would like to be in a less crowded location.  For me a beach with palm trees, waves lapping at the shore and a warm tropical breeze in my face is perfect, but then I wouldn't be in the midst of people and I think in the midst of people is where Jesus would have me.  

    Wherever you find yourself in life, make sure you are not being distracted by the pull of escape and isolation.  Escape is coming, in the form of forever with Jesus in a place we can only begin to imagine.  For now, we must fight to focus on the mission and task of loving God and loving people with power and love that is already at work in us (Philippians 2:13 & Colossians 1:29).  Staying focused on Christ and His mission for us, will cause the distractions to fade away.

    Thursday, March 04, 2010

    Imitating Jesus' Life

    Many believers truly want to be more and more like Jesus.  After reading that sentence, your heart may have felt a surge of agreement that you too want to be more like Him.  This is a healthy desire placed in your soul by God Himself so rejoice!  Though we want to imitate Jesus and His way of life, we must begin by learning what those ways are.  Jesus warned those who wanted to follow Him that the path would be difficult (Luke 14:25-35).  What did Jesus do and how do we imitate those ways today?

    What did Jesus do?

    He had a close relationship with the Father.
    "After He sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray;  and when it was evening, He was there alone."  Matthew 14:23

    "In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there."  Mark 1:35

    Jesus' prayer to the Father just before He was arrested and sentenced to die (John 17).

    This close relationship with the Father caused Him to be constantly reaching out to others.
    "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of the sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed and to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord."  Luke 4:18-19

    "So Jesus, being wearied from His journey was sitting thus by the well...There came a woman of Samaria to draw water.  Jesus said to her, 'Give Me a drink.'"  John 4:5 & 7  This leads to a long conversation with the woman.  Jesus stayed there a few days before continuing His journey.

    Jesus had close relationship with a few.
    We know Jesus did interact with the multitudes (Mark 3:7, Luke 1:10), but not that much.  We see another group of about 120 (Acts 1:15) that Jesus impacted and a group of 70 (Luke 10:1ff) that Jesus had interacted with as well.  Then, there was His 12 disciples and finally there were Peter, James and John who seemed to be the closest to Jesus.  Jesus spent the bulk of his time with the 12 and the 3, pouring into them all that He had so that they would become more like Him.

    Jesus taught his close friends to love one another well.
    "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."  John 13:34-35

    "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Luke 6:35-36

    Many today are really only out for their own agenda and way of doing things.  Loving one another well is to lay down your agenda to seek the will of the Father in the community of saints where He has placed you.  Loving one another must entail an honest conversation when differences arise so that unity can be achieved.  Loving on another is hard, not easy, messy not clean and therefore is noticed by those who observe your behavior.  To follow Jesus' example, we do the harder thing and love others as more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3).

    Jesus often tried to hide from the crowds.
    "There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.  Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away.  After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray..."  Matthew 14:21-23

    "But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses.  But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray."  Luke 5:14-15

    "Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves."  Matthew 17:1

    Today people and leaders seek crowds in their worship experience and spend little time alone with God to learn and be with Him.  Jesus set a different example of spending time with His Father and time with those closest to Him.  

    Jesus sent people out in small bands to do important missional work.
    "Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness."  Matthew 10:1

    "Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others and set them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come."  Luke 10:1

    "As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him.  And He did not let him, but He said to him, 'Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord ahas done for you, and how He had mercy on you.'  And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed."  Mark 5:18-20

    Jesus entrusts new believers with the good news and has them share it...and they had great success!

    Jesus' last instructions were to His kids about keeping a missional focus in life.
    "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  Matthew 28:19

    "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth."  Acts 1:8

    "As the Father has sent me, so send I you."  John 20:21

    Jesus desires to multiply communicators of His good news to the world He created to receive it.

    How do we imitate Jesus' ways of living?
    How are we to imitate this way of living today?  I think I'll suggest that you take some time with Jesus and ask Him to show you how He wants you to respond.