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Discipleship, Evangelism, Life

Six Key Ingredients for Relational Evangelism

October 3, 2016

 

 

We may need to rethink our default evangelistic methods. We’re not in Judea with the Jewish people who grew up hearing about the Exodus, God’s law, and Justice. We’re in Athens, where most people assume that every god is the same god and that man is free to do as he pleases so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.

The problem with cold-call, door-to-door evangelism is that we live in a world where most people don’t have the backstory of the Christian worldview. They don’t have a mental structure where that story fits any more. We still need to do it as the Spirit leads (praise God for those who are street preachers and bold evangelists!), but we also need to leverage the relationships we have. I believe that without relationally-based evangelism and it’s ability to give people long exposure to the deep truths of the Gospel, we will see significantly decreased effectiveness.

Here are six things that I believe are essential to make our relationships truly evangelistic in nature:

1. Up-front declaration of your allegiance

One of the first things you should communicate about yourself is that you’re a follower of Jesus. Not mainly that you go to church, but that your life is Jesus’. This should be done in a natural, unforced way. It should be an easy thing for us to declare our allegiance to our King. To have that happen, point two needs to be a reality.

2. A life that imitates Christ’s

Relational evangelism won’t happen if you’re living a life that’s the same as those around you. As Jesus said, “it is enough that a servant should become like his master in every way.” Michael Frost calls it “living a questionable life.”

This is one of the greatest things about relational evangelism, in my opinion. Whereas door-to-door evangelism allows a person to hide their spiritual immaturity, relationships reveal the truth. The greater your life is lived in line with Jesus’, the more effective your relational evangelism will be.

3. Powerful prayer and the miracles that result

A central part of a life that imitates Christ’s in prayer. Powerful prayer. Prayer that sees results. If we want our relationships to be calling people into God’s kingdom we need to be praying publicly for others. When a friend shares a struggle or a need with you, stop and pray for them right there. Answered prayer is one of the greatest declarations to a skeptic that our God is real. It was the early church’s miracles that confounded the skeptics and opened doors for the Gospel in places previously closed.

4. Joy in the face of negativity

One of the side effects of living in a place of prayer and connection with God the Father is joy, that beautiful fruit of the Spirit that every human longs for. Joy regardless of circumstances. You’ll have plenty of questions about the reasons for the hope you have when you can laugh in the midst of painful trials and have joy when you’re being drug down.

5. Connection to a gospel community

Relational evangelism means the weight isn’t all on you. It’s a network of relationships in which the Gospel shines brilliantly. As Leslie Newbigin wrote, the hermeneutic of the Gospel is the local body of Christ.

6. Following the Spirit’s leading

Ultimately all of this comes down to one simple thing – following the leading of the Holy Spirit. When we do that our lives imitate Christ’s because he is the spirit of Christ. We pray constantly because we have a permanent connection with the Father. We have joy because he is the fountain of joy. We can call people to Jesus because he is the one who convicts them of the truth.
But where I want to point us to particularly is those moments when the Spirit calls us to do something that doesn’t make sense, seems risky, or totally out of left field. Maybe you’ve been developing a friendship and the person is extremely anti-Christian, so you’re worried that they might respond negatively if you clearly call them to repent of sin and put their faith in Christ. Set aside those worries. If the Holy Spirit is calling you to take the risk and lay out the Gospel clearly, do it. If he’s calling you to stop and pray for a stranger on the street, do it. Take risks, follow the Spirit’s lead, and watch as the relationships you have turn into an infinite array of opportunities for people to encounter Jesus and receive the salvation that he so freely offers.

 

 

 

Discipleship, Leadership, Threshingfloor, young adults

Six tips for leading a great DNA group

September 16, 2016

 

 

 

Within Threshingfloor we have structured things to call people towards living as disciples of Jesus in all of life. We’ve called this structure the four spaces – the spaces being, 1) day-to-day life, 2) DNA groups, 3) Communities, and 4) All-Community Gatherings. DNA groups play a crucial role in delving into the intensive discipleship that helps us apply the Gospel to the hard parts of our life. By connecting regularly with 3-5 people of the same gender with the intent of learning together, dealing with sin, and growing in faith, DNA feeds into both day-to-day life and strengthens the larger community.

As we move out of summer and into fall there are DNA groups starting up for the first time, picking up after taking the summer off, or renewing their focus. If you’re leading (or thinking about leading) a DNA group, here are six tips for leading it well.

 

Set the expectations

Don’t pass this thing off as casual – set high expectations. If there’s reading or homework, make it clear that people need to do it before showing up. Insist that the DNA group is high priority on the schedule, not just a show-up-when-it’s-convenient event. If you want to go deep with your group everyone needs to be committed and know what’s expected of them.

Worth noting under this heading – a DNA group isn’t just a Bible study. It’s aimed toward multiplication. Make it explicit that you expect the people who are in the group to, at some point within the next year, launch out and start their own DNA group.

 

Keep things simple

If you want to multiply, let your structure be something that anyone can remember. Whether it’s a specific curriculum such as the Gospel DNA, or a study of a book of scripture, build in simple, memorable rhythms that are done each meeting. After several meetings, start passing off leadership of meetings to help others build skills.

 

Ask hard questions

Don’t settle for surface answers. Ask hard question – hard to answer because they require thinking AND hard to answer because they expose emotions/thoughts/faulty operating systems. When someone answers, ask follow-up questions on their answers. If you’re studying a section of scripture and someone answers with a “Well, I think that…” kind of statement, ask them where they see that in text. Doing so will help emphasize that God’s truth is more important than our ideas. There are some great tips for questioning at Michael Hyatt’s blog here.

 

Get at the heart matter

Help people identify what lies they’re believing and what stories they’re telling themselves that don’t align with God’s story. Dealing with the heart matter is what works – not changing actions. Here’s a couple examples of how this might look

  • A girl in the group struggles with anxiety. A surface-level focus tries to get her to stop being anxious. Heart-matter focus digs into what stories she’s telling herself about who God is (or isn’t) and who she is (or isn’t). Those stories feed that anxiety. Help her align the stories she’s telling herself with the true Gospel story of God.
  • A guy is in a relationship that’s leading him towards sin. Surface-focus tries to get him to just cut out the relationship but doesn’t deal with why it was there in the first place. Heart focus delves into the why, working to uncover what he was trying to find in that relationship and what lies he’s believing about God and about himself.

Follow the Spirit’s lead

Pray as you prepare for DNA. Pray as you’re on your way to the DNA meeting. Pray with the DNA group. Not the kind of prayer that’s just talking to God, instead build in space for asking God questions and listening for the answer. When the Spirit speaks, whether it’s through an inner prompting, another person’s words, or the scripture, act accordingly. Sometimes this means stepping outside of your normal groove. It might mean that while you’re praying to start DNA group you feel prompted to stop and talk with people at the table next to you in the restaurant where you’re meeting. It might mean that you’ve spent hours preparing for this week’s discussion and on the drive there God prompts you to change subjects. Go with it. Follow the Spirit’s lead.

Seek obedience, not knowledge

Structure your DNA in a way that it presses people to live out what they’ve learned. Hold people accountable to applying what you’ve discussed. I’ve found one of the best ways to do this is to end each meeting by asking the questions, ‘What is God saying to you?” and “What are you going to do about it?” Have each person answer the first question, then take a moment to each pray silently and ask God what he wants you to do. Each person should share their action plan – a specific thing or things that they will do before the next meeting to apply what God is teaching them. Start each meeting by asking people to report in 2 minutes or less whether or not they completed their action plans.

 

 

Following these six tips, especially number five, will help you lead a DNA group that leads to powerful discipleship and lives transformed by Jesus. My prayer for this fall is that our DNA groups would become places where people encounter God in ways they never have before, discovering freedom and joy that they thought was impossible. By the grace of God, it will be so.

 

 

 

Culture, Discipleship, Evangelism

Evangelism and the Prodigal Son – Part 1

August 8, 2016

 

 

 

Have you ever noticed that the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) never allows his son to fully proclaim his repentance? Instead of allowing the son who took and wasted half his wealth to speak his rehearsed apology and offer himself as a hired hand, the father cuts him off in the middle of his declaration that he’s not worthy by saying, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his fingers and sandals on his feet…” The apology is interrupted by the father’s celebration of the son’s return. The son isn’t given any space to prove his repentance or wallow in his sorrow. He’s returned. It’s time to celebrate.

Is this how people are treated when they return to God and step into the Christian community? In my experience, I don’t think Christian culture at large has practiced this well. We tend to want people to really prove their repentance before we celebrate their return. We want to see the “fruit” before we put the robes and rings on them. By fruit we generally mean show some real sorrow and agony over the bad stuff done in the past. Then when they’ve realllly demonstrated that they’re back to stay we can celebrate. But not too much, lest someone get the idea that sinning and leaving the father isn’t that big of a deal.

Does that align with God’s attitude and practice? Not if the father in this well known parable is an accurate reflection of God the Father.

Say you’re sorry

This kind of attitude has given us a mode of evangelism that’s aimed mainly at getting people to feel bad about their sin (i.e. be convicted) so that the forgiveness offered by Jesus will be appealing. They’ll see the beauty of the savior when they feel the fear of God, right? When they realize how far down their sin has taken them they’ll reach out for a savior to rescue them, won’t they?

There’s absolutely biblical merit to this. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that the law was given so that we might realize just how sinful sin was. The Old Testament prophets play strong and loud the note of God’s judgment and justice. John the Baptist cried out in the wilderness for repentance and fleeing from the wrath to come.

Here’s the thing though. In each of those instances the message is directed primarily at the people of God; those who already knew the law, had been raised with the stories of the Exodus, and had the context for a just God and a baseline knowledge for what sin was. They already had the mental framework on which to build that message.

For those of us in modern America, particularly those working with young adults and the coming generations, that’s no longer our context. It’s increasingly common to talk with people who have literally never read the Bible, have been to church maybe twice, and don’t have the moral groundwork that traditional bridge-diagram type Gospel presentations assume.

I believe the story of the prodigal son an often-overlooked element that can help us communicate the gospel to a culture that doesn’t have that context.  We need to ask the question, what was it that made the prodigal son return home to the father?

The Son’s Realization

Was it that he realized how sinful he was and that what he’d done was wrong? No. The text tells us that the son says to himself, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” (v.17) It was the son’s realization of his need (“here I am starving”) and remembrance of how good his father’s servants had it (they “have food to spare”) that drove him home.

It wasn’t a conviction that he had done something wrong that drove him home. If anything that conviction and shame of his wrongdoing is what kept him away for so long after squandering his inheritance. It was his need for food and memory of the good things that his father did for his servants that inspired his return.

Are our churches places where the goodness of God is on display? Are they places where people see something that they long for? Does our life together in Christ communicate that the Father’s children and servants “have food to spare”? When we present the Gospel, are we communicating it in a way that is actually good news for those to whom we are speaking?

Where Jesus, John, and the other apostles are blunt, often brutally so, about the need to repent when talking to religious people, the tone changes drastically when they are speaking to pagans who feel the shame of their sin but don’t have the knowledge of the law. Rather than trying to convince them that they’re sinners in need of grace (as most modern evangelistic trainings would have you do) they start with grace.

Witness the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) – Jesus welcomes and answers her questions, offering her the water of life and true connection before he ever mentions her sin. The thief on the cross simply hears the words “today you will be with me in paradise,” no repetition of the wrongs he’s done. In John 8 we see the woman caught in adultery who Jesus actually defends from the justice that the law demanded be meted out to her, explicitly saying “neither do I condemn you” before gently telling her to leave her life of sin. Zaccheus too, that wee little man, is never told to repent in Luke 19. Jesus simply says that he’s coming to stay at his house. It is Zacheus himself who brings up the wrong he’s done, repenting in that very moment.

Encountering Goodness

My friends, If we want to reach those who are not religious, we need to give them an encounter with the goodness of God rather than beginning with the battering of God’s wrath and justice. In their spirits they already know those things well, because the Holy Spirit is at work. As Paul writes in Romans 2, it’s the kindness, tolerance, and patience of God that leads people to repentance.
When you’re sharing the Gospel with someone for the first time, begin with the infinite grace that is found in Christ. Welcome prodigal sons into your midst where they can taste and see how good the sons and servants of the Heavenly Father have it! As we do so it’s like setting up a beautiful feast at the Father’s house next door to the pig sty that they’ve been living in. They’ll smell the rich food, hear the joy and laughter, and see just how good the Father’s servants have it. They will come home, and the Father will once again be ready to run to them with arms wide to clothe them with the righteousness of Christ.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Discipleship, Spiritual Growth

The Cost of Hiding Talents

July 14, 2016

 

 

 

The Apostle James wrote, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17) That, I believe, is one of the main points of the Parable of the Talents that Jesus tells to his disciples as he explains what things will be like “at the end of the age.” It’s a message that we desperately need to take to heart.

Hiding Talents

One of the greatest issues for Christians in the western world is that we know a thousand right things to do and struggle to accomplish even one of them. Our knowing has far exceeded our obeying. As Carey Nieuwhof quipped, “the average North American Christian is about 3000 bible verses overweight.” (read his full post here).

Jesus makes the expectations of God clear in the parable of the talents. Matthew records its strange conclusion this way:

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
– Matthew 25:24-30

What was the issue with the third servant? Is the master a greedy man who just wants more money? No. The problem is, “You knew that I reap where I have not sown”. Because the servant knew his master’s character, the master expected the servant to act accordingly. He never commanded the servants to make more money for him, so I believe we can infer that the issue here is not the money. The master cares that his servants live up to what they know.

My friends, are we living according to what we know of our heavenly Father’s character? Do our actions and thoughts towards others align with the love that the Father has demonstrated in Christ? Are our financial, time, and relational priorities synced with his? He has given us talents – he has given us his Holy Spirit – and he expects to return and find that we have invested them as we have.

Losing talents

If we are the servant hiding or hoarding the talents we’ve been given, this parable gives us cause to tremble. Apparently the kingdom of heaven works in such a way that those who don’t use what they’ve been given have it taken away from them and given to someone who already has a lot. “to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. “

I won’t take time here to delve into these couple verses that seem almost vicious on the surface. Suffice it to say that the intention of the punishment of this wayward servant in the parable isn’t to make us cower in fear. It’s there to motivate and inspire us to invest our talents – to be the one who has wisely worked what they’ve been given and can come before the Master and receive his commendation.

Investing Talents

The beautiful truth is that, for those of us who are in Christ, the Holy Spirit is the engine and the fuel for that investment. He is the one who leads and guides and reveals, gently insisting that we bear fruit as we abide.

If you have little, start investing. As with the woman and her copper coin that received Jesus’ praise, those of us with seemingly minuscule talents can uncover great glory through faith. For both the servant with ten and the servant with five talents, their investment was doubled. Had the servant with one talent invested as well I believe his talent would have doubled again. And again. And again.

Let’s live up to what we know of God’s character. I don’t want to be the servant who comes before his master with apologies and excuses. Instead I want to be able to come and say, “see what I have done with what you’ve given me!” What beautiful glory and honor there is in living in the power of Christ for the glory of God.

 

 

 

Discipleship, Evangelism, Ministry Update

Support Us

June 14, 2016

 

 

For the last five and a half years I’ve been working to make disciples among the young adults in the Fargo-Moorhead area through Threshingfloor Communities. For the last year and a half I’ve also been on staff with Verge Ministries, expanding that disciple-making scope to include coaching ministry leaders and helping launch ministries throughout Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Iowa.

There’s a ridiculously huge need for ministries targeting this age group (roughly 18-34 years of age, according to most demographers). In Minnesota alone there are 1.2 million young adults. According to national studies from the past few years, only 22% of those young adults are evangelical Christians, with that percentage declining as you move to following generations. According to Kinnaman and Lyons, “one third of college-aged adults want nothing to do with religion, and 59 percent of Christian young adults drop out of church at some point in their twenties.” (Good Faith, 12)

That means that there are at least 1,170,000 young adults in Minnesota alone who don’t self-identify as evangelical Christians. Informal studies here in Fargo have shown that under 5% of the 70,000 young adults that are residents are engaged in a local church, meaning there’s well over 66,000 in just my city that aren’t connected to the body of Christ.

The harsh reality is, as Jesus makes clear, simply self-proclaiming on a survey or attending church regularly doesn’t equal being born again. There are literally millions of young adults and college students in our cities and states for whom Jesus’ beauty, power, and love are, at best, a nice myth.

My passion is to see those numbers change. I want to see thousands of churches, individuals, and ministries rise up in the power of God’s love to see the Kingdom of God established in the lives of those wandering twenty-somethings. I want the depressed 23 year old girl in Bismarck to discover the joy of the Spirit of Christ. I want the porn-addicted 19 year old student at Bemidji State to find freedom in the Gospel. I want to see the 30 year old man in Des Moines whose past few years have been devoured by video games encounter the powerful purpose that God has for his life.

It gets me pumped up just writing about these stories. I’ve seen ones like them become realities over the past 5 years of ministry as we’ve worked, prayed, and stepped out in faith. The momentum is growing, and both Kelly and I are feeling the call to do more.

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To do that we need your help. For the past year and a half Kelly and I have supported ourselves with a few different income streams; I’ve worked three days a week at a vendor for Microsoft and raised enough support to fund two “full” days of ministry work, enabling me to travel to cities like Park Rapids and Bismarck to coach young adult and college ministry leaders, as well as grow Threshingfloor towards having deeper impact in Fargo, going from one to three communities. Kelly’s worked full time. Our combined income has been enough to cover both ministry and living expenses thus far.

But things are changing in the next month. We’re expecting our first child at the end of July, which means that Kelly won’t be working full time for much longer. My part time job and minimal support won’t be enough to provide for our family. I need to make an important decision in the next four weeks: do I go back to working full time to provide for our family and significantly cut back the ministry I’ve been doing, or will God provide the financial support to enable me to continue with the ministry work?

Regardless of which one happens we’re going to continue disciple-making and working with the young adults God has put us into contact with, but in a more limited capacity. In order to stay on track and increase the hours I’m putting towards making disciples of young adults throughout the Midwest, we need to raise an additional $2000 a month of support. Some of this money will go directly to ministry expenses and launching new ministries, and some will go towards our living expenses. If you want a specific breakdown of how donations are used, email me – ben@verge28.org.

Would you consider helping us reach young adults and train ministries leaders by investing $25 or even $100 a month, or giving a one-time donation?

There are so many huge opportunities amongst this generation. Even as the world is getting darker and more distant from the “Christian” culture of 50 years ago, there’s a deep hunger among young adults for something true and lasting; something that’s found only in Jesus. Your support is a true blessing and investment in seeing those young adults reached.

 

If you do want to give you can do so here.

If you want to join our prayer newsletter and stay up to date on the ministry that’s taking place, go here.

 

 

Christian Life, Discipleship, Faith, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

Wrong Stronghold

June 9, 2016

 

 

 

A few weekends ago the Threshingfloor Communities leaders spent a weekend together to learn, pray, and plan for the next several months of ministry. During our time at the cabin we all packed into near Park Rapids, MN we watched this sermon by Francis Chan. It led to some great discussion about our personal prayer lives, whether or not we are truly seeking God as our “one thing,” and what exactly we are looking to as our stronghold of safety, rest, and peace.

We live in a world where we are under constant attack. Rare is the day where a person can go from sunrise to sundown without some sort of difficulty, whether it be emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, or otherwise. We are fragile creatures, even the strongest of us. A harsh word can bring up pain from a decade ago and make it as real today as it was then. A small failure can, in a moment, unearth all our well-hidden insecurities.

We all need a place where we can take our armor off, lay down, and rest without fear. We need a stronghold. Even just the knowledge that we have such a stronghold is often enough to carry us through difficulty.

The Strongholds

It’s because of this need for a stronghold that we are constantly seeking and building for ourselves safe place after safe place. Having a rough week? The weekend can be your stronghold, with its (hopefully) less hectic schedule and freedom from work hours. Feeling lonely? The next romantic relationship will be your stronghold. Once you get it, you’ll have the safety and joy that will protect you from the pain of the world, right? Tired? Depressed? Sleep can be your stronghold, with its gentle oblivion to guard you from the weary difficulty of life.

The list can go on. Our ingenuity in stronghold construction knows no bounds. Food, music, movies, anger, traveling – you name it, we humans have at one point or another tested it as a stronghold to protect us from the difficulties of this world.

The problem with these strongholds is that, inevitably, they fail. More often than not when they fail they leave us worse off than we were before. The weekend goes by too fast and is too busy and Sunday night you watch the walls of your stronghold crumble around you, leaving you in the painful world of the weekday once again. The person you were pursuing that romantic relationship with? Yea, well, turns out she’s not interested (despite the signs to the contrary). The stronghold falls and you’re left wandering in loneliness again. And – of course – you weren’t able to fall asleep and spent the night tossing and turning without any real sleep.

The funny thing is that, for most of us, when our stronghold of choice fails us we don’t seem to get the message that it’s not working. Instead we retreat further inside and build the walls higher, bar the doors more strongly. If I didn’t get the weekend I needed this time, then next weekend will be really really resting. The next job will be fulfilling. Little do we know that each time we do this we’re building around ourselves not walls for protection, but walls that hold us captive.

Demolition Time

According to Paul, the Gospel comes in to demolish false strongholds. The good news of Jesus Christ is dynamite that blasts through the walls that we thought kept us safe but in reality keep us captive. In 2 Corinthians 10 he writes,

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. -2 Cor 10:3-5

My friends, we don’t wage war like the world does. We don’t build the strongholds that they do. Jesus won’t let us, because he knows that those false strongholds are lies set up against the knowledge of God. Our Lord loves us too much to let entertainment, food, sex, relationships, or any other false stronghold keep his children from freedom, so he will gladly come and destroy the walls around us and leave us standing frightened and in the open until we turn to the only true stronghold.

The True Stronghold

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
-Psalm 27:1

David knew well what it meant to need a place to hide. He literally had people attempting to kill him, something that most of us probably haven’t experienced. In the midst of that painful, fearful situation David needed a stronghold. Instead of turning to some earthly thing – hiding and feeling sorry for himself or taking up arms and doing battle against those who came after him – he declares “The Lord is the stronghold of my life.”

When we learn to build Christ around us as the stronghold of our lives, we can laugh and be fearless even when there’s chaos and war around us. We will say with David, “Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”

Rough week at work with lots of tension? Jesus is peace, patience, and hope. Feeling lonely? God is present with you, closer than any significant other, and he’s given you a family in Christ. Tired and depressed? The Lord gives rest to those whom he loves, and those who trust in him run and do not faint. Worried and anxious? Don’t worry about tomorrow, because your Father in heaven knows what you need and loves you.

The one true stronghold is found in Jesus; all others are failures and lies.

The question is, how do we get there? How do we get to the place where the Lord is indeed our stronghold? David gives us the key to entering the stronghold of the Lord in verses 4-6 of Psalm 27:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

When the one thing that we pursue is to be in God’s presence, then we are kept safe in God’s tent. Note that – the walls of God’s tent are stronger than the stones of the greatest fortress we could build. In the presence of the Lord there is safety. Make abiding in Him the center of your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical reality and your “head will be exalted…” and you will “sacrifice with shouts of joy”. He is a stronghold that will not fail. Indeed, as Luther famously penned, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.”

Christian, where is your stronghold today? What are you looking to for protection, comfort, and hope? Is it Christ or something of this world? Don’t lock yourself within the deadly confines of a worldly stronghold. It will make you a captive and a slave. Instead, look to Jesus and see that in him are the walls that shall never fail and the peace that surpasses all understanding.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Discipleship

The Evil of Good Work

May 16, 2016

 

 

Which is more holy; working hard or going to a party to laugh, enjoy friends, and eat a bunch of delicious food?

The protestant work ethic so deeply ingrained in much of Christian culture declares firmly that you should choose getting your work done over joining in on the party. But do our cultural assumptions align with God’s truth? In Luke 14 Jesus is sitting at a dinner with a bunch of religious leaders, leaders who were well versed in accomplishing the good works that God’s law had laid out for them. In the midst of their conversation Jesus tells a parable as a rebuke to these leaders, a parable that our hard-work-first selves would do well to listen to.

When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
Luke 14:12-24

 

Good Excuses and Good Work

In this parable God the Father is the man hosting the banquet and the Pharisees (aka, the upstanding religious folks) are the ones who are initially invited. Jesus intends this brief story as a rebuke. But what exactly is he rebuking? The host invites these people to a party, “A great banquet,” asking them to come and drink, eat, most likely dance, and spend their evening in enjoyment. Those who had been invited all have excuses about why they aren’t able to come.

Growing up the general feeling I got about this passage was that those making excuses were some bad people, but when you look at this text they each have thoroughly reasonable, even honorable excuses. They all have important work that needs to be done, important commitments to keep. “I just bought a business and need to check in to make sure everything is in order.” “I have a couple new employees that need to be trained for their position.” “My wife and I are about to leave for our honeymoon, sorry, but I need to prioritize my family right now.”

How mature and dependable these people are! They’re denying themselves pleasure and indulgence for the sake of getting work done. They’re saying no to rich food and drink and fun because there’s important tasks to accomplish. Clearly they have their priorities right.

Right?

The Holy Party

Clearly Jesus doesn’t think so. In his story the master is angry, not pleased at the studiousness of those he invited to the party. Those who excuse themselves from the party are abdicating their invitation, insulting the man and saying that their relationship with him is less valuable than their to-do list.

My friends, catch this. There are times when it is more holy to party than it is to work. There are times where feasting with friends is more righteous than doing good deeds. There are seasons where it is more sanctifying to rest than it is to accomplish.

Like Jesus to Martha, this parable says to us that the best thing is to accept our Savior’s invitation and enjoy our relationship with him. Set aside the work and sit down to enjoy a glass of wine with the Master. He’s invited you in, not because he has things for you to do but because he wants you at his party.

 

To the Blind and Lame

The party host turns his invitation to the cripple and the blind in response to the excuses of the hard-working. He chooses to invite those who were, in the Hebrew culture at that time, unable to do any work beyond perhaps begging at the temple gates. He trades the high-capacity producer for the humble blind beggar simply because the beggar is available.

Let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re somehow the big shots who make the real difference in this world. Set aside your self importance and the importance of the work you do. It doesn’t matter if the task before you is cleaning toilets, counseling failing marriages, or preaching to ten thousand people. What really matters is that we’ve been invited to the master’s banquet. He wants us at his table – blind, cripple, lame, and poor. It’s out of that feasting in the Master’s presence that we are healed, restored, and empowered to out and transform the world with the Gospel.

The Gospel is about a banquet – you’ve been invited to a party. It’s easy with our missional bent and great commission passion to miss the fact that it’s a feast we’ve been invited to, not a working lunch. Make space in your life for that feasting. Don’t fill it so full with good works that they become a reason to excuse yourself from the party. Sometimes the most important thing you can do is sit down, eat a delicious dinner, and laugh with friends in the presence of the Lord.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Discipleship, Spiritual Growth

The Disciple Maker’s Job for 2016

January 4, 2016

One of my favorite definitions of leadership is from Perry Noble; “Leadership is listening to God and doing what he says.” Biblical leadership is truly that simple. Listen to God. Do what He says. As we listen and obey and invite others to do the same we become leaders and disciple makers.

In his letter to the church in Thessalonica Paul describes how he did this kind of disciple-making leadership when he says, “like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thess.2:11-13) Paul highlights three things he did for the Thessalonians to lead them as disciples to live in alignment with the kingdom of God: exhortation, encouragement, and charging.

Exhort

Paul exhorted (parakaleo) the Thessalonians. He spoke in a way that called them to greater things than they were currently experiencing. He taught, admonished, and challenged. Exhortation here is about casting a vision for the kind of kingdom lifestyle that God wants his people to live. Paul, as a leader and disciple-maker amongst the Thessalonians, points the way forward in following Christ.

Encourage

Paul encouraged (paramutheomai) the Thessalonians. He didn’t simply point the way and then step back. Instead he led with encouragement, uplifting those who were struggling and speaking the truth of their identity in Christ to those who were doubting. Disciple-making leadership includes the work of giving comfort and support to the people.

Charge

Paul charged or commanded (martureo) the Thessalonians. Strong’s concordance defines this as “to be a witness, to bear witness.” Where exhortation seems to be casting a vision of the kingdom kind of life, charged has the connotation of a command. It’s not enough to just give people a picture of what a Christ-follower’s life should look like. The leader and disciple maker must also give people specific steps to take, particularly for those who are new in the faith and have yet to develop the skills and practices so foundational to living in “a manner worthy of God.” As Paul bears witness to the truth of the Gospel he includes commands and specific direction for how that truth must change his disciple’s life.

Whether you are discipling one person or leading a community of twenty or a gathering of 200, each of these three practices must be present. Exhort people and call them to see the greater vision that God has for them in Christ. Encourage them along the way. Charge them with specific steps of obedience. Do as the apostle Paul did, and as a good father does for their children. Listen to what God says in the Gospel and through his Holy Spirit. Obey. Invite others along for the journey. Be a disciple-making leader in 2016!

 

 

 

Culture, Discipleship, Evangelism, Leadership

Celebrate the right sheep

December 16, 2015

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.’

-Luke 15:1-7

 

Jesus constantly seems to go against our expectations. Our priorities are, more often than not, in direct opposition to his.

No where is this more clear than in the world of ministry when we look at what is talked most frequently about and celebrated most consistently. In my experience we generally default to celebrating the fact that we have a whole bunch of really good Christians in our ministry/church/small group. Oh, we’re not so backwards as to measure only attendance. Our measurements hinge on the holiness and “christiany-ness” of the people who we’re ministering to. Do we have a group of people who are really working hard at obeying Christ, studying their Bibles daily, and praying together? Let’s celebrate! Have the believers in our care grown spiritually? Time to party!

Jesus, however, says that there’s more celebration in heaven over the recovery of one lost sheep than there is over the many already found. Jesus says that there are more parties in heaven when someone moves from lost to found than for when someone who is already in Christ gets in a small group or develops a Bible reading habit.

Which one are you and your ministry celebrating? Which are you prioritizing; the keeping, feeding, and training of your existing sheep or the recovery of lost ones?

Judging by the parables in Luke 15, Jesus thinks the priority (and the party) is for the recovery of those who are lost. Those who are the shepherds of God’s people are called to be missionaries, not managers. Somewhere along the way we get caught up with managing the growth of those who are already saved and lose sight of finding the lost. If we want to line up with God’s priorities for us  we need to shift how we operate and what we celebrate.

Drawing from Jesus’ three parables in Luke 15, there are at least four things that we can to do create a culture that aligns with heaven and celebrates the recovery of lost sheep more than the management of the saved ones.

Trust God with the ones that are already found

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”

What a foolish shepherd! He leaves 99 sheep alone in the open country to go after one! Doesn’t he know that sheep are defenseless and there are predators around and that other sheep will wander off while he’s gone? That, at least, is how we generally operate. But not so for the ideal shepherd that Jesus portrays here. This shepherd trusts God to protect the sheep that are already with him. He operates as a missionary rather than a manager and goes after the one, knowing that God will keep those who are his.

Are we truly trusting God with those who are his, or are we spending our time fretting over keeping the sheep that we already have?

Go searching

The shepherd doesn’t wait for his lost sheep to come back. The old woman doesn’t wait for her coin to show up magically. In both cases they search. Want to have lost sheep rescued through the ministry God’s given you and brought into the kingdom of God? Step out of your safe, found-sheep security and get out into the wilderness. Get down on your hands and knees and look in the places where a coin might go. Go where the lost are. Stop expecting them to come to you – they’re lost. Start searching.

Do you have time set aside in your schedule – especially if you’re a vocational minister – to be in places where people who aren’t believers hang out?

Welcome sinners and eat with them

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

When you go searching, don’t drop in to throw out a gospel presentation and then disappear. Instead, settle in and share a meal. Make friends. Jesus makes a point of spending his time in places where the lost spent time.

When was the last time that you shared a meaningful meal with someone who wasn’t a believer? Who can you name as a real friend that’s not a “found sheep”? If the religious people are muttering about you, you’re probably doing something right.

When a sheep/son/coin is found, party!

What we celebrate is a huge statement about what we value. Three times in this chapter Jesus emphasizes how much God values the return of a lost person. Heaven rejoices at the recovery of a lost sheep. God the Father throws huge parties when his lost children return home. We ought to do the same thing. After all, what better reason for celebration than the salvation of an immortal soul?

When someone who was lost is found, gather your friends and neighbors and party! Go all out in extravagance. Let your celebration echo heaven and be a statement to those in your ministry that what gets you stoked is the saving of the lost. Invite those who aren’t believers in to the party and let it be a statement to them that coming to Christ is more than just assenting to a set of rules.

 

I want to be like Jesus in this. Over the last few months I’ve found myself getting frustrated at the slow growth of the found sheep under my care. God used Jesus’ parables here in Luke 15 to push me back and challenge me to evaluate what I’m valuing, and I believe he may want you to do the same thing.

Let’s get our priorities straight. Celebrate the return of the lost sheep. Be a missionary, not a manager.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Discipleship, Evangelism, Theology

God On Mission

October 14, 2015

The Father didn’t send Jesus on vacation; he sent him on a mission. Throughout his adult life, Jesus had a goal. He wasn’t dropped randomly in an inconsequential place at an inconsequential time. Quite the opposite. Jesus was sent on a mission by God the Father “at just the right time,” and he was sent “not to be served, but to serve.” After his resurrection Jesus appears to his disciples and says to them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) Wonder of wonders, he says to his disciples that they’re being sent in the same way that he was, on a mission.

Jesus wasn’t doing something new in his mission-oriented life. From the very beginning – even before the fall and sin – God has been on mission. His goal: that the earth be “full of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” or, to put it as he did to his image bearers Adam and Eve, “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” Jesus, however, gives us an extended, up close, and truly human glimpse of what it looks like when God shows up on mission.

I want to take the next several paragraphs and zoom in on a specific scene from Jesus’ life that I believe gives a beautiful picture of God on mission in all it’s wild and frightening strangeness. From this scene we’ll see six things that are always present when God is on mission. The characters: Jesus and twelve young men – a few fishers, a tax collector, a zealot, and some others. The scene: rural Israel in the first century.

 

Read the full post at the Verge Ministries blog