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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, 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.

 

 

 

 

Commentary, Culture, Leadership, Threshingfloor, Verge, young adults

8 Things Learned in 8 Years of Young Adult Ministry

October 27, 2015

This fall, perhaps more than any previous, has gotten me thinking over the past. Threshingfloor celebrated five years of ministry to young adults in the Fargo-Moorhead area a couple months ago. In just over a month I turn 27. It was over eight years ago that I started ministering to young adults as we moved our little college-age/young adult Bible study from our church in Baxter to downtown Brainerd and watched it grow to something amazing. Since then I’ve done dorm-room Bible studies, spent countless hours developing leadership teams, discipling all manner of people, and launching disciple-making communities.

A few days ago as I thought back over the years, I noted down a long list of the things I’ve learned that might be helpful for others to know. After an hour or so of sifting and boiling things down, I’ve narrowed it down to 8 things, one for each year I’ve been working among young adults. Here they are.

  1. Deep community beats amazing production. Every time.

I can pull my iPhone out of my pocket and watch any show or movie I want at any time, contact people almost anywhere in the world, or enjoy any of the tens of thousands of incredibly well-produced apps that are available to every other American with a smart phone. Young adults don’t need (or, in many cases, even want) a great production or another event. Our hearts long for deep community where people truly know each other, engage with the hard issues in life, and work together to make the world a better place.

2. Always try new things.

One of the best ways to keep young adults engaged is to try constantly be trying something new. Better yet, let them try something new. Whether it’s a new “experimental” style of Sunday school, launching a new service, starting a new community in a different part of town, or simply a different take on a section of scripture, most young adults are quick to get on board with something that’s new. Take advantage of that.

3. Have high expectations and make them clear.

As you invite young adults to join in and take leadership roles (or any role), make it clear that your expectations for them are high. Make it clear means telling them face-to-face what you expect and repeating it frequently. For those in leadership roles it’s best to have them sign some sort of agreement so that they know what’s expected of them and when. By putting the bar high you’ll inspire many to reach levels they didn’t even know they could. I’ve been consistently impressed with the amount of time, energy, and passion that our leaders – all of whom are volunteers – put into their communities and disciple-making. Having the expectations spelled out explicitly also gives a platform to have the hard conversations when people aren’t meeting them.

4. Prepare to be disappointed but don’t lose hope.

Of course, it doesn’t always go how you want it to. People will inevitably fall short, stumble back into sin for the fortieth time, or act like twelve year olds who aren’t getting their way. Prepare your heart to be disappointed in a way that keeps you from losing hope. It’s ok to be frustrated at people’s slowness (Jesus was!), to be tired of dealing with the same issues, and to long for something more. Just don’t lose hope. God is always working, even in the midst of apparent failure.

5. Trust the Holy Spirit

How do we know God’s working, even in those times of disappointment? Because he’s sent his Holy Spirit. Rather than clamping down and trying to control the difficult situations and people, throw yourself into prayer and trust that the Holy Spirit can work in young adult’s hearts too.

Time and again I’ve been ready to write someone off as too stubborn or just scrap the ministry and start over. The Holy Spirit has always intervened in those moments, working transformation in my heart and the hearts of those around me. Trust him.

6. Teach, demonstrate, and coach.

The postmodern wants no teaching because it’s too authoritarian. The professional wants no demonstration because it’s too time consuming. The attender wants no coaching because it’s too invasive. Jesus, however, clearly demonstrates all three all throughout his discipleship of the twelve.

Take the time to teach your people, but make sure that you’re actually demonstrating what you teach. Don’t teach on evangelism if you’re not going to go out and demonstrate what evangelism looks like. Don’t do a study on prayer if you’re not going to demonstrate prayer in your own life. Then after demonstration, coach your people until they are able to do what you’ve demonstrated. Don’t move on to the next subject until the teaching has become living.

7. Knowledge doesn’t cause change.

Coaching is so important. In a world where information abounds it’s becoming increasingly clear that knowing more about something doesn’t always change you. A six month curriculum on financial responsibility doesn’t guarantee that the attendees will use their money wisely. It’s in the doing – in the developing of new habits and practices – that the life change comes. Focus on and celebrate obedience more than understanding.

8. Vision matters more than rules.

In a back alley near downtown Fargo, in angular, hasty letters someone spray-painted, “I follow dreams, not rules.” That phrase captures the heart of most young adults today. They are ready and willing to leave their job, city, and even their friends and family if their hearts are captured by a vision. They’re willing to change their habits if they catch a glimpse of what life on the other side looks like.

Rather than emphasizing rules and “thou shalt”s, paint pictures of what life will be on the other side. Rather than hammering, “you need to read your Bible more,” declare and demonstrate the joy of connecting daily with the Creator. Instead of bludgeoning people towards purity, give them a vision of the joy and freedom of walking in step with God’s plan.

 

 

Those are eight of the many, many things I’ve learned in my eight plus years working with teens and young adults. Did any of them resonate with you? What have you learned in your time working with millennials? Share it in the comments!

Journal, Leadership

Five Years of Labor

August 26, 2015

This past Sunday we celebrated five years of Threshingfloor and our ministry to young adults and college students here in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Five years ago I moved from Brainerd to the FM area, not knowing what to expect beyond the fact that I was going to be studying creative writing and working to see people discipled to and in Jesus. So much has changed since then. I’ve learned a massive amount and changed as a person. We’ve seen people encounter Jesus for the first time, seen people with years as Christians explode into new season of growth, and made a whole lot of awesome friends.

The first few years of ministry here was all passion and almost no knowledge. Dorm room Bible studies, midnight conversations, all-night prayer sessions, leading Salem’s young adult Bible study all filled my life with the rush of doing what Jesus had placed me in Fargo to do. I juggled school, jobs, and ministry, going 1000 MPH all the time and loving it.

In those early years we gathered a team of people that had a passion for something that was truly soaked with the Gospel and reached the unreached in the name of Jesus. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we did we did it with zeal. We spent most of our time bouncing from idea to idea, trying to figure out where we were going.

Around my second year in Fargo I got married, graduated, and moved into working full time. It was a new learning experience and was, in all honesty, harder than the previous. Having a part time job and full time school along with ministry was somehow easier than working 40 hours a week and doing ministry. As I was forced to pull back from such a central role in Threshingfloor, we discovered the beauty of something that is lead by a team rather than an individual. People from within our communities stepped up and took on ministry, allowing us to launch a second community. It’s the power of Jesus that can grow what we can’t grow. His presence is the only necessary ingredient in the process of multiplication of disciples.

For this past year as I’ve moved from working full time and doing ministry to functioning as a full-time missionary to young adults in the Midwest, there’s been increased spiritual warfare. As I was preparing to write this post I looked back over my previous year-of-labor posts that I wrote and posted the first few years here in Fargo. Reading those paragraphs from years ago, I can’t help but see my passion for what we were doing. That passion still resonates in my soul, but it’s different. My passion is still there but it has been tempered and has changed keys.

Three years ago I wrote that Kelly and I had maybe two more years in the FM area and that we wanted to see the city significantly changed when we left. It’s been three years, and (by my estimation), there hasn’t been that significant change – no huge movement or gathering of thousands. But there are lives that have been deeply impacted by our work. I love to hear and share the stories of those that we’ve gotten to shepherd closer to Jesus.

At Threshingfloor’s five year celebration on Sunday we gathered the six people who were a part of the original core that grew into Threshingfloor. We spent 20 minutes doing a panel discussion to share some memories and thoughts looking back over the years. During our panel discussion, Kelly gave advice for people to commit and be faithful to the ministry that God has called them to.

Her words resonate with me. More than zeal or flights of passion, faithfulness resounds in my soul. It’s not possible to set your sights too high when God is in the picture, but it is far better to be steadfast and faithful and have deep, current shifting impact in a few lives than flit from one thing to the next and be a drop of water on the surface of an ocean. I believe that we’ve been faithful – not perfect, but definitely faithful – to the work of Christ within Threshingfloor. That is something that God has and will bless.

Five years of labor have passed. Who knows how many more for us here. Regardless, we want to be faithful and steadfast.

Where does God have you today? If you’re young and new, ride your passions and let them empower you for those 1000 hours poured out, but set your sights on long-term faithfulness. The kingdom of God is an oak tree, not a flower in the field. It will grow and fill the block with shade, but such things take time. Remain steadfast. Don’t step out of the race moments before breakthrough is achieved.

Best Of, Christian Life, Leadership

The Poison of a Prayerless Leader

December 9, 2013

 

 

Yesterday I spent some time flipping through scripture and looking over passages where prayer is mentioned. There’s a lot of them. Almost 100 if you search for the word “pray” on esvbible.org. Out of all the texts that I skimmed through this one from 1 Samuel stood out to me most. Samuel is stepping down from his role as judge of the nation of Israel because they have demanded a king to rule over them and God has given them one. 1 Samuel 12 is his farewell address to the people who he has led and judged for most of his lifetime, and one of his concluding statements is,

“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” – 1 Samuel 12:23

This is a paradigm shifting verse for me. Every Christian knows they are supposed to pray. Every leader of God’s people knows they should pray for the people they are leading. But Samuel isn’t comfortable with should. He says that it would be sin for him to stop praying for the people of Israel.
Leader, hear this well. One of the greatest responsibilities you have – perhaps the greatest responsibility – is to intercede for your people. Your great task is to follow your savior in coming before the throne of God and pleading for those who the Lord has given you charge of. Teach them, yes. Train them and council them, yes. Lead them in the study of Scripture and cast vision, yes. Guide them into the mission the Lord has called them to, yes, but above all pray for them. Pray over them. Pray with them. To fail in doing so is to walk in sin.

We need to be men and women who, like Samuel, realize that it is sin when we cease to pray for the people God has given us. God gives grace to the prayerless leader and may allow him to succeed for a time, but shall we sin that grace may abound? By no means! “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray”!

Do you pray for the believers around you? Are these spaces carved from your day-to-day life for the solitary, focused labor of intercession? Does your community gather regularly for the sole purpose of prayer? Is prayer a natural part of your gatherings? If it is not that may well be root of many of your struggles. As R.A. Torrey wrote in his book How To Pray, “There is infinite grace at our disposal, and we make it our experimentally [in experience] by prayer.”

Let us be a people who take a hold of that grace on behalf of our people, praying without ceasing. God will not fail to hear the prayer of those who minister faithfully in the name of Christ. Do not cease in your prayer, oh leader.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Leadership

Your Ministry is God’s Mercy to You

October 24, 2013

 

 

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

(2 Corinthians 4:1, ESV)

Ministry is no easy thing. Paul describes it like being poured out as a drink offering on the altar of peoples’ faith, as if he was being drained for the sake of their growth. When the Lord calls you to a life of ministry – a thing which he does to every one of his followers – he is calling you to a life of sacrifice. A life of dying so that others may live.

In that dying it’s easy to let bitterness and dissatisfaction fill up those places that you’ve emptied into others. Frustrations at people’s slowness to step out in faith, at lack of commitment by volunteers, at leader’s foolish choices, and at your own failures grow like weeds. Bitterness against people who speak ill of you or abandon you when you desperately needed them takes root. Depression at the lack of progress is natural. Ministry becomes a burden and your heart weighs heavy with the souls of men and women who you love.

Jesus knew this burden. The Apostle Paul knew this burden. That’s why he wrote the words that appear in 2 Corinthians 4:1; “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”

Ministry is a Gift

Remember, the ministry God has given you is a gift. It’s not a job or an obligation. He has purchased you as sons and daughters, given you a new identity in Christ and filled you from foot to head with the infinite power of his Holy Spirit. As 2 Peter 1 says, He has given you everything needed for life and godliness.

Ministry becomes a burden when we forget that it’s a gift from God and start treating it as something that we have to accomplish. Disciple making isn’t something we have to do; it’s something we get to do. What an amazing truth! We who were enemies, children of wrath doomed to destruction, have been reconciled through the cross and appointed as ambassadors of reconciliation.

Christ didn’t save us and set us aside out of fear that we wouldn’t be good enough. He saved us and made us good, giving us the honor of representing him. Remember that your ministry is a gift. It was given to you by God in his great mercy. When it starts feeling like a curse, turn your eyes toward our God’s glory. There’s a reason that Paul moves from “we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” into “therefore, having this ministry”.  Beholding God’s glory is the fuel for our ministry.

Ministry is a Mercy

Our calling to be ministers of reconciliation isn’t just a gift, it’s a mercy. We have this ministry “by the mercy of God.”

More often than not our Lord chooses the most broken people to be his greatest ministers so that he will get the greatest glory. (2 Cor. 4:7) Not only that, he chooses the most broken people to be his ministers because the ministry will be the furnace of their sanctification. If it wasn’t for the fact that God in his mercy had moved me into a place of leadership over first a small group of 7th grade boys to a youth ministry intern to the director of Threshingfloor Communities my life would be full of foolishness.

The weight of spiritual authority has been a mercy from our king to mature me. The thought that my sin will effect each of those who I oversee is a merciful fence to keep me from sin and  crucible to refine my character. Not only is my ministry mediating mercy to the people who are a part of it, it’s also God’s means of giving mercy to me.

Don’t lose sight of this truth. It may well be that without the ministry that Jesus has called you to your life would be being wasted on self-service and sinful living. Being a disciple maker is Christ’s command for every Christian not as a punishment or a means of proving, but as a mercy. Therefore, because our ministry is given to us by the mercy of God, we will not lose heart. Roots of bitterness will be washed away by the waters of praise. Frustration will be killed with the sword of faith. Even during those late nights lying awake with the needs of our disciples running through our minds, during seasons of drought, and during times of overwhelming tiredness, we will not lose heart. Jesus is enough.

 

 

 

Discipleship, Leadership, Theology

David, Discipleship, and the Sovereignty of God

October 22, 2013

O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.”

– 1 Chronicles 29:18-19, ESV

When we follow Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations we need to remember that we are going in service of the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth. When we forget that mighty truth and begin to take the weight of souls on our shoulders the work becomes a burden too great for us to bear. We don’t have the power to change people’s hearts. I don’t have any real way to ensure that the 20 or so people who regularly join our Threshingfloor community will stay faithful to Christ tomorrow, much less a year from now.

David’s prayer at the end of his kingship over Israel gives us a picture of the attitude that we need as disciple makers. David is passing off the crown of a massive kingdom, leadership of tens of thousands of people, and, most importantly, the task of building the temple that he has been stockpiling resources for. Quite literally, David is turning the kingdom of God on earth over to his son. From this moment on Solomon will be the leader of God’s people. Where does David turn for assurance that things will go well? How is he able to entrust so great a task to someone else?  His prayer gives us the answer.

First he acknowledges God’s sovereign control of the human heart. David prays, “keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you.” David trusts that God is the one who directs people’s hearts. Because David knew the sovereign power of his God he was freed to empower others. We need to know the same.

Discipleship without faith in the sovereignty of God inevitably becomes manipulation. We leverage Bible verses, peer-pressure, small groups, and the human conscience to get people to change and call it discipleship.However, when we believe the biblical truth that the Holy Spirit is the one who guides and shapes the hearts of those we disciple we are freed from the need to manipulate or cajole people into obedience.  We are enabled to entrust them with the Gospel truth, trusting that God is the one who establishes his kingdom.

Like David we stockpile the treasures that the Lord has given us through our time with him and entrust them to others. God is in control of what happens next. Jesus passed the treasure of the Gospel off to a small team of incapable men when he ascended back to heaven, knowing that his Father would take care of the rest. Like David, Jesus knew that our hearts are “a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)

In your journey of disciple-making don’t lose sight of our Lord’s sovereignty. Without him having all authority we will fail. But if he does indeed rule over all then we can move forward in joyful confidence that his kingdom will be built and more and more men and women will become temples and priests to our God, living stones in a house built for the glory of his name.

Commentary, Fallout Revisited, Leadership

Fallout Revisited : Thoughts from 2 Chronicles

October 15, 2013

I’ve been blogging regularly for approximately five years (maybe longer). Fallout Revisited is a series that revisits old posts that may have gotten lost in the flow of time but I are needed at the present time. This edition was originally posted here in July of 2011.

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Part of my regular scripture reading for the last several months has been making my way through the Old Testament, a thing which I recommend highly to all. Most Christians do little enough Bible reading, and rarely read systematically through the New Testament, much less the Old. But, as I hope to point out here, there is precious insight into the story of the Gospel, God’s character, and humanity to be learned through the reading of the first half of the Lord’s word to mankind. A few weeks ago I finished 2 Chronicles, and as I completed the book spent several minutes skimming what I’d read and mulling over several major themes that stood out to me, which I thought were worth sharing. So, for what it’s worth, here are some of my thoughts from my reading of 2 Chronicles.

Godly leadership is essential
Both 1 and 2 Chronicles are records of Israel’s cycle of turning away from God to idolatry, God disciplining them, Israel repenting and returning to the Lord, and then doing it over again. From the viewpoint of the inspired writer of the Chronicles, it is the country’s leaders that determine the path Israel takes. The nation prospers under Solomon’s rule, but Rehoboam, the succeeding King, turns from God. “When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him.” (2 Chronicles 12:1) Over and over again, the leader’s actions and character have a massive impact on whether the people follow the Lord or not.

It’s no different in our day. As the leader goes, so go the people. Oh how essential it is that we be men and women who are conscious of how our actions direct those around us! Surely Rehoboam didn’t intend for his worship of idols to lead to all of Israel turning away and the Lord bringing Egypt to crush them into repentance, but as the ruler of the country his example set the tone for his people. My friends, let your character be such that when it is imitated it will drawn those around you closer to Christ.

God is sovereign over every part of history
Despite the fact that the majority of rulers in the Chronicles openly reject the Lord and worship idols, it is made clear that God is completely in control of what is taking place. The Lord uses nations that are Israel’s enemies to discipline them in their waywardness, and yet continually prevents their destruction. Scenes like 2 Chronicles 12:1-12, where God says that he is going to turn Israel over to Shishak, king of Egypt, and then declares, “They have humbled themselves. I will not destroy Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak” when Rehoboam and the other leaders repent show the way that God uses the nations as instruments to enact his will, even in their opposition to him.

This doctrine is one that is made little of in our day and age, but is amazingly precious due to the way it gives God’s people confidence in the midst of a chaotic earth! We must know that we serve a God who sits in heaven and does as he pleases, directing all of history for his glory and the good of those who are his if we are to be a people who go boldly into the most deadly places to bear Christ’s name. No government or world leader is able to do anything apart from God’s sovereign will, for as Proverbs 21:1 declares, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

Godly councilors are crucial.
God is indeed sovereign over all events in history, but this does not exempt man from the responsibility of his actions, therefore it is necessary for all men to seek the right path in their lives. All throughout the scripture it is made clear that there is “a wisdom in a diversity of council.” When we follow only our own minds, we  often end up straying far from the path that the Lord has set for us. Uzziah’s life is a very practical outworking of this principle.
At the outset of his reign the Chronicler declares that Uzziah, “set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.” (26:5) Note the qualifier “in the days of Zechariah.” Uzziah reigns very successfully, winning numerous military conquests and increasing the prosperity of Israel so long as he follows the council of the godly man Zechariah. However, “when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction” (26:16)

When we grow proud and decide that we have outgrown the need for the council of others, our destruction is not far off. This is particularly crucial for young leaders such as myself to grasp. We are desperately in need of the consistent guidance and reminder of the ways of the Lord, lest we “think more highly of ourselves than we ought” and bring about our own destruction by rushing headlong into positions that we are not prepared for.

Godly leadership fails if it doesn’t train up the next generation
Hezekiah is one of the bright lights in the midst of the darkness of 2 Chronicles. He is introduced by the declaration, “And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done,” (2 Chron. 29:2). Hezekiah cleanses the temple, reinstates the priesthood and worship, restores the Passover, and does numerous great works throughout his lifetime. The writer of Chronicles says that, “since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.” (2 Chron. 30:26) However, as with all humans, Hezekiah eventually dies.

Chapter 33 begins with Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, taking the throne in his father’s stead. Manasseh’s reign is a terrible contrast to the previous ruler, with the Chronicler recording that he,

did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had broken down, and he erected altars to the Baals, and made Asherahs, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them…. And he burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. (2 Chronicles 33:2-6 ESV)

The principle here is one that is critical for us to grasp; Godly leadership fails to have any lasting effect if it does not train someone to take its place. We don’t know what Hezekiah did or didn’t do in raising his son, but it is clear that Manasseh had not been trained to walk in the ways of the Lord. As a result, all of his father’s reforms and restoration of the worship of God were destroyed in an amazingly short amount of time.

Take this to heart, parents, pastors, leaders, and all Christians. We may reform our culture and live righteous lives today, but if we do not intentionally pass what we have received from the Lord to the next generation, all our labor will have been in vain. I see in our own day a growing reformation of the church and Christianity as we return to the sufficiency of the gospel, the need for both the Spirit and the Word, and the church being a community of believers who live in imitation of Christ rather than a Sunday meeting. However, if these reforms are not consciously and carefully passed on to the following generations, all the good we have done will collapse.

God actively judges sin.
Lastly, 2 Chronicles makes it explicit that we serve a God who actively judges sin, a doctrine particularly relevant in light of all the recent hullabaloo about Bell’s Love Wins and other similar books. My friends, we cannot attempt to tame God’s wrath and judgment of both sin and sinner without also crushing the power of his salvation.

2 Chronicles 22:7 declares, “it was ordained by God that the downfall of Ahaziah should come about through his going to visit Joram.” 25:20 reads, “it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hands of their enemies, because they had sought the gods of Edom.” 28:5 says, “Therefore the Lord his God have him into the hand of the king of Syria.” In each of these verses, God is the actor, turning his people over to their enemies because of their sin.
And lest we think that this is a concept old an old covenant God who is somehow different today, Paul writes such statements as, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” and, “Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity,” and, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind” in Romans 1 and elsewhere.
We serve a God who takes sin seriously, so much so that he will use one nation to discipline another for their sin. We must not to take such things lightly. Instead, the only appropriate response is to do as Hezekiah does in 2 Chronicles 32 and humble ourselves, repenting of our sin and casting ourselves upon God’s mercy, remembering that the same God who viciously judges sin has also graciously sent his Son to bear the judgment in our place.

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Oh, the riches of the depths of the wisdom of the God who is all-sovereign, all-just, and all-loving! From the darkness of the human rulers of first and second Chronicles emerges the longing for a king who will truly lead his people well, rescuing them from not only their mortal enemies but from the eternal enemy of death and sin. From the failures of Abishai and Rehoboam, we look desperately for a ruler who will do good and serve the living God. From the riches and rightness of rulers like Solomon and Hezekiah, we look eagerly for a good king who will not pass away. All of these longings are fulfilled in Christ, who is, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,” and who, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the father.” As we read and see, and experience both good and evil rulers in our lives, let us constantly be drawn to Christ and declare our allegiance to him as King over all, for he alone is able and he alone is worthy.

Fallout Revisited, Leadership, Life

Fallout Revisited : Give Yourself no Rest, O Men of God

October 1, 2013

I’ve been blogging regularly for approximately five years (maybe longer). Fallout Revisited is a series that revisits old posts that may have gotten lost in the flow of time but I believe are needed at the present time. This edition was originally posted here in June of 2009.

 

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“The Lord your God has given you this land to possess. All your men of valor shall cross over armed before your brothers, the people of Israel…until the Lord gives rest to your brothers, as to you, and they also occupy the land the Lord your God has promised them beyond the Jordan. Then each of you may return to his possession which I have given you.”

– Deuteronomy 3:18-20

Here Moses is relating to a new generation of Israelites what has transpired since their miraculous freeing from Egypt,. Finally, after over four decades in the desert the nation is preparing to enter the promised land. However, the Ruebenites and the Gadites have requested to stay behind in a land that they had already conquered, settling there with their families and livestock. Moses agrees, on the condition that all of the men of fighting age stay with the rest of Israel until they had defeated the tribes within the promised lands. The Ruebenites and the Gadites agree.

In these few verses (and the earlier relation of the same story in Numbers chapter 32) I see a principle that is both extremely relevant and extremely neglected in Christianity today; that of our obligation to serve and assist our fellow believers. We are not to rest until our brothers and sisters in Christ have found a rest and peace of their own. As God declares in Isaiah 62, “You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” So are we to do today, to devote ourselves to working every meaning of the word to establish our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is not necessarily that we are to send our young men off to join with other believers in hostile territory (though it very well may be so in some cases, and I would say that if that never happens something is very wrong) but that we are not to give ourselves to lounging and pleasure and entertainment when there are others who have no such luxuries.

What massive significance this has in our western cultures! Our tendency is so much towards slothfulness and rest in the face of the fact that thousands of Christians are struggling to survive with little or no food as we sit in the movie theaters with our $5 large popcorn, $4 drinks, and candy. Such a thought should horrify us. Not only should it horrify us with its blatant lack of care for others, but it should also strike terror into our hearts when we read what the Lord declares to such a country in the book of Amos, when he says,

“You lie on beds inlaid with ivory

and lounge on your couches.

You dine on choice lambs

and fattened calves.

You strum away on your harps like David

and improvise on musical instruments.

You drink wine by the bowlful

and use the finest lotions,

but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.

Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile;

your feasting and lounging will end.”

(Amos 6:4-7)

Do those words not describe us? Oh, surely we are a people who lounge about and dine upon the choicest of foods! Think of the hundreds of new musicians every day who seek only their own glory and fame, of the numerous people who have given their lives to drinking, caring for their appearance, and seeking only their own satisfaction, completely ignoring the ruin that coats the earth.

Are there any “men of valor” among us? If so, let them rise up and go before their brothers and sisters, laying down their lives “until the Lord gives rest” to them. This faith of ours is not one that sits idly by and watches as the earth spins, declaring that God shall do what must be done. Far from it! Ours is a faith that calls men to rise from their comfort and go, in complete dependence upon God, into the darkest and most wretched parts of the world, bringing with them the full glory of the Gospel. Come, oh men of God. Give yourselves no rest until the Lord should establish His kingdom in full! Cast off the hours of television after getting home from work. Throw away the video games and fishing poles and sports and hobbies that keep you from the work of the Lord. Do not seek to surround yourself with comfort and settle in the place which the Lord has given you until He has also established comfort and peace for those who also bear His name.

Then how sweet shall the rest be as we come before that final throne to hear God himself rise and declare “Well done, my sons! You have fought the good fight and won the race.” Is not an evening’s rest much better after a heavy day’s work? Shall not the rest of heaven be infinitely more potent if we have given ourselves to that heavy work here in this life? Do not hold back! The Lord shall reward those who do as He desires, as Paul writes, “God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life.” (Romans 2:6-7)

Leadership, Life, Spiritual Growth

How to Know if God is With You

September 5, 2013

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

(Exodus 3:11-12, ESV)

How do we know if what we’re doing has the Lord’s blessing on it? How can I be sure that Threshingfloor is what Jesus has called Kelly and I to do and that we’re not just pouring time and energy into a foolish endeavor? It’s a question that comes up often.

Growing up in evangelical church culture one of the more popular prayers, especially as I and my friends neared the end of highschool was “God, what’s your will for me?” We wrestled over the countless almost-adult decisions. Should I go to this school or that school? Should I date her or not? Do I go on that missions trip or save my money? Excellent prayers to pray, but as I look back I can see in myself and my friends a fear masked by prayerful spirituality. We wanted God to give us a play-by-play of the next three years so we could know that we were doing everything right. In the years since then I’ve learned that that laying out a three year plan isn’t something that God generally does for his people.

It certainly isn’t what he did for Moses. When the Lord appears to Moses in the burning bush and tells him Moses is going to be his instrument to free the Israelites from pharaoh God doesn’t offer Moses a detailed plan about how to achieve the end result. Moses, understandably overwhelmed with the enormity of freeing hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children from the clutches of one of the most powerful nations on earth, questions, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) Translation; “I don’t have that kind of skill! I’m not going to be able to do that!” In reply to Moses’ questioning the Lord says, “I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

God reminds Moses that He will be with him. Moses doesn’t need to worry about his skill level or aptitude at nation-leading. When God’s with you nothing else needs worrying about. So, great. God says he’s going to be with Moses. The question then is how will Moses know that God’s with him and that this whole burning bush deal isn’t some desert sun-stroke induced hallucination? How can Moses be sure this is God’s will for his life? God’s reply to this implicit question is a strange one, and there’s much we can learn from it. He says, “This shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

Is God with me?

How will Moses know that God sent him? The mission will be a success. When Moses has trooped with an entire nation out of Egypt and across a desert to Sinai, he will know it was God’s will. The Lord is calling for Moses to, like Abraham his ancestor, have faith. Step out without knowing the details of the path.

So many Christians are holding themselves back from the fullness of what Jesus has for their lives because they want a road map. They want God to prove that he’s with them. But – news flash – he’s already proven that. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the resounding declaration of “I am with you.” He’s given us 66 books that are evidence of how God comes through for those who move in faith. Romans 14 says, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

It doesn’t take faith to follow a perfectly laid-out path. God wants us, like Moses, like Jesus, and like so many other believers before us, to hear his Word and move forward. He wants us to step out in faith even though the way may not be completely clear. He will open or close doors as we move forward, and when we arrive at the destination he has called us to we will look back and know our God was with us.

How do Kelly and I know Threshingfloor is something we’re supposed to be doing? Honestly, we doubt and question plenty, but we’re stepping forward in faith day by day. Every open door is proof that God is with us. Every life changed by Jesus’ power is proof that this is God’s will for our life. My pray for you, fellow Christian, is that your life wouldn’t be one of sitting and waiting for the safe moment. I want you to experience the thrill of our King moving supernaturally to make way for you as you follow his lead, and to do that you need to step out in faith. He will make the way clear. When you have done what is impossible, that shall be a sign to you that God is with you.