Some Nagging Questions (NPL – Part 3)

So we’re in the middle of the perfect storm and things are not going so perfectly. And I’m getting these questions. Some are from the Holy Spirit, some from people, and others are questions I’m asking myself. And they are like “splinters in my mind.” (whoever word smithed that phrase was a genius. Splinters…in the mind. What a word picture! I’m sorry, but there’s not a pair of tweezers in the world long enough to pull that kind of splinter out of your mind!) And that’s what these questions felt like, painfully nagging for attention. Questions like;

  • Why does the gospel stop at the front gate of these Army posts?
  • If you believe in the priesthood of the believer so much, why are you doing things to circumvent it?
  • What does that have to do with Jesus?
  • Why is my vision so small?
  • Why am I only teaching people to obey three-quarters of the Great Commission?
  • What about the nations?
  • Why do I think going to church is a waste of time?
  • Why is my prayer life so anemic? 
  • When is the last time I shared the gospel?
  • Can’t God do in the US what He’s doing in China, India, and Nepal?

And the list goes on and on. These questions elicited all kinds of emotions from anger to embarrassment to fear. Have you ever noticed how many questions Jesus asked? In fact, the Divine questions actually started way back in the garden between God and two naked people trying to hide behind a couple of fig leaves.

“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3.11-13)

  • “Where are you?” (Gen 3.9)
  • “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3.11)
  • “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen 3.11)
  • “What is this you have done?” (Gen 3.13)

Isn’t it interesting that the Almighty God, the One Who knows everything, chooses to ask questions rather than start with the condemning facts? At the moment that sin enters the scene and corrupts all humanity, the Father gently guides His wayward children into truth. And that is exactly what He was doing with me as I stood hiding uncomfortably behind some very itchy fig leaves. As disciple-makers are we asking lots of questions both of ourselves and others? More later…

The Perfect Storm (NPL – Part 2)

I’d like to tell the story of how Deb and I got started on this journey ten years ago. I will try to stay objective and I think the principles will apply both to the 0-1 and the Legacy expressions of church. A decade ago we were in a perfect storm. I was wounded, angry, and disillusioned. I had been in ministry for 30 years and had my share of failures and successes but now I was at my wit’s end. I saw so much potential in the ministry and yet it was the ankle-biting things that were consuming all my time, emotions, and energy. I was done! Ever been there in ministry? Ever been there in life? Where you’re just done? Yeah, you could stick a fork in me. But as much as I could not see what was really happening behind the curtain, I would later find out that Jesus was preparing us for a new season of fruitfulness. 

I love the story of Joseph. A snotty-nosed kid that might have been a little too big for his britches but certainly didn’t deserve to be sold into slavery, set up by an adulterous hussy, and then thrown into jail to rot. I mean really, did Joseph deserve all that for being Daddy’s favorite with a cool coat and a few dreams? But God was at work. Even in all that pain, injustice, and betrayal, God had a plan. And Joseph was growing and developing through every arduous day of it. And then it happened. He was miraculously rescued by God and his purpose was made clear. He had been in the Father’s tough training program for the purpose of delivering nations from starvation. Joseph sums it all up when his conniving and cowardly brothers came with their hat in their hand, fearful of what possible revenge could be taken, and Joseph confidently and mercifully states;  

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Gen 50.20-21)

My mentor used to say, “We cry out to God when the very foundation of our lives is being shaken only to find out that God is doing the shaking.” I know people are angry and hurt by the condition of the church and probably what others have done to them in the name of the church or some other Christian organization. We are a wounded lot. But will we allow bitterness to drive our attitudes and actions? Or will we see these tough times as the training grounds that God is using to develop us into better disciple-makers, leaders, shepherds of the flock? That decision my friends will determine our trajectory for either being part of the solution or perpetuating the problem. More later…

How Deb and I joined the NoPlaceLeft Vision (NPL – Part 1)

I started telling my story in response to a Facebook friend who was angry and hurt. He came off the top ropes on the institutional church in America and it was filled with hot words and accusations which were for the most part true. But I’ve learned three crucial lessons over the years

  • I’m a sinner too
  • There are always two sides to the story
  • Using social media to vent usually makes you feel good for the moment but doesn’t fix a thing

On the other hand, I don’t want to minimize my brother’s pain because “I’ve been there. Done that. And got the bloody t-shirt. I know exactly what it is like to see the “world going to Hell in a hand-basket” and asking “Why don’t you care?!” I’ve watched the great ship of potential be sailed straight into the rocks of incompetence (and sometimes I was at the helm). It’s troubling, to say the least. So I thought maybe Deb and I’s story would be helpful and others could learn from our combat…uh, I mean…ministry experiences.

Post in response to my friend; Dear friend, I have a saying, “If you want to see a shepherd go prophet, mess with the sheep.” Your passion for the people of God is evident! But I’m giving these guys the benefit of the doubt and trusting that they are actually doing something about it. You’re right, there’s been a lot of talk. I’ve been at this for a long time now and quite frankly I’m Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde on this. I love the church because it is the Bride of Christ and I desperately want to see her in all her fullness glorify Him. I remember where I was years back wearing a robe as I officiated weddings and reserving baptism for the clergy (me! Yikes!). And the long process I had to go through in order to have my eyes opened not only to the fact that the American Church is in trouble (and every other country we exported to) but that I was in conflict with the truths of the Scriptures. But I am a shepherd by nature and gifting and I also get angry when I see the sheep neglected (or downright abused). So I did something about it 10 years ago. I’ll talk about that in posts below but lots of people in this facebook group are trying to do “something about it.” Some are trying to reform and some are starting from scratch. I would ask that you help me by approaching the problem as “family.” It’s good to be angry but I’m very careful to guard my words when expressing it (esp on Facebook) Let’s work together and pursue the solution through our actions.

Ok, so let’s talk about the elephant in the room 🙂 Some of us are still trying to make disciples in a Legacy Model and some of us are 0-1 folks that are starting from scratch (or almost scratch). This should start a civil discussion (not a civil war). Let me be transparent (and set the tone) about where I stand. To be upfront, I am a 0-1 guy. But as I stated above, I love the Bride of Christ (whether Legacy or 0-1) but I have been and still do get very agitated about the condition of the Bride. I try to approach this “full of grace and truth” but often fail. But here’s where I start. Jesus said He would build His church (Mt 16.18) and it will overcome Satan and the world as it advances the Kingdom of God. I also believe we have a role to play in building the church. Just as we are commissioned to make healthy disciples, those healthy disciples will gather. As we gather, we are church. Our goal now is healthy disciples in a healthy church. It doesn’t matter where they meet or when they meet. They are church. That’s their Identity. Looking at our classic example of church in Act 2, we see that they met in the temple and house to house. Which was church? Yes, 🙂 When did they meet? Daily (often) not just on Sunday morning. The church is the church. That’s her identity. Now what they do is another matter. I believe that what they “do” will determine their health (you just ferreted out my ecclesiology, I make a distinction between identity and practice). I believe the church in America is 1) in an identity crisis because everyone is calling themselves Christians and many (not all) are mistaken. and 2) That which is really the church has a health problem. We are not making healthy disciples. I could be wrong, but that is what I see as the actual problem. Not where we meet or when we meet or format or tools or etc… We are not making disciples of Jesus (before the ones that are, get mad, don’t! You’re doing a great job 🙂 ) More to follow…

So I’m still talking and we promised action. So what should our first step be in solving this problem? Repent and pray. 

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chr 7.14 

If the condition of the church in America doesn’t drive us to our knees, we don’t have a dog in the fight. Because let’s face it, it’s going to take a miracle. And I love what Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel do when they acknowledge sin in the camp. This is not a “YOU” problem. It’s a “WE” problem. I need to repent. It starts with me and we. When I was slapped in the face with this reality some 10 years ago, after 30 years in ministry, I was appalled at my lack of dependence on the Holy Spirit to actually get things done. I was maybe praying for 10 minutes a day. But when I was gripped with the actual need for me and our nation (and the world for that matter) it radically changed my prayer life. I’m no prayer warrior but I repented and started declaring my utter dependence on Jesus by “putting my prayer where my mouth is.” Seeing people like Ying Kai and how he and Grace prayed was not only inspiring but convicting. Deb and I have set aside Fridays for prayer and fasting for our Oikos and the American Context. I think if we are going to do anything to see a movement of the gospel in our country and see the church as a healthy change agent in our context, it starts on our knees. God help us!

How Deb and I got started in a Church Planting Movement

In Memory of Steve Smith

I have a saying, “Discipleship is everything and everything is discipleship.” If we define discipleship as the process we undertake in order to become like Jesus, then it would sound more like this; “Following Jesus is everything and everything should be about following Jesus. To me, that’s sums up the whole of life. A religious leader tried to challenge me once on this. He had obviously been thinking of his retort for some time when he approached me with, “Ok, I got one for you, a funeral. How does that have anything to do with discipleship?” I immediately replied, “Everything man! That’s the graduation ceremony, baby!” Death (or the day of Christ’s return) is the day our discipleship will be completed and we will be perfectly conformed to the image of Christ. It is the crescendo of our existence and reveals the glory of God in us.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1.6)

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; (Rom 8.28-29)

Today, I greave the passing of our friend and fellow disciple-maker, Steve Smith. But I’m also celebrating the fact that he has graduated! He is with Jesus, perfectly conformed to the image of God, having become everything he was meant to be. We will miss Steve and yet we keep our hands to the plow in anticipation of our own transformation completed and unwavering obedience to the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Please pray for Steve’s wife Laura, and three grown sons for comfort and peace in the days to come.

Question: How do we disciple a Couple?

A friend recently asked this question; “How do we disciple a couple?” Here’s my response…

“Actually, it’s pretty easy and the same as with a single person. You’ll have a lot of fun if the couple wants to follow Jesus.

Keep Jesus the center of discipleship – Read Colossians 1 and time how long it takes to read out loud. Now count the number of times Paul refers to Jesus. Follow his example. Talk about Jesus! Get them in the Word and reading Jesus daily. Help them pray and talk to Jesus daily. When you teach something, start with Jesus. When they ask you a question, start with Jesus. When there is an obstacle or struggle to overcome, start with Jesus. (Notice I started with Jesus) This is a learned skill and a discipline.

Pray for them – This would seem like a no brainer but I’m amazed on how we treat prayer as the last resort and not our first resort even in discipleship. I recently watched this video and it reminds me of what I think about my ministry when I am not declaring my absolute dependence on God in prayer. Real transformation is a miracle of God. We need to be asking Jesus for the real deal in our lives and the lives of others.

Love them – Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. (John 15.13) The trick is to LIVE while DYING. I’ve heard it said, “Its easier to die for Jesus than to live for Him.” Don’t know if that’s completely true but there’s a kernel of truth in that. I think the same goes for the couple that you’re discipling. You need to die to yourself and live for them. If at the end of the day they say, “we feel loved by Ryan and Chelsea,” you completed a huge part of the task.

Spend lots of time together – at least twice a week, four is optimal. Multiply your time together by doing life together; church, harvest, coffee, going to the store, take trips together, have fun, etc… Jesus probably spent 10,000 hours with His D’s in the span of 2.5-3 years. It would take us almost 30 years to do the same with 2 hours a week. He chose 12 so that they would be with Him (Mark 3.14). Side note: Jesus did most of His discipleship in the harvest. Food for thought.

Get close – Proximity increases time. If you live less than a 10min drive is optimal. 20min is doable. 40min…they might as well live in a different state 🙂 Again, Jesus got His closest guys close (Mark 3.14).

Look for influence – If they are learners and doers, you have influence. If they are not, you’re just tickling the ears. Sounds like they are asking for your leadership. The rub comes when they have to make a choice of following you or the pastor, speaker, teacher, parent, etc… It’s ok for people to have multiple leaders in their lives but if it becomes a competition for time, goals, focus, and vision (and it will) they may need to make a choice on where they are going to have to throw in 99%. People are way too busy and spread way too thin in the American context to have the kind of focused and concentrated relationship that Jesus had with the 12. The tricky part of this is to warn them of this danger without demanding their allegiance or compliance. This is why I think Hebrews 13.7 comes before Hebrews 13.17. Ultimately, you want Jesus to call the shots in their life. He is the primary discipler. Your job is to facilitate that. 

Cast vision – Jesus started with “follow Me and I’ll make you fishers of men.” (Mat 4.19) He ended with “There’s the world, sic ’em” (Chuck’s version of the Great Commission, Mat 28.18-20). Keep casting the vision for reproduction, multiplication, generations, and the ultimate goal of reaching the world for Jesus.

I said at the first “it’s easy”. Well, by principle. Now comes the hard part, doing it 🙂 Jesus set a high bar and to me, these are the main principles. Some is better than none, so work your way little by little into these principles as you disciple them. 

There is plenty more but you guys have the Holy Spirit, the Word, and lots of tools. You’ll have fun 🙂 If you’re looking for more specifics, shoot me another email and I’ll tell you what Deb and I think :)”