Thursday, April 10, 2014

Where Have All The Front Porches Gone?

Cana N.C., circa 1968—My grandmother and I would sit on her front porch and play the guessing game. We would hear a car coming up the road quite a ways off. When we heard it we had about twenty seconds to guess the color of the car before it came barreling by within thirty feet of the front porch on her old farmhouse. All the houses in Cana had large front porches. I have sat with a dozen or more while listening to bluegrass jam sessions on those front porches. Visited with Ruby, Mossa, Ray, Pee Wee, Boyce and Lucy for hours while perched in a swing on that front porch. I ate my mayonnaise sandwiches or toast with Karo syrup and honey for lunch on that front porch. I sat and watched Ab Hutchins mow the yard, plow the garden under, stack the firewood and bushhog the fields from that front porch. Grandma and I used to set up a community lemonade stand for the neighbors on hot days on the front porch. 

Where are the front porches? I live in a house with a large back porch and absolutely no front porch. Sociologists have noted the shift in our relational means and manners. The front porch was toward the street, interacting with the community-an invitation to stop by, catch-up and have a glass of lemonade. The architectural shift to a large, secluded back porch and a tiny front stoop says something about our collective and individual communal state of mind. The front porch not only welcomed people into our lives, it invited people into our lives.  The apostle Paul had a “front porch” quality to his discipleship. He welcomed people and invited people. This means that his sense of mission compelled him to welcome the curious and needy (Timothy) and invite (Silas, Barnabas) some others.

Our effort to make disciples begins with guessing the color of the next car alongside a friend, fresh-made lemonade, mayonnaise sandwiches and watching Ab Hutchings mow. No bible studies necessarily, no discipleship programming and no revival services just a welcoming swing on a visible and inviting front porch where good conversation takes place, relationships are forged and the Gospel is observed.   

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Gospel Distortion Stirred Paul's Ire and Angst

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”                                                         Gal. 2:11-13 ESV

            Paul’s gospel-ness moved him to challenge, push and confront his peers for disciplemaking purposes.  In Galatia, Peter’s behavior had brought reproach upon the gospel message and, perhaps worse, buttressed the legalism of the Judaizers. Paul could not and would not sit in silence as a brother engaged in hypocrisy that crippled the advancement of the gospel and damaged disciples. In Peter’s case, he had shunned the Gentiles that he once fellowshipped with, in order to preserve his standing among Jewish peers. We naturally gravitate to ethnic, racial and socio-economic peer groups. A gospel-informed identity transcends such temporal matters.Peter may or may not have been purposeful in his hypocrisy but that did not dismiss him from a guilty standing by his behavior. Paul knew Peter well. He had every reason to expect more from Peter as a leader. Peter’s miscue had led other Jews astray, misrepresented the gospel and had caused Paul’s protégé Barnabas to stumble. Paul was jealous for disciples that had been entrusted to his care.  Any hint of a gospel distortion stirred Paul’s ire and angst, to the point of correction and confronting others that could be held accountable. But all of it is to be carried for the purpose of reconciliation not rejection. Thus Paul would write in Gal. 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” None are exempt from temptation and failure, therefore none are exempt from being opposed by a brother, but let it be done in humility worthy of the gospel and motivated by a passion for gospel clarity and advancement. 
         From the moment I was born-again, I was taken under wing by a a few 'Paul's." They made themselves available and vulnerable which set for me an example of how the gospel should work in our lives as spouses, parents, children, co-workers and the larger community. In a seemingly trivial incident one of these men resolutely opposed me to my face. In an attempt to be humorous I had referenced an ethnic stereotype in his presence. He waited until the next time we would see each other then he lovingly but firmly corrected me. He asserted that the gospel message sets us free from the need to feel superior and engaging in humor at the expense of another's dignity. It distorts the gospel, don't do it-- and don't let me do it without correction. What about Barnabas? Why didn't Paul confront him?  What do you think?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Do others believe that we believe God has a good plan for His people?

For years I used a discipleship curriculum that was process oriented. It was a series of little books that moved the student from basic matters to weightier subjects. I have had a few students that stayed the course and worked their way through every book. And it served them well as they moved forward in their faith. However, to a person, every person that completed the series of books worked alongside me in some capacity.  They ate at my table, spent Saturday evenings with me, went visiting with me, assisted me in working for others, went to meetings with me, watched me parent my children and relate to my wife. They could do this because I  (and my family)  invited them in my life. I am hesitant to let everyone into my life this close. Hesitant because I do not trust everyone to the same degree. Some people are teachable, like-minded and eager to learn. Others are obstinate and spiritually fragile. This determines the degree to which one would benefit from such close proximity with me. 

My willingness to allow them in is essential to my growth as a follower of Christ. It keeps me accountable by reminding me to be intentional about advancing the Gospel. To make disciples is to be a disciple--- Scripture affirms how critical Paul’s disciples were to his joy, refreshment and encouragement as he traveled an otherwise difficult path in life. Paul allowed them inside—they had full access to Paul’s mission, method, circumstances and attitudes. He could not have been more “laid bare.” Some of these even forsook or betrayed Paul such as Demas and others who drifted away when Paul became a liability to a favorable future for them. This is the course that Jesus established for us as well. Vulnerability to the point of being defrauded, misunderstood or betrayed. Let the sin be placed to another man’s charge but not ours as we walk according to good doctrine or rather the doctrine of a good God who has a favorable future in mind for His people. Others will know we believe in the goodness of God when they see us transcend maddening injustices and chaotic disappointments with joy, compassion and an aggressive missional mind concerning advancing the Gospel. Do we believe God is good and He has a good plan for His people? The disciplemaking question is: Do others believe that we believe God has a good plan for His people?

 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.[Heb 11:14-16 ESV]

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Paul Says Don't Become a Better You, Become More Like Jesus

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us with a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. 

                                                                                                                        2 Timothy 1:8-9

            Paul knew what Timothy would face in the future. He had no misgivings about leading Timothy to be a devout man who followed hard after Christ. Paul also knew that this was no primrose path to walk in this world. There would be a cost- a price paid at the expense of comfort, safety, relationships and dreams for the future. Timothy would be better equipped for the struggle ahead if Paul warned and instructed him.  Paul instructed through word and deed. Paul’s life-on-life experience with Timothy modeled for Timothy a striving against the flesh, an uncomfortable subjection to the world and a wonderful transcendent victory that would be replicated in Timothy’s own life. On the surface it doesn’t make much sense- but there is a paradoxical nature to truth in God’s economy.

            Happy are the sad.  Rich are the poor. Last are first. Wise are the foolish.  Loved are the hated.  Established are the pilgrims. Weak are the strong.  Paul stated in 2 Cor. 12:10, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak then I am strong.”

            Thank you Paul!  Thank you for reminding us of Christ’s strengthening power.  The humility and brokenness the comes from stressful and emotional taxing situations are not for naught, but rather work to serve a higher purpose.  Have you exhausted yourself financially, He is strong.  Your teenager keeps you on pins and needles, He is strong.  Your parents expect much from you, He is strong.  The very person you respect and love most hurts you horribly, He is strong.  My friends seem to ignore me, He is strong.  My rights have been violated, He is strong.  My good intentions have not been well received, He is strong.  “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.”2( Cor. 11:30)

            Who are we seeking to glorify and satisfy?  Too much of the time, upon careful examination, we will find that we only work from our strengths (comfort), operate in our strengths (comfort) and make decisions based on our strengths (comfort) that we may be glorified and our egos satisfied. When we do, the world, our co-workers, other disciples have no reason to boast in Christ. We, through our own wisdom and strength, could produce the same results.  Walk in your weakness (what is uncomfortable) that Christ may be exalted.  Dare to walk in an area of discomfort or expose an area of weakness, failure, or distress in your life that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves.  My grace is sufficient for thee:  for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  (2 Cor. 12:9) Paul is simply agreeing with Peter who prevailed upon Christ, “I believe but help my unbelief.”

The cycle of discipleship is facilitated by trying and uncomfortable circumstances. Believers grow in grace as a result of a pursuit of holiness, an ownership of failure and the humility of repentance but we also model the mission of making disciples in the midst of such circumstances. It’s paradoxical- and antithetical to most of the self-help strategies that we could embrace. But then again it’s not about becoming a better you. It’s about becoming more like Jesus.

“I walked a mile with pleasure
she chatted all the way;
And left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with sorrow
And not a word said she;
But, Oh, the things I learned
When sorrow walked with me.”

Robert Browning

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Wrecked Camaro and a Gracious God

Living and working closely with others facilitates the cycle of discipleship. Paul was sovereignly and strategically placed in close proximity to others as he pursued holiness. In Philippians 3:12, Paul asserts his desire to attain to an unhindered relationship with Jesus Christ. As he pursued this desire he worked alongside Timothy, Roman guards, Lydia, Titus, Silas, Mark, Onesimus or  Barnabas. The saw how he endured unjust treatment, thwarted plans, disappointing failures and less than comfortable circumstances. Paul’s response, as recorded in Scripture, was always selfless and Christ-exalting. I have no doubts that there were times of self-pity, brokenness and doubts but the biblical record is clear concerning Paul’s general disposition in trials, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thess. 5:18) We now have this treasure in earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7). This earthen vessel is fragile, undone, and naturally empty but through faith it becomes a house of God or temple of the Holy Spirit. The outside is assuredly temporal, fragile and subject to the stress and strain of the trials of life but the inside contains an eternal treasure; Christ-who is our life (Col. 3:3).

            “If you then are risen with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God.” (Col. 3:1) The pursuit of holiness is God’s doing as we embrace the sin-conquering, life-transforming Gospel. The earthen vessel is nothing. The treasure within is everything. When we are under the strain of unjust treatment, chaotic circumstances and temptations to yield to the flesh the broken vessel reveals the treasure within. Those that are close to us are able to sense and see what is being revealed. We must be vulnerable and allow them access to our inner life. Our witness, our discipleship method- is our willingness to be a broken vessel that the treasure within is clearly seen. This begins with God’s pro-active compassion as He leads us on a pursuit of holiness that is to be observed by others so that Christ might be exalted, not us.

            When I was seventeen, I saw a red 1969 Camaro that was a dream car for most teenage boys. It was sitting in a man’s yard with a “For Sale” sign. I ask my dad about it and he said to stop and ask about it. So the next day I pulled in the driveway and began looking it over. As I did the owner came outside and told me all the great things he had done to the car. It was beautiful and even smelled of new paint and interior. After he finished telling me all the good stuff he revealed that the car had been wrecked and declared a total loss 8 months before. He bought the car from the insurance company and took it to a local collision repair shop that had totally restored the car. It was as good as new he proclaimed. I was disheartened. My family was in the automotive repair business. A wrecked and repaired vehicle was looked down upon as a rule. I didn’t even ask the price and courteously gestured as I left. That evening dad ask me what I had found about the Camaro. I told him that I stopped and looked at it but I didn’t get a price from the man. Dad asked why and I told him the car had been wrecked badly a few months earlier.  The next question out of my dad’s mouth is the point of this lesson; “Who fixed it?”

            Paul’s closeness to his disciples allowed them to see a man that was a total loss, broken beyond repair by any human means. But the broken vessel revealed an eternal treasure, a worthy Repairman. Paul’s discipleship of others was characterized by vulnerability. This vulnerability helped the disciple to see that no state of brokenness is beyond God’s ability to restore. And that is our message to a lost and dying world.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Paul's Co-laboring Disciplemaking Method

Paul got in there with the boys. He worked alongside Priscilla and Aquila. He took Timothy, Silas, Barnabas, Epaphraditus, Onesimus and several others under his care and brought them along in the gospel. They did not train and then go help Paul.  They were not ministry proficient and then deemed worthy of ordination prior to striking out with Paul. They were trained as they served alongside Paul in church planting, shepherding, teaching and preaching.

Paul’s disciplemaking method was gospel-centered instruction infused through engaging the student’s senses. This was accomplished by proximity and experience. It is true that Paul was an apostle but that does not negate the fact that he needed help to carry out the work God had given him.  The help provided by the men who traveled and worked with Paul was immediate and essential. But the real worth of the co-laboring was the disciplemaking benefit. They witnessed Paul in trying and tragic circumstances. They heard his teaching and saw his practice when no one else could. It is true; growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus is more caught than taught. This kind of ministry is the God-ordained method of producing disciples who worship Jesus Christ. Bible school and seminary can provide valuable direction and vocational resources for those leaning toward vocational ministry but to live alongside people, allowing them access to your inner life, home, work, attitude, marriage condition, parenting and social life helps them see how the gospel works for everyday living.

This kind of ministry can get messy. The mentor can be misunderstood or even judged for being carnal in particular matters. The issue is not whether we fail in our day-to-day lives, we will. The issue is how we deal with failures. If we are to be disciplemakers we must model a pursuit of holiness, an ownership of failure and the humility of repentance. This is the cycle of the discipleship, Paul lived alongside several people. We can do the same. Let’s crawl out of our caves, invite some people into our kitchen, into our lives, with no agenda. No agenda other than gospel-centered living.

What comes out of your mouth when you hit your thumbnail with a hammer? The guys standing beside you know what you say. Next I will discuss the problems with living in close proximity to others and how God uses that tension to make disciples who worship Jesus. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Great Word on Gospel Fluency from Jeff Vanderstelt

This is the first of a 5-part series taught by Jeff Vanderstelt of Soma Community in Seattle Wa. Gospel Fluency is a term that describes Paul's content for discipleship. No one says it better than Jeff. It is an hour long and there are 4 other videos. But if you will take the time to listen-you will be blessed and perhaps see the Gospel in a way that you may have never considered otherwise. There is no area of our life that is exempt from the Gospel or the Gospel does not speak to.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Paul's Gospel included Bethlehem as well as Calvary.

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
                                                                                                1 Cor. 2:1-5

Paul’s method and message while he was working among the Corinthians was to intentionally live and speak the gospel. If a person was snatched from the influence of the deviant religious and moral quagmire of the Corinthian culture, it would be the gospel that did it and not Paul’s personality, winsomeness, well-communicated thoughts on leadership principles or a well-marketed “Jesus” brand.  Paul relied fully upon the gospel that he personally embraced and proclaimed to beckon sinners to the Savior's side. There was no single polished method that was “successful” in seeing mature disciples developed but there was a powerful message.  The gospel initiates, facilitates and empowers the process of disciplemaking.

For Paul and for us, the gospel is the incarnation, life, ministry, teaching, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot confine it simply to the cross or Him crucified. To reduce the gospel to the event of the cross is to truncate the mission of Christ to make disciples. This is why Paul states that he “determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The gospel is more than Calvary. It is Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Jericho, Cana, Sea of Galilee and Samaria as well. The whole account of the person and work of Jesus Christ serves not only as the message but also the method by which this life-transforming message would be transmitted throughout the world and across the generations to come.

The substance of Paul’s disciplemaking method was the person and work of Jesus Christ as the message and the model for the mission. If we choose to not approach our day-to-day relationships (family, work, school, recreation and commerce) with gospel intentionality we are missing a God-given opportunity to obey Him by making disciples.  Jesus initiated the method, gave it a life-changing message and entrusted the mission to his followers, and promised He would be with us. Paul understood and obeyed. Will we?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Paul’s conversion informed his disciple-making method.

Paul exhorted Timothy to not be ashamed of the testimony of Jesus Christ, “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Paul had heard the gospel testimony many times prior to salvation. We know of at least one instance. Stephen’s costly account of Christ’s coming, life and atoning death in Acts 7 is surely indicative of similar occasions as a pre-conversion Paul punished and imprisoned Christians in his religious zeal prior to the Damascus road conversion. But the Gospel was the substance and agent of his transformation, not behavior modification. He was well schooled in the Scriptures in their original languages and the religious law. But it wasn’t until the Spirit of God germinated the truths of God in Paul’s heart that his eyes were opened to Jesus as the King. Paul knew who saved him. It was an act of the proactive compassion of God, initiated through the Gospel as evidenced in the lives of other believers. In Galatians 1, Paul’s states his disappointment that they had deserted Christ, who had called them by grace and were turning to a different gospel, which is not a gospel but a distortion of the gospel. He then goes on to confirm that his education as a disciple was Gospel-centered (Galatians 1:8-17).

I want to be careful to not portray the idea that I am talking about sitting around with people going over the Romans Road continually. The gospel informed every component of Paul’s relationships as he sought to present others, male and female, mature in Christ. Paul kept looking back to Christ to learn how to handle adversity, suffering, conflict and even prosperity. As a result, Paul’s intentional efforts to communicate propositionally by pen and to portray by proximity served as an example of how the gospel is being worked out in his life. It wasn’t pretty, comfortable or even desirable to many but it beckoned to hearts of longing seekers to consider the claims of Christ.  His example served to encourage the daily walk of other disciples to rise above crippling shame, guilt, doubts, fears and worries and continually submit to the will of a gracious and sovereign God who is, at once, personal, concerned and involved in our lives through the power of the gospel.  “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Phil. 4:9

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Paul Discipleship Method: Gospel-infused Instruction

The first element (and most obvious) of Paul’s discipleship method is Gospel-infused instruction to selected individuals and churches. In Acts 20, Paul tells the Ephesian elders that he had no regrets concerning his time among them because he “had not shunned declaring unto them the whole counsel of God.” One of Paul’s disciple-making tools was instructing new believers in Gospel growth and potential leaders such as Timothy and Titus in practical matters of church, disciple-making, family matters, finances, work ethic, social order and civic duty. All of this instruction is premised upon and infused with Gospel intentionality. Legalism and moralism remove or isolate the objective and propositional teachings of Scripture from the Gospel. You will find no incidence in Paul’s writing, or narratives of Paul’s ministry in Acts, where he instructs believers without firmly asserting the Gospel of grace as the impetus for action or behaviors that diminish self and exalt Christ. Grace saturated morality is Gospel-initiated behavior.  Rules do not a disciple make.

For an example of Paul’s teachings to new believers, read Romans. The book of Romans is the centerpiece of salvation theology in the NT and its first eight chapters are an incredible treatise on the mechanics of the Gospel. The last eight chapters explain practical matters of God’s plan and purpose for the redeemed while on earth. All of it premised upon the first 8 chapters. Read the first three chapters of Ephesians to get some grasp of how the Gospel gives us a new identity then read the last three chapters to understand how this new identity practically applies to our daily lives.

There is no good reason to assume that Paul didn’t approach one on one discipleship in the same manner. We know that Timothy and Titus received theological and practical instruction as they grew into young pastors. All of this instruction comes within a very personal and caring relationship that tolerated failures, extended grace, forgave weaknesses, lovingly confronted, instructed in a timely manner and dominated Paul’s prayer life.

We will not write new books into the NT canon but we can write Gospel-infused letters to growing young believers. We can sit across the table from these young believers and hear their story, keep them centered on the cross, grace and the Gospel. We can challenge their behavior by comparing it to the Gospel rather than our moral expectations. The vehicle of Paul’s discipleship method was a personable, approachable and hands-on, gritty style but Gospel-infused instruction was the substance. Paul’s authentic relationships, winsome way and co-laboring leadership paradigm are good and beneficial but it would not be biblical discipleship without Gospel-infused instruction whether by word or deed.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Gospel is the content of discipleship

What informs the disciple-making process? It has to be more than the word "Gospel." The content of the Gospel is found in the incarnation as well as the death, burial and resurrection. Please comment.

Paul's Disciple Making Method Still Works

         The apostle Paul was a disciple-maker. Timothy, Titus, Silas, Epaphraditus and Onesimus are each products of Paul’s disciple-making ministry. The NT record of Paul’s interaction with these men and others give some insight into the art of making a disciple. In Philippians 4:9, Paul gives some insight into the processes of making a disciple. “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Paul was not ashamed to live an exposed life. He knew that even his mistakes could be learning experiences if he handled them in the Spirit.


          Paul makes it clear that he lived his life as an open book for all to read. We have written record of at least some of the methods he utilized in order to produce disciples that worship Jesus. First, Paul imparted instruction. He told the Ephesian elders that he had not shunned to declare unto them the whole counsel of God. Most of the NT letters of Paul’s are his divinely guided instruction to believers. Second, he engaged their senses by proximity and experience. What did Silas, Timothy and Titus learn from Paul by watching him do the work, hearing him teach, penning letters for him and assisting his efforts with their physical presence? Third, Paul engaged readers and listeners in dynamic, emotional and thought provoking ways that served to apply the matter to the heart. Acts 20 is an account of Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders as they wept over him and his admonitions to them. Paul evoked emotion and was passionate to the point of pushing the hearer to do something with what they had just seen, heard or read. Fourth, history bears record to the effectiveness of Paul’s teaching ministry. The NT gives record to the effectiveness of Timothy, Titus, Barnabas and others that Paul influenced with his teaching. Once these men had accepted the words and applied these things to their hearts the subsequent result was understanding or wisdom to go and do likewise. And last, Paul produced men that walked after him or like him. This is the emphasis of Philippians 4:9. Those that have learned, seen and heard Paul should do the same as Paul. This is the heart of the disciple-maker, Paul wanted those that came after him to grow closer to Christ and reach more for Christ than he ever did or could. We should have the same expectations of our intentional efforts to make disciples. Paul’s method still works. The next few posts will expound a bit more on these five elements of Paul's example.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

All Disciples Are On A Short-term Mission Trip

                Our church made it a practice for short-term mission teams to give a presentation upon their return. Since the church had sent them we should hear from them by way of a report/presentation, we thought. This accomplished three things: celebration, challenge others to go and accountability. It was a few weeks after our team shared the story of our two-week mission trip to Belgium, when it dawned on me that we may be short-circuiting the missional purpose of our church. Our reporting may be unintentionally sending the wrong message about how God wants to use His people in our churches to incarnate the Gospel in our neighborhood. 

                  Why do we seem to have really good and fruitful experiences when we go to another state or country on mission? This may not always be the case but trips that did not go so well are rarely reported as such in front of a church. We tried to steer away from numbers but it is inevitable when you are working in such a compressed time frame.  We encouraged using names and telling personal stories about people encountered for the sake of the Gospel mission in these reports. I cannot think of one single occasion where someone regretted they had gone on a trip or wasn’t stretched as a disciple by the cross-cultural experience.

Here are some of the elements of a “successful” short-term mission trip:

1.     Identify the need as observed or communicated by people on the field.
2.     Our churches hear of the need and disciples decide to go.
3.     These disciples marshal resources in order to go, which requires an intentional investment of time and money.  Also team members co-op prayer partners who invest in the trip as well.
4.     These same disciples prepare themselves for the physical, mental and spiritual rigor of the trip with training, planning and intercommunication.
5.     They go with the whole purpose of Gospel mission from rising up early to going to bed late. From the van ride to the airport to getting back on the plane, the whole matter is infused with Gospel-mission intentionality.
6.     Glad to return home but with heavy hearts concerning broken people, desperate needs left behind and at the same time rejoicing that God uses broken people like us to entice others to consider the goodness and grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
7.     Remember. Celebrate. Rejoice.

              Why not apply the same elements to reaching our community, our town or our neighborhood where our church is embedded? It’s certainly not difficult to observe some needs in the lives of people in our neighborhood. Share the need with others who may want to participate with us by giving, praying or going with us. But the greatest step is the decision to go!  We must teach, challenge and stretch disciples to be Gospel-intentional and mission-minded about work, school, store, races, ballgames, and going walking at the park. In short, believers must make no less a decision to go out of the house on mission daily than to go to Africa on mission for two weeks. This may be a greater challenge than going to Africa for two weeks!

              And Sunday worship gatherings and small group gatherings would be akin to walking down the steps at baggage claim and seeing loved ones who prayed, gave and longed for your return.
In our gatherings, it would serve our covenant community well to create space for Sandra to tell about going to teach fifth-graders day after day on mission for Christ? Why not celebrate with Joseph concerning his effort to reach a classmate who responded to an invite by attending Wednesday night student worship?  Let’s hear from a praying grandmother who is celebrating the way God is using suffering in a grandson’s life to open his heart to the Gospel. 

             A large part of the challenge, blessing and growth comes from the cross-cultural nature of the mission experience when we go to another country or state for that matter. One thing we should consider is how going into our community as a follower of Jesus Christ really is cross-cultural but we have become so adapted that we cannot sense that our ‘citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) Have we adapted too well and cannot seriously engage our surroundings because we have become so much like our surroundings?

            Fellow disciples, we are on a short-term mission trip. Make no mistake; we are working with a compressed time frame that is determined by our life span or Christ’s return. The church is an outpost of heaven in a foreign land and we are ambassadors for our King. We are not where we belong but we are where we should be for now. Let’s be resolved about our disciple-making purpose on this short-term trip. One day the One who loves us, sent us, intercedes for us and gave Himself for us will receive us at the baggage claim of heaven.  What a day that will be…until then; Remember. Celebrate. Rejoice. Go.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Too Many Churches Are Well-Prepared For A World That Doesn't Exist

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. [1Co 9:19-23 ESV] 

We must be learners continually. “Learners are prepared for the future, the learned are prepared for a world that doesn’t exist any longer,” says Hans Finzel. In 1980, 66% of teenagers indicated that church would play a large part of their lives. In 2010, 33% of teenagers indicate that church will play any part in their lives.  In spite of all the so-called “mega-churches” in America, there is not one county in all of the United States that has a greater churched population than it did 10 years ago. In 1991, the number of evangelicals in Asia surpassed the number of evangelicals in the whole of the western world and the gap is increasing exponentially. In 1920, there were 27 churches for every 10,000 Americans. Today there are fewer than 10 churches per 10,000 Americans. The institutional Christian church is dying.  It has become disconnected and irrelevant to a generation of 35 yr. olds and younger.  This generation has grown up, informed and educated, in a technologically-defined world. It is possible to watch an event around the world, as it is happening, talk or text immediately to anyone around the world and overthrow governments through social media.  The arts are important to this generation. They are enamored with creativity and diversity.  As a matter of fact, literature abounds, theatre is strong and their music is diverse, complex and seriously misunderstood by some of us old folks.  Jesus stepped out of heaven into our situation. He made the incredible effort to get to us where we are, identify with our struggles, pains and confusion. He appealed to us at a very real and understanding level.  Making Himself of no reputation, coming in the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:7) Though He was willing and obedient, His “body” (the church) is not so willing to lay aside self-interest, preferences and traditions while the last two generations are becoming so disconnected from Church they do not know Noah or Daniel. They cannot find Genesis in a borrowed Bible and seriously misunderstand a misrepresented Jesus and His love for them.  I have little patience for undue criticism that blasts their music, dress, body piercings, tattoos or lack of interest in politics and the things of God or education, especially from anyone that makes no effort to understand. This generation is defined by broken homes and a morally destitute culture delivered to them by our generation. They have been taught that truth is relative, abortion is ok, marriage is optional and God is out there somewhere if he even exists.  Evolution is the accepted science of the elite and any other position is non-sense, making the Bible irrelevant, if not a joke. Societal and religious leaders have proven to be people with no integrity who are not willing to work hard for a cause bigger than self. This generation has few examples of those who are willing to press through all the “stuff” to help with the problem.  All too often, our efforts to worship and reach the disaffected are answering questions that no one is asking and fixing problems that few are experiencing. We throw the Gospel at them.  We should be carrying it to them. Our labor of love to flesh out the Gospel will help to dispel cynicism and confusion. The average age of many churches around us is creeping up year upon year.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to retain a younger generation. They recognize their needs are not being addressed or even acknowledged. Leadership and an older generation must become informed, concerned and creative in reaching an inquisitive generation.  Christ has promised they will be reached. My desire is that He would do it through us and the ministry of the local church. Let’s be learners and not the learned.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Church Must Be Clear and Comprehensive with the Gospel

            Postmodernity necessitates a different approach than has been the case historically. We cannot assume any biblical literacy or any understanding of sin, good, God, Bible, heaven or hell. D.A. Carson states that Paul’s address in Athens is construction of a biblical worldview, from God as eternally existing creator to Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb.[1] This was important in Athens or Greek culture in order for the Gospel to make sense. Our culture is a modern day Athens with religious pluralism as a defining characteristic. Postmoderns are accustomed to religious or spiritual talk, so introducing the Gospel is not too difficult. But we must steer clear of vagueness and ambiguity and point directly to Christ as the remedy for sin. Carson writes, “saying God loves you may carry a very different set of associations than for Christians.”[2]
            Postmodernity’s obsession with spirituality demands that our Gospel presentations be more comprehensive and coherent that ever before. When these presentations are the subsequent action of the church being culturally educated and creatively engaged the collateral effect is Gospel centered communitas (an intense community spirit, the feeling of great social equality, solidarity, and togetherness). These presentations must be comprehensive in that they point postmoderns to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the sinless Son of God who came and died for the sins of humanity and His resurrection verifies the transaction and imparts life to us in this present world. There is no other religious system to make such a claim but as Ravi Zacharias states in the opening essay of Telling the Truth, “What our (postmodern) culture needs is an apologetic that is not merely well argued, but also felt. There has to be passion in communication. There must be a felt reality beyond the cognitive, engaging the feeling of the listener.”[3] Cultural education and creative engagement affords the church an opportunity to incarnate the Gospel through acts of compassion and sacrificial service that engage the feeling of the listener. The collateral effect of such a strategy is immeasurable but God is Sovereign and accomplishes His glorious and immense will with our acts of Gospel-driven compassion and sacrifice. May it all speak to the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ as Lord as postmoderns find in Christ, and His body, a spiritual coherency and consistency that is, at once, intellectually hard to deny and emotionally enticing as well.

            [1] D. A. Carson, “Athens Revisited,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 392.

            [2] Ibid., 395.
            [3] Ravi Zacharias, “An Ancient Message, Through Modern Means, To A Postmodern Mind ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 26.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The Church as Community in Community

            One of the consequences of the cultural shift from modernity to postmodernity is a shift from being individual centered to being community centered. “Postmoderns need and want community. They don’t know how to get it and they are not good at it,” asserts Don Bartel.[1] People need a place to belong. When the body of Christ is seen working together, serving together and worshiping together it is attractive to disassociated postmoderns and it buttresses the message of Christ.
            A church should be proactive and strategic about creating “communitas.” Communitas is described as an intense spirit of community that nurtures social equality, solidarity and togetherness. Communitas is the by-product of working shoulder to shoulder on mission. This is especially true where there is risk and hardship. There is no greater sense of communitas than that shared by soldiers who have served in combat together as a unit. In the movie Band of Brothers, the series depicts the harsh, harrowing and heroic experience of Easy Company in Europe during WWII. There are heart-wrenching interviews of the real surviving soldiers throughout the series. I was captivated and inspired by their love, commitment and sense of responsibility for one another after all these years. This is communitas. These men came from different ethnic and socio-economic circumstances but the walls were removed by sharing the mission together; an agreed upon, worthy and hard mission to which they were called to accomplish at all cost.  
            The church has an agreed upon, worthy and hard mission. And believers are called to fulfill the mission of making disciples at great cost. When a church embraces Christ’s mission for His church and expects believers to participate in fulfilling the mission there is something attractive about it. Outsiders and observers may be skeptical about the mission but they cannot deny the camaraderie and the commitment of the faith community who has embraced and embarked upon the mission. The church should leverage this as a witness in their locale.   
            I will illustrate the attractiveness of community and how it creates healthy curiosity and even co-ops unbelievers into the mix. A church in our community has adopted the task of cleaning the local high school football stadium after Friday night football games. About twenty minutes before the end of the game you notice several people with red-shirts throughout the stadium. They are holding bags, sticks and blowers. After the game ends, they wait a few minutes then jump into action.  The sight of a hundred red shirts working diligently to accomplish a singular task is pretty intriguing.  After the third game or so, by-standers were seen helping clean up. By the middle of the season, these by-standers were staying afterward for snacks, fellowship and prayer. This is a microcosm of the benefit and power of communitas. Obviously the higher the risk, sacrifice and stakes of the mission the stronger the bonds can become.
            The church community can be viewed as an outpost of heaven in a dangerous and foreign land. We are ambassadors, are we not? When the Word is faithfully and fitfully proclaimed and leadership is willing to ask hard things of believers, a sense of communitas becomes an evangelistic asset to the local church. What did Jesus mean when He said the children of this generation are wiser than the children of light in their generation? I do not believe that it is a stretch to receive this as a rebuke of American church legalistic pettiness, lack of excellence in the arts, unwillingness to throw caution to the wind, fear of true community service because we might “compromise” the Gospel. It is only compromised by our lack of Gospel-compelled action, sacrifice and love.
            Community mission effort does two things: it accomplishes the feeling of a shared experience that strengthens our bonds as a body and it attracts the unchurched and skeptics to see what we are doing and why. We now have people that come and help us that are unchurched. They share in the experience with us and begin to feel as though they belong. This becomes a form of pre-conversion discipleship and it provides a strong relational foundation for the sharing of the Gospel message. Postmoderns need to feel like they belong before they will hear.[2] 
          For years, many churches have made short-term mission trips off limits to unbelievers. Some churches are beginning to rethink this position with the right conditions. Short-term mission trips create a sense of  communitas that is difficult to replicate within similar cultures. When we go to the Andes of Peru to evangelize in a mountain community our team struggles together, eats together, learns together, and fails together. When these teams arrive back in the states that have a bond that is unique and potent. Postmoderns need to see this interaction and experience it before they can embrace it. This sense of community is only obtained when a church is intentional about creating and displaying it. Maybe this is one reason that God calls us “co-laborers” with Him (1 Cor. 3:9).

            [1] Don Bartel, “Evangelizing Postmoderns Using a Mission Outpost Strategy,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 348.

            [2] Jimmy Long, “A Strategy for Reaching a Postmodern Generation ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 328.