What I Learned from St. Patrick Today (2017)

5895370392_9965863a25_oIn case you missed it, today is my annual trek to the McDonald’s in my neighborhood to drink a Shamrock shake and read the Confession of St. Patrick. I do this regularly because of the impact Patrick’s life has had on me. Reading his story stirs my heart to live the kind of life he lived and be part of a movement that leads many people to Christ.

First, a brief summary of Patrick’s life: He lived in Britain and he was the son of a deacon of the church of Rome. At 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland where he worked as a slave herding pigs.  Prior to this he didn’t know or acknowledge God, but during this time he began to pray a hundred prayers during the day and a hundred prayers at night. The love of God began to capture his soul and he began to seek God early in the morning in the snow because “the Spirit was burning in [him].”

It was after this relationship with God took root that the audible voice of the Lord told him to run away from his master. He escaped and joined a group of barbarians. He was later recaptured and the Lord told him he would be captive another 60 days. At the end of 60 days he escpaed and came back to Britain. After some time there, he had a vision of a man named Victoricus (an angel? the Lord?) bringing him a letter from the people of Ireland begging him to come back and bring the Gospel to them.

He said yes and  became a missionary to the unbelievers of Ireland. This is the Patrick we celebrate. It was during this time that he baptized thousands of new believers. Patrick himself speaks of ordaining many who would go and preach to a hungry people. Many of the chiefs’ daughters became celibate to follow Jesus and churches and monasteries sprung up every where.  Patrick became the catalyst for an Irish church planting movement.

Any wonder why he’s my hero? 🙂

So, here are today’s takeaways:

  1. Probably the thing that struck me this time that I had never seen before in this letter is the fact that Patrick was insistent that everything that happened to him was a divine gift. He took no credit it for it at all. He didn’t point to the ten steps that made him “St. Patrick.” Over and over again he points at how the Lord helped him when he was unable to help himself. The movement that started was God’s, not his, and Patrick was just thankful to be a part of it. In fact his words say this: I entreat those who believe in…God…that nobody shall ascribe to my ignorance any trivial thing I achieved…but accept and truly believe that it would have been a gift of God.” I think many of us who hope to be part of a movement can learn from this. We need to learn to depend on God for the things we want to see happen like they are a gift from Him, and we need to not grow proud if those things actually happen. All of this is a gift from Him.
  2. I love, and I hope I never stop loving, how Patrick became a believer. He prayed a hundred prayers a day and a hundred at night. This was the season in which he said “more and more did the love of God, and my fear of Him and faith increase.” This is so crucial because we always believe that apostolic mission starts with strategy and outreach. But it ALWAYS starts with prayer and a heart burning for the Lord. We cannot write this into our strategies. It doesn’t happen just because we know it’s the gateway to a movement. But we can start by praying and asking God to make “the Spirit burn within” us. Whether we start movements or not, the Spirit burning within us is crucial.
  3. I’m again reminded how supernatural all of this was. All of the crucial moments in Patrick’s life were accompanied by a vision, an audible voice from the Lord, or a prophetic word. Most movement strategies have very little room for this in their methodology. Obviously we can’t control it. But more and more I’m convinced that these are necessary to see the Gospel penetrate a hard and rebellious people.  We can’t control it, but beloved, we can pray and we can ask the Lord for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be active in our lives. As we do and begin to share the Gospel with those who don’t know Him, the power of Jesus will be displayed for all of us.

These are some things I learned today. How about you? Oh, and by the way, the Shamrock shake, while not the healthiest thing, was delicious. 🙂

On Discipleship: Apostolic Mission

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Jesus asked us to go and make disciples of all the nations. For this to truly happen like it was intended, we need a simple and reproducible model of discipleship that empowers every believer to make disciples. We struggled for awhile in how to do this before we adopted a model of meeting in groups of two and three people. These groups read lots of Scripture and build relationships around accountability and confession, but they also spend time developing and strengthening apostolic mission in each other.

What is apostolic mission? Apostolic refers to someone who is sent as a representative of another. Jesus sends us to share His love with the same power and authority that He gave the apostles and that He Himself walked in. The mission refers to the unfinished task of sharing Christ’s love with those who don’t know Him.  Part of us learning to follow Christ is learning to follow Him on the mission He embarked on of preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

Why is this so essential? A mature disciple shouldn’t be able to just know all the details but reproduce him or herself. Just like in nature, a mature fruit or flower or human or animal has the biological capability of reproduction, so it is with disciples. Disciples reproduce disciples. As Alan Hirsch and others have said, we don’t have an evangelism problem in the West, we have a discipleship problem that comes to light in our inability to evangelize and disciple others.

When we gather in groups of two or three people, it could be tempting for it to become a bible study or an accountability group. Focusing on apostolic mission keeps our eyes turned to those who have still not encountered the Lord and off of ourselves. To do this, every time we get together, we bring a list of two or three people we have been praying for individually throughout the week and we pray for them as a group.  This can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 20, but it’s important.

It’s so important, in fact, that I recommend making this the first thing you do when you gather. This keeps our purpose–reaching the lost–in front of us. Everything we do within these groups of 2&3 is not just for ourselves, but is for these others who we are praying for to be a part of once they turn their hearts to Jesus.  Praying for these folks early in the meeting also keeps it from being the last thing on the list that there is no time for.

As with all the other disciplines, apostolic mission will need to be walked out in greater detail in the life of the church and the life of the individual. This is just the expression of it within our 2&3 meeting. Again, make this real. Pray real prayers that move God’s heart. It’s important.

When you add all these disciplines together, it looks like the following:

Divine Truth

Nurturing Relationships

Apostolic Mission

And when we get the DNA right, we are on the cusp of multiplying cells of an organic organism called the church. We can achieve the multiplication of disciples, leaders, churches, and movements that we’ve all seeking.

My hope, whether you follow the format or not, is that you find what it takes to multiply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Discipleship: Nurturing Relationship

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Jesus’ last command to His followers was to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything He had commanded them. Much of the church in the West is largely unaware of how to take a new follower of Jesus and teach them how to follow Him.  We need to recover simple, transferable ways to disciple others.  Yesterday we looked at how we’ve developed a rhythm of exposing ourselves to divine truth. But discipleship is much more than just exposing ourselves to God’s truth, it’s also building nurturing relationships.

First, let’s state the obvious. God’s desire for His church (literally His “called out ones”) is that they not be single, isolated believers. There are certain situations where Christians are alone because of circumstances beyond their control, but even in the case of missions, Jesus sends people out in groups of two. From the earliest days of humanity God said that “It is not good for the man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18). God’s design for humanity is that they function within a community of people who love Christ and each other. This is why all over the New Testament there are “one another” commands that encourage us interact and support one another.

We practice these frequently within our house churches, but our 2&3’s have become a deeper expression of that community. As I’ve said, we meet in groups of two and three people of the same gender and practice accountability and confession with each other.  To do this, we utilize a set of questions from Neil Cole’s book “Ordinary Hero.” You can see the list below:

LTG Questions

Notice a couple of things with this list:

1) These are pretty in your face questions about what you’ve been doing. Most people cringe at the thought of talking about #2. Others think they have no need of talking about #’s 3 and 8.  But we ask each other these questions to achieve a kind of intimacy that’s often not achieved without talking about these kind of issues.

2) Number 9 is intentionally left blank. It’s important to leave this list somewhat customizeable, because while it’s important to hit some universal questions, it’s important to be specific. My number 9 question for many many years has been “Have you been faithful to Jesus and the calling on your life this week?” But I’ve known many guys who change their number 9 every couple of months, depending on what the Lord is leading them into at that time. You can find a more thorough list of questions you can use in number 9 that friend of mine developed here.

3) Number 10 on the list is the time we take to discuss the what we’ve read in the word.  Notice that it’s in the context of relationship and obedience, not in just a study that never amounts to any action.

4) Lastly, this could be interpreted as a list to be critical of ourselves or others. Instead, this list is a discussion starter. It’s purpose is to get us talking about the areas in our lives described here. If sin is discovered, we pray for one another. A couple of years ago I started to identify an addiction to soda when my friends asked me about #6. Through prayer, counsel, and encouragement, I was able to kick the addiction.  But it was only as I talked through the question (that previously I thought did not apply to me) and became honest about my addiction with my friends that transformation happened.

Admittedly this is a process, which can feel mechanical if we let it. But it relies on the fact the truths that we are supposed to “encourage each other,” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), confess our sins to each other and pray for each other (James 5:16), and “motivate one another to good works,” (Hebrews 10:24).

What we’ve found as we’ve put this into practice is that these questions (when answered honestly) produce transparency. This transparency births intimacy. When I can be a source of grace and prayer to my brother who is struggling, we grow closer. Much of what we need to achieve transformation in our lives is transparency with another flesh and blood human and prayer that God promises will be effective.  And the friendships that are formed from meeting this way last because they are built around Christ and continuing to walk with Him, not around things that fade.

This is simple rhythm has allowed us to develop nurturing relationships that build up the body and bring forth the character of Jesus. Whether you follow this pattern or not, I would encourage you to find the spirit of what’s described here and walk it out with other believers. It’s a gigantic part of discipleship that cannot be ignored.

On Discipleship: Divine Truth

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Making disciples who make disciples is part of the commission Jesus gave us as believers (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:2). Jesus Himself told us to teach them to obey everything He commanded, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that a large part of making disciples involves all of us getting into the Bible and studying it together.

As I mentioned yesterday, our corporate discipline involves 2 or 3 people gathering together and reading large amounts of Scripture, somewhere between 20 & 30 chapters a week. Why are we so determined to study the Bible? Jesus said that His very words are Spirit and life (John 6:63). The message of the Kingdom contained within the Bible is like a seed in our hearts (Mark 4:13-14, 26-27). The more we can get that message of the Kingdom into our hearts and spirits, the more of the Kingdom we see take root in our life.

So, every time our groups of 2&3 gather, we pick a section of Scripture, usually 20 or 30 chapters in a row. This section is what everyone is reading this week. This week my 2&3 is reading the book of Mark, last week was the book of Revelation. Sometimes it’s multiple books like 1st and 2nd Corinthians.  The point isn’t to finish the section every single week. Many weeks someone in my 2&3 doesn’t finish. When this happens, we start over, and read it again the following week. When everyone finishes the 20 or 30 chapters in the same week, that’s when it’s time to pick a new section of Scripture.

Why do we read the Bible together like this? The main reason is it’s good to be in the Bible hearing Jesus for ourselves. As Christians we believe the Bible is the only inspired message from God and because of that, it is fuel for us to grow up into the likeness of Jesus. But in addition to that, reading large portions of the Bible together keeps us from heresy. Mutual discipleship means there’s no authorized leader of a 2&3. If we read significant portions of the Bible together in context, each believer is able to say “Can you show me where you found that in the reading?” whenever a controversial statement is expressed. One final thought about reading together like this: It eats away at our carnal independence. Many people are content to read what they want, when they want. This process asks us to be formed as disciples together.

We want to be careful of a few things. The intent of this time is not turn our 2&3’s into a Bible study. Bible studies are good and have their place. But our goal instead is to figure out how Jesus encountered us in the Scriptures and is asking us to obey Him.  This isn’t the chance for those gifted as teachers to break down whole chapters of the Bible for everyone else.

Also, we need to be careful of dead religion. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for reading the Bible but resisting the very One that the Scriptures pointed to (John 5:39). The goal is not to become an expert, the goal is meet the One who Scripture points to! But reading and immersing ourselves in truths within the Bible is the surest way to do that.

I think in the West, because the Bible is so available to us, it can become easy to grow cold to its ability to transform us. The words sound familiar and if we fail to take the words back to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to encounter us around those words, our hearts can grow dull to the Word. I believe the word of God has the power to change human hearts. Have you ever seen Chinese believers receive a Bible for the first time? It should humble us. We need to hunger for God’s word like these fiery believers who are being transformed by the Gospel.

What I’ve described here is a corporate discipline that we embrace to make disciples. But friends, the heart here is that we are soft towards God’s word and being transformed by it. We need not only to read it ourselves, but join with others and help each other find the divine truth God has hidden in its pages.

 

 

 

On Making Disciples

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The church in the West is facing a crisis of discipleship. Every Christian should understand how to lead someone to Christ and help that person become a disciple of Jesus, but many don’t. Our over-reliance on sermons and books to transfer information has created believers that can consume information but not train others in following Christ.

As a house church planter with hopes of encouraging many others to plant house churches, I found out fairly early that this was a massive problem.  After a period of time struggling with this issue, I had a number of brothers reach out to me and encourage me to read Ordinary Hero by Neil Cole. We adopted the methods found in this book over the next couple of years and we’ve seen some fantastic changes.

Before I get into the methods, though, I think it’s important to talk briefly about why we adopted a set of methods. I wholeheartedly believe that the best way to disciple another believer is life on life discipleship. Jesus invited twelve men to follow Him and be with Him, thus producing some of the most powerful disciples that we know of. This process is never meant to replace that powerful form of discipleship. But Jesus encouraged us to make disciples and every time I read the word “make” I’m reminded that there is some kind of intentionality to it. Disciples aren’t made on accident. This process is how we give intentional time and space on the calendar for what should be happening throughout the rest of the week.

Our goal was not just to make disciples,though, but to make disciples who could make other disciples. Many times a strong personality can disciple someone through solely their lifestyle, but successive generations waned after the pattern of that lifestyle was lost. We didn’t just want to pass our knowledge of following Jesus to the next generation, but set up the next generation to pass it onto several generations after us.

This required a method that was simple and reproducible.  It was simple in that anyone with a Bible who could read would be able to participate and lead a group with very little training.  Because of the simplicity, someone who had participated in a group for a very short time could easily take the methods and start their own group. It was reporducible.  In fact, a lot of conversations I have with house church planters involves me talking through this process and emailing them the accountability questions. It’s easy to start with just a little guidance.

The process looks like this: a number of us meet in in groups of 2 or 3 of the same gender across our house church network weekly. Each of these people are reading the same 20-30 chapters of the Bible each week. They also ask each other accountability questions and pray for their lost friends and family each week.  When a new believer is added to the body, they are added to the “2&3” of whomever led them to Christ. When groups grow to four people, we create two new groups of two people who continue doing the same process. It’s how we practice mutual discipleship.

We’ll look more into each of the elements of the “2&3” in the coming days. Obviously there is no silver bullet for discipleship. No process will take an unwilling saint and make him or her the next apostle to the nations. But what we’ve found is when we get believers reading their Bibles together, confessing sin to and praying for one another, and praying for those they know to come to Jesus, growth in the Lord happens naturally. This growth strengthens the churches and creates disciples who can make disciples.

Photo Credit: CoffeeShopDiscipleship-8 by 23 Images Photography

We Can Do Better…

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Americans spend $700 billion on all Christian causes.

Of that number, $45 billion goes to any kind of work overseas.

That amounts to 6% of money that the church gives. Of that 6%, only a fraction of that money ($450 million) is sent to ministries working among those who are considered unreached. This is roughly the same amount Americans spent in 2015 on diet programs. It’s just over what we spend on Halloween costumes for our pets.

What these numbers reveal is that a staggering amount of the money we give to God ends up being spent on us. It stays within the church for the benefit of the church. It pays for pastors and buildings and programs for people who largely know and hear the Gospel. And very, very little goes towards people who have never heard of Jesus.

In fact, for every $100,000 that Christians give to the church, $1 goes to the unreached.*

Statistics, especially good ones, are our friends. They show us where our priorities are. They are like a mirror being held up to our faces so we can see what we look like.  My point in sharing these statistics is not to be critical. It’s not to say that even some of the things we’ve spent money on aren’t good.

But friends, we can do better.

If we’re going to do better, it will require all of us to say no to some of the “good” things in order to say yes to better things. It will require we take a hard look at family budgets and church budgets and say “What does this line item in the budget say about our priorities?”

What good things are you committed to? Your building? Your pastoral staff? Your worship experience? Or are you committed bringing the good news of Jesus to the ends of the Earth? As it is written “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news.

When Jesus came to the Earth, He didn’t ask for a tenth of what we had. He came and asked that we give our all to Him. This is not just a reality for individuals, but churches as well. And we have to decide if we are going to give everything to Him and let Him decide what we keep.

What would it take for giving to the unreached to move up higher in our spending priorities? What if instead of the money to the unreached being a fraction of 1% of our budget, it was 20%? What would that require you and your church to sacrifice? And would the rest of your church tolerate it? And what would everyone’s reactions say about their priorities?

We can do better. But we must change. Will you change with me?

Photo Credit: Macro Dollar by Chris Dlugosz

*Most of these statistics can be found on http://www.thetravelingteam.org/stats

 

 

 

The Bible’s Cure for a Weary Soul

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Weariness

It affects all of us, no matter what type of denomination, organic church vs. traditional, involved in ministry or not, we all get tired. While we all get tired physically, the weariness that strikes so much harder is the weariness of soul that comes on believers in busy or difficult seasons of life. So often the well-meaning church (like Job’s friends) offers us advice for how we are to handle that weariness:

“Take more time for yourself.”

“You need a retreat to spend more time in prayer.”

“You need to reprioritize your schedule and quit a few things. You’re doing too much.”

“Maybe you just need to take your mind off of things.”

The list can go on.

But, like the advice of Job’s friends, while this may be good advice it doesn’t get to the root of what’s going on. How do I know? I’ve watched friends fall into weariness and try various versions of this advice. I’ve fallen into weariness myself and tried them.  In each case, the person who was weary gets some kind temporary rest, but the long term problem is never dealt with.

The Bible has a solution for the weariness of the soul so many of us go through. It’s called looking at Jesus:

…let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor besides God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Friends, the writer of Hebrews says that if we spend time looking at Jesus and considering His example, it will strengthen us against weariness.  Jesus is the one who initiates and completes our faith. He is responsible for the starting it and He is responsible for getting us to the finish line.

More importantly, I find that when I am truly discouraged and weary of soul, it’s because my life or the service God has called me to hasn’t gone the way I wanted. Whenever I get into that place, instead of lamenting how much better someone else has it or grumbling and complaining, I remind myself that the Son of God left His Father and came down to Earth.  I remind myself that He was persecuted, beaten, mocked, and killed for the same Gospel I’m trying share with others.

When I think about Jesus remaining faithful and steadfast in the midst of such pain and difficulty, it strengthens my heart to keep going. His example of patience and trust in the Father and His love for me in spite of the difficulty around Him refresh my heart and help me keep going. The weariness fades when I see Jesus enduring faithfully in worse situations than I am in.

Depending on your level of weariness you may need to take active, physical steps. You may need to take some time to go on a retreat. You may need some time in prayer away from the things in your life that stress you. But I guarantee at the base of your weariness is letting your issues and problems seem so much larger than Jesus’.  If instead we can take the time and look to Him, we will avoid being weary and giving up.

If you’re weary today, make the time. Look at Him. Remember the hostility he endured. Let His example strengthen you to obey in tough circumstances.

He will do it.

Photo Credit: Christ! by Babak Fakhamzadeh