Love Builds the Church

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I just returned from a short trip to Kansas City. We went for a wedding of some dear friends, but it was a good excuse to make my way there to see some people I haven’t seen in far too long. The funny thing about our trip is I usually am looking for something “substantial” to happen: An important connection, a time of pouring into a friend, a time of being poured into by a friend, or a chance to do a little ministry. This time, none of those things happened. Instead, I got to love and be loved.

And what’s amazing to me about that is how often I forget that being loved and giving love is the point. I’m the first to point out that the pursuit of knowledge makes us proud but doesn’t profit us, but that’s only half the equation. The profitable part of understanding knowledge doesn’t build us up is knowing what does: love. Love is what causes the church to grow and be built up.

This weekend I saw that: through the family that hosted us and treated us like family, through the many, many hugs I got throughout the wedding, through friends who made time in their schedule and bought us pizza, through the friends who made time for us even though we just dropped in with no notice. There was no knowledge transfer, no official “ministry” activity, but I feel built up on the inside.

One of the friends we saw this weekend has always modeled this so well. I remember a time about 12 years ago where we spent time with a couple and I walked away from it feeling so empty. My wife pressed me on why I felt that way, and the only thing I could do was bring up my friend from Kansas City: “Whenever we’re with him, I just feel so loved. I don’t feel like a project or like I have to be entertained or entertaining. He just loves people.” It wasn’t that the couple we were with was bad. Instead, it was I realized the absence of the kind of love my friend from Kansas City shows when we’re together. Seeing my friend again this weekend reminded me of how essential love is toward building up the church.

Friends, knowledge inflates us beyond what we are, but love builds us into what we can be. As the church, we can be puffed up beyond what we are, which is not good. We could forsake the pursuit of knowledge, which would at least keep us from pride, but won’t take us very far. Or we can begin to grow in receiving love, finding our identity in being loved, and share the love we have received. If we can do this, in a hundred ways that are intentional and a million more that are spontaneous, we will build the church.

Join me, will you? Join me in pursuing an understanding of God’s love for us at a deeper level. Join me in accepting the ridiculous, undeserved, unmerited, never-stopping, never-giving-up, always-and-forever love of God. And when you have received it and have no more doubts about your status of being loved, will you share that love with someone else, just because?

Because that that kind of love builds the church.

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Prayer Request:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,

Lumbard-Ric-16Recently a brother in Christ who is dear to many of us hear in Iowa suffered a massive heart attack. Rick Lumbard is the Director of Wind and Fire Ministries, a man of prayer, and a servant of the Lord that has been used in a number of peoples’ lives throughout our city and the state.  He currently is unconscious and in a hospital in Des Moines. Would you join us in prayer for Rick as we believe for healing for him? He has a wife and several children that would be thankful for the prayer support.

Sincerely,
Travis

On The Road to Multiplying Movements

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And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number

-Acts 5:14

But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.

-Acts 12:24

There was a season of early church history where believers were added to the church. Adding speaks of taking people who didn’t know Christ and attaching them to the church.

There came another season in the church, however, where the word of the Lord was being multiplied. This described people not just joining the church, but becoming workers like the ones who led them to the Lord and bringing other people to Christ as well. It wasn’t just one more lost person joining the church (as glorious as that is!) but it was one person leading three people to Jesus who each led three to five more to Christ.  One person was in some way responsible then for fifteen or more people coming to Christ.

We’ll always take addition. We want people coming to Christ no matter how they come. But we strive for multiplication, where disciples are made who can make more disciples  and the math of multiplication takes over. Eventually, when the body learns how to multiply in a healthy way, we can see movements of people coming to Christ.

Here’s the path to multiplying movements1:

Multiply Disciples

Multiply Leaders

Multiply Churches

Multiply Movements

We continue to work towards multiplying disciples. When multiplication of disciples begins, those responsible for the multiplication are functional servant leaders.  When the functional, servant-leadership is multiplied among multiplying disciples, we start to see churches birthed. As churches are multiplied, we begin to see movements. As these movements grow, we even seek to multiply them where they are happening for the glory of Christ.

All of this starts with beginning to make disciples. You can’t get to movements without churches being birthed and you can’t get to churches being birthed without servant-focused leaders being formed. And servant-formed leaders are birthed through multiplying disciples.

So if you want to get to movements, begin discipling people.Begin asking yourself how do I multiply disciples. Discipleship is where movements start.

Prayer Request:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,

Lumbard-Ric-16Recently a brother in Christ who is dear to many of us hear in Iowa suffered a massive heart attack. Rick Lumbard is the Director of Wind and Fire Ministries, a man of prayer, and a servant of the Lord that has been used in a number of peoples’ lives throughout our city and the state.  He currently is unconscious and in a hospital in Des Moines. Would you join us in prayer for Rick as we believe for healing for him? He has a wife and several children that would be thankful for the prayer support.

Sincerely,
Travis

The Number One Thing to Invest in a Disciple is…

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…your time.

This is far more costly than any amount of money you can give. It will be inconvenient. There will be times of frustration. It’s not the most efficient process you’ve ever been a part of.

But that time spent pouring over God’s word and praying through the issues of the heart and eating and laughing together and teaching/learning to share the Gospel and sometimes even doing nothing at all…all of it is investing in someone in a way that will pay off down the road, possibly in a way that you’ll never see.

Looking back over the history of those who have discipled me, its pretty clear that the most meaningful contribution many of the people in my life have given me was not a new teaching or a skill. They simply opened up their homes, their lives, and their calendars to me. I learned the most from those who made time to show me who they were.

We live in a rushed society. There will always be a temptation not to be generous with your time, but the most effective disciple makers will be those who spend time with those they are discipling.

Who are you spending time with?

Photo Credit: Blue and Yellow Graph on Stock Market Monitor by CCØ BAY

Uneducated and Untrained, But with Jesus

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Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.

Peter and John were uneducated and untrained men. In this way they are almost the exact opposite of the kind of people we would prefer to serve our churches or share the Gospel. We like people to be educated and trained–we believe they are better to lead and to guide others. Instead, Peter and John were the construction worker, the pizza delivery guy, or the car salesman of their day.

The difference was that these two men had been with Jesus. They had both trained underneath of Him as followers while He was here on Earth and by the presence of the Holy Spirit, they had been with Jesus in an ongoing way since Pentecost. It was the fact that they had been with Jesus that made these guys different from the other unlearned and untrained men that the rulers and Elders were used to.

Often in Christianity, we do this backwards. We select workers who are trained and educated but haven’t been with Jesus. We’re content with well-trained men who know theology and how to teach, but don’t bear the marks of having been with Christ.

On the other hand, we cannot just look to people who are untrained and uneducated to serve and proclaim the good news apart from Jesus. We have to teach people, trained or untrained, to be with Christ. They have to understand the vitality of a life lived close to the resurrected Jesus.

The sweet spot…the place where Christianity becomes alive and infectious and reproducible…is where we can equip normal, everyday people who many would look at and call untrained and uneducated to be with Jesus. If we can put the Gospel and the truth of Christianity in the hands of a common man who knows how to be with Christ, we are that much closer to turning the world upside down.

Wisdom, Foundations, and the Sermon on the Mount

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I woke up this morning stirred to write about the importance of foundations. So often many of the people I know have been sidetracked in their lives because their lives were built on the wrong foundations. Those with any kind of construction experience know that if a foundation is slightly off, the whole building built on top of it will suffer. The problem is so often we want a building so badly that we neglect building foundations in our lives the right way.

Several weeks ago I was talking to a co-worker about a house her family owned at a beach. It was built on firm ground and had weathered several storms well. There were other people who had wanted a house so close to the beach that they had built their houses on sand. These houses had significant storm damage that had totally ruined these houses. I looked at her and said, “Have none of these people read Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builder?” Apparently, they had not.

Jesus told this story:

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.  Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.  But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand.  When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.

Matthew 7:24-27

One of the things that has been revolutionary in my life and the lives of others I know is really applying this simple story to our lives. We in the West spend a ton of time teaching people what to believe about God, Jesus, and Christianity. But according to that story, none of that is building our lives on the solid rock. Instead, building our lives on a solid foundation means listening to Jesus’ teaching and doing what it says.  The foolish man isn’t someone who resisted the teachings of Jesus, but he is someone who heard and didn’t put into practice what Jesus said.

And while obeying all of Jesus’ teaching is important, this teaching ends a famous set of teachings by Jesus that we call the Sermon on the Mount. This parable is meant to emphasize the importance of practicing the teachings Jesus gives in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. So often we will spend time in our house churches and discipleship groups reading the Sermon on the Mount and talking about how we can build our lives obeying these truths. The disciples that have done so are the ones who have stood the test of time.

The promise of Jesus is that there will be storms that come. Some of them are the general storms of life, testing and trials that are common to every era of history. Some storms are the storms of persecution, which Peter promises that everyone who lives a godly life will endure.  There will also be eschatological, end-time storms that come and test the foundations of individuals and the church. Regardless of which storms we encounter, it is by obeying the truths found in the Sermon on the Mount by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit that we stand strong in the hour of testing.

But the time to build the foundation is not in the storm. The time to build a strong foundation is now. It will be too late to begin to obey Jesus’ teaching in the midst of the storm. Are you reading AND obeying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5, 6, & 7? If not, it’s not too late to go back and begin to put into practice the things Jesus taught there. If you are living out those truths, start thinking about how to train others that you are bringing to Christ and raising up to obey these truths.

The future you and those you disciple will thank you.

Mission Creates Community

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There are churches all over the Earth looking for a way to build community. It seems everywhere I go, people want to be a part of a community, build community, or stay in community, but how to do it escapes us. A big part of the reason for that is we seek community for our own sake, and not the sake of others. This taints the community building process.

In reality, one of the most important but often neglected secrets to building community is to find it in pursuit of God’s mission.  Jesus said, “I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News,  will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution,” (Mark 10:29-30). When we leave what is valuable to us for the sake of Jesus and the Good News, he gives us in return many spiritual brothers, sisters, mothers, and children.  Community is the result of mission.

If you’ve ever gone on a short or long term mission trip, you’ll understand this. There is something about leaving everything you have, laying down your regular life, and pursuing something of the Lord together with a group of people that forms community like nothing else. Often those who do will come back longing for the same type of fellowship they had among that group of people, only to be frustrated in not being able to find it.

The secret lies not in going overseas, but finding a group of people who will lay down their lives both for Christ and His mission. I’ve watched house churches engage in mission together here in the United States in specific neighborhoods or people groups, and the same phenomenon happens.  What Jesus does when we lay down our earthly lives is He begins to form family among those who have pursued it together.

So you don’t have to leave the country to find community. You find spiritual family as you lay down your life for Christ and the Gospel. As you follow Jesus in the mission He has for you, He will bring alongside you others who are pursuing Him and His mission in a similar way.  And in this place, God will confront weaknesses in your life and the lives of others He will reveal places of sin or unbelief. The people with you on mission will help you bring those areas back to God for healing. You will get to do the same with them. This is where spiritual family is built–in the spiritual press of mission.

This is why I always tell prospective church planters that the order is Jesus, Mission, Church. Jesus must become the center of our lives, our source, and our leader. His leadership will eventually spill over into mission with Him and others. This mission creates a church, both in those that pursue it and ultimately as the result of sharing the Gospel.  If we keep those priorities in the proper order, we will experience spiritual family.

Do you long for community? Submit yourself to Christ. Find the mission He has for you. As you do, you will find the community you’ve been looking for.

The Life is in the Seed

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Churches can be so simple that they can be planted easily. But how do you instruct someone to plant a church in a few hours or a few days? Yesterday, I wrote about the power of the Gospel to transform broken men and women into the church.  Today, I think it’s important to acknowledge a truth that we often forget: Churches are planted and grow because the life of the church is in the seed of the Gospel.

Jesus often described the Kingdom of God growing like a seed. In the Gospel of Mark he describes it this way:

Jesus also said, ‘The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.’

Mark 4:26-29

Notice something important here. The Kingdom grows, but the man who planted does not know how it happens. It happens while the man is asleep or awake, night or day. There is literally nothing he can do after he has planted the seed to make it grow faster.

Often, when we talk about church planting, we are talking about a very man-driven idea. We are talking about not just sowing seed into the ground, but going out and forcing that seed to grow, reproduce, and stay healthy, all in our own strength. Going back to the seed analogy, we don’t often trust the genetics of the seed to grow a healthy plant.

This is why we have such a hard time believing that a church can be planted in hours or days or weeks. Instead, because we feel like we must create an environment for believers to flourish, we stay very involved creating perfect scenarios for believers to succeed. Undoubtedly some  will flourish in this type of environment, but they won’t multiply and reproduce well.

It’s important to stop here and say something very clearly: There is power in the Gospel of Jesus to change people. This power doesn’t stop changing people once they’ve decided to become a believer. After someone decides to follow Jesus, the Gospel continues to have a transforming affect on them. In fact, it’s critical that believers continue to draw their strength from the good news of the Kingdom because when they stop, they begin to be deceived. We never graduate from receiving life from the Gospel, we just continue to find new places where it changes us.

This is part of the reason why Paul was able to move on from the churches that he started–he trusted the power of the Gospel seed he had sown into each church’s life. Undoubtedly persecution and the need to spread the Gospel played a part in that decision, but ultimately Paul came to a place where he could trust the Lord with each of the churches he started. He recognized it wasn’t his oversight or preaching but the Gospel that he sowed into each believer that would cause them to continue to move toward Jesus.1

Paul and company truly believed that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns,” (Philippians 1:6). So they would entrust a church to the Lord, believing that a living, resurrected Jesus would continue to move them toward Himself by the power of the Gospel. The Gospel that they had sowed initially (the beginning of the good work) would continue until Christ returns.

Friends, we can plant churches in short periods of time, not just because the training is simple or the follow up is good, but because the Gospel has power to transform people. When the Gospel is living and active in a person’s heart, they move towards Christ and towards each other. They may need reminders and encouragements and these can be given, but the strength to walk the Christian life comes not from leaders or elders or programs, but the Gospel’s ability to make us real disciples.

And it all starts with a simple seed.

Photo Credit: Ready to Spring by Mike Lewinski

1I am not saying oversight is unnecessary. Paul set up overseers and commissioned others to appoint overseers. I’m only saying he didn’t understand overseers as the primary thing that fueled spiritual growth in believers. That started and ended with the Gospel.