Jesus frequently warned that following Him would cost us everything we have. In fact, he told His disciples that if they wanted to follow Him, they would have to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Him. What that meant to first century Jews and most of the Roman world was that following Christ was a death sentence. You were welcome to do it if you wanted, but you knew it would cost you your life.
The apostles would regularly say similar things. Paul told the early disciples in the churches he planted (after being stoned–possibly to death–in the previous city) that they “must suffer many hardships in order to enter the Kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22). Paul would go on to tell his apostolic son that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” (2 Timothy 3:12). Peter would tell the churches he served not to be “surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you,” (1 Peter 4:12). Clearly the apostles understood that experiencing danger was part of following Jesus.
Yet so often the church cautions us to be safe. Under the disguise of “being wise” they caution us not to do daring things. And while some of the young and naive may have been kept from doing something foolish through this “wisdom,” the ultimate message is “don’t loose your life for the gospel.” In doing so, the church can end up on the wrong side of the Gospel.
Jesus calls us to lose our life for Him. That doesn’t always mean we die. But of the original twelve disciples/apostles that followed Jesus, eleven lost their lives sharing their faith. The Romans attempted to boil the twelfth disciple/apostle in burning oil, but he miraculously survived at least long enough to pen the book of Revelation. Paul was beheaded. Stephen was stoned. Jesus–our example– was brutally murdered. My point is, while Jesus has the power to heal our bodies and even provide for us, He doesn’t create a safe space for his disciples.
Why would we follow Jesus if this is the kind of life He promised us? Who would sign up for something like this? Only people who have come to believe that Jesus’ love is the answer to life. Only people whose hearts have been transformed by His forgiveness. Only people who are convinced that there is more to life than just today or tomorrow. Only people who believe He is their great reward.
There is a danger in signing up for the Gospel. We shouldn’t hide it. In fact, we should call people to lay down their lives for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Anything else is a gospel that is too small and worldly to be called the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.
In 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 🙂
Several years ago I had a friend who I started talking to about discipleship. I looked him in the eye and asked him, “If you lead someone to Jesus today, would you know how to help that person grow in the Lord?” A kind of glazed look came over my friend’s face as he realized that he really didn’t know what would come next if he lead someone to Christ.
My friend isn’t alone. In fact, my experience in Christianity in the West tells me that very few people know how to share Christ and fewer know how to disciple those they lead to Christ. This hinders the spread of the Gospel.
Before we go too far, I feel like it’s important to say that I understand not every Christian is going to be an evangelist. I don’t primarily consider myself an evangelist and many of the people I know who share the gospel regularly aren’t evangelists either. But every believer should have a basic understanding of how to share the gospel and disciple new believers. This is part of what Paul means when he says that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15). Every believer is called to be a witness and a disciple (and therefore a disciple maker), but not every believer is called to be an evangelist.
You are called not just to be a Christian and pursue your calling, but regardless of your calling to lead people to Christ along the way. And as you lead them to Christ, you will need to baptize them and instruct them in following Jesus. Don’t settle for anything less than that.
If you are an elder or teacher in the body of Christ, make sure that those around you can articulate the gospel and know how to respond when someone says yes to it. This can make the difference between leading one person to Christ and many more people coming to Christ through the testimony of a new brother or sister.
For those of you who don’t know how to share the Gospel with those around you, here is a clear, simple, reproducible way to share it that we’ve used many times with those we know:
Many times, though, leading people to Christ is the easy part. Teaching them to obey the Risen Christ and helping them to lay aside their old lifestyle is much harder. So next week, we’ll look at a process we’ve used here to raise up disciples.
Until then, what do you think is the main difficulty you have in sharing the gospel and discipling new believers? Let me know in the comment section.
I’m not quite sure what got into me a couple of years ago. But sometime in early March three or four years ago I became frustrated with our culture’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
If you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense. We take the date that perhaps one of the greatest apostolic missionaries since Paul died as a day to pinch people who don’t wear green and drink green beer. Even in Christian circles, we talk a good game about Patrick on his famous day, but we don’t do what he did.
So in my typical rebellious approach, I thought I would do something different. Instead of celebrating all things Irish on March 17th, I would spend some time getting acquainted with Saint Patrick’s life. Pretty quickly I found out that Patrick himself actually wrote two letters that we still possess and one of them is him telling the story of how God lead him to plant churches among the Irish.
But I couldn’t just read the Confessions of St. Patrick on St. Patrick’s day. No, no, no…that would be too easy. So instead, I went down to the McDonald’s in my neighborhood and read St. Patrick’s confession there…all while enjoying one of McDonald’s Shamrock shakes. Why would I do this? Because I became convinced after reading Patrick’s letters that if he lived today in my city, he would reach the people who hang out in the roughest McDonald’s in town. Something about reading the letter there stirs me to follow in Patrick’s example.
Now here’s the million dollar question: Why am I telling you this story?
The answer is this: I’d like you to join me on March 17th in reading the Confessions of St. Patrick. It’s the story of a young boy who is sold into slavery and while a slave learns how to pray to God and hear His voice. God then leads him out of slavery and back to his home, only to be stirred by God with love for his previous captors. He returns and lives like them in order to reach them and proclaim the Gospel to them. When I think of the nature of a missional lifestyle, it’s hard to get better than that. You can get a copy of his “Confessions” for free here.
But I don’t just want you to read the Confessions of St. Patrick in your home. I want you to go and read it in a place that St. Patrick would go as a missionary if he lived in your city. If you’re in my city, you can message me on Facebook and we can stage a sit-in and read it together. But ask the Lord to do in you what he has done in generation after generation and raise up missionaries for the Gospel who will love God, learn to pray, and become vessels of redemption to those living in the darkest places. You won’t regret it.
And check back here on March 17th for some thoughts from my reading of St. Patrick.
Recently I wrote about how we meet with existing believers when they express interest in joining our house church. Today I want to talk about one other conversation that we have in that process. We also ask existing believers to count the cost of joining a house church.
The immediate question is why would we do that?
Well, the best answer is always because Jesus asked us to count the cost of following Him, especially in regards to the cost of following Him on His mission (see Luke 14:28-30). This isn’t only a requirement for joining a house church, or our house churches, this is something Jesus asks all of us to do.
However, I’ve found it wise to invite believers to consider the cost of joining our house churches. Part of the reason is the cost of living on mission in our house churches can be higher than you would expect in a traditional church. I tell them stories about the lost people who have damaged things in our homes. I talk to them about the different times we’ve served friends in high crime areas where the potential to be harmed is real. I talk to them about the scary moments when fights have almost broke out at some of our gatherings. Certainly we try to be wise with what we do, but there’s a measure of mission that can never be controlled. So we ask folks to count the cost.
But there is another type cost that I invite existing believers to consider. It’s the cost of laying down a controlled church environment. I try to let them know that being part of an organic church means that everyone is responsible to bring what the Lord has given them, but sometimes that doesn’t work out and a meeting is bad. I share about the fact that we allow the kids to participate in a meeting with us and that means a lot more interrupted everything. I share about how community won’t just happen in a meeting, but will require us to rearrange our schedule to make time for the kind of relationships house churches have the potential to provide. Everyone says they want real community, but some like the rich young ruler have found the cost too high and walked away.
Is all of this worth it? Of course! Jesus is amazing and just knowing Him is worth all of the cost described above and more. Add on top of that the ability to get to be part of His body and stand side by side with brothers and sisters who love you and are committed to you? That’s easily worth any price we have to pay. But Jesus still asks us to consider it.
And so when we meet with believers who are interested, I invite them to think about the cost. Not because they’ve never considered the cost of following Jesus before, but because I want them to consider the cost of doing it a different way than they may have done before. All of this is done out of a heart to help, mind you. I don’t want to scare anyone away or needlessly critique someone. Over the years, this just seems to be the best way to help outsiders into the life we’ve found. It’s not for everyone, but it’s worked for us.
So, I’ll leave you with this. Regardless of where you are or what type of church you are part of, there is a cost to following Christ. Are you counting it? And are you helping others to join Jesus on His mission regardless of the cost they may have to pay? It’s worth considering.
Disclaimer: If you ever see a footnote on the bottom of a post, it’s likely to become a follow up post at some point. This post originated here.
There is a giant market in Christianity in the West for all things “missional.” In fact it’s so large, we’ve started naming things missional that aren’t. And much of the missional conversation has begun to center around doing good works for our neighbor–caring for the sick, empowering the poor, advocating for those at the margins.
All of this must include sharing the gospel. The missional movement will go completely off track if it abandons the story of Jesus as the way to the Father and the only answer for the human condition. In fact, while good works are important and cannot be ignored, sharing the good news must take priority in our lives. I say this as someone who has taken in people without homes and cared for the fatherless. Only the Gospel of Jesus ultimately saves people.
Our model for all of this should be Jesus Himself. He sets the terms and conditions for how Christianity should be lived out and demonstrated on the Earth. We should be surprised, then, to find that much of the missional movement not participating in the power of the Holy Spirit and advocating for a display of His power, because Jesus regularly relied on the Holy Spirit to sustain His mission.
Hear me on this: I’m sure Jesus would welcome us caring for the poor. I’m sure Jesus would encourage us for extending love to those who seem outside of the social norm. I’m sure Jesus would encourage us to care for the sick. I just see Him do it in the Gospels in a radically different manner than the missional church in the West.
A few examples of this:
After being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days by the devil, Jesus returns to Nazareth and preaches in a synagogue. He teaches from Isaiah 62, proclaiming His intent to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to captives, open the eyes of the blind, and loose the oppressed. After being chased out of the hometown for not doing many miracles, he moves on to Capernaum where He sets a captive free by casting a demon out of a demonized man (Luke 4:14-37). There aren’t many in the missional movement I hear practicing freeing people in this way.
Jesus frequently emphasized caring for the sick. But we don’t see Jesus establishing hospitals*. What we do see is Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-17), a paralyzed man (Mark 2:1-12), and a man born blind (John 9:1-6). These are just some of many healing miracles that were the method Jesus used to “care for the sick,” (John 21:25). I hear many advocating for better healthcare in the missional movement, but very few people praying for healing.
Jesus also did a number of other miracles for the benefit of others. He fed those without food. He did this twice through miracles of multiplication (Matthew 14:13-21, Matthew 15:32-39). This is rarely how I hear missional people speak of feeding the hungry. And I hear very few answers from the missional crowd about how to deal with demonized men who live as outcasts that no one knows how to deal with. But Jesus ends both the oppression and the isolation by rebuking the demonic presence and freeing the man (Mark 5:1-20).
Jesus did all of these signs as proof that He was truly the embodiment of God’s Kingdom (John 2:23, John 6:2, John 15:24). And He did these miracles, not because He was God incarnate, but because He relied on the power of the Holy Spirit (see perhaps my favorite missional verses of all time, Phillipians 2:6-8, and John 5:19 & Matthew 12:28).
Not only did Jesus rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to be on mission Himself, He told us to do the same. He said that those who believed in Him would do not only the works He did, but greater works (John 14:12). And he commanded the apostles not to begin attempting the mission until the Holy Spirit came and gave them power to do the mission, too (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-5). Once this happened, they embarked on a very similar story as Jesus did.
My point in bringing all this up is that we often try to carry out the commands of Jesus in the power of the flesh. And while I’m sure there are true and real times Jesus has asked us to bandage a wound, be a friend to the lonely, and be an advocate for the poor, I want us to remember that the Jesus of the Bible had a radical, powerful trust in the Holy Spirit to deal with the true ills of society, not just manage the side affects. He brought the resources of Heaven to bare on the problems of Earth, not just the efforts of men.
The only mission we are called to is the one Jesus started. We aren’t to bring just our resources to bear on the world’s problems. We’re to draw on the Holy Spirit to truly heal the evil around us. If we want to engage in the true mission of Jesus, I think we need that same radical, powerful trust in the Holy Spirit Jesus had.
But the choice is ours: Will we do mission our way, or Jesus’?
*This is not a critique on hospitals nor me advocating not going to doctors. It’s purely a statement of fact.
Christian culture can make us comfortable and affect our ability to reach people who don’t know Christ. And often we have to be willing to leave our comfortable subculture behind to share the gospel with the people who need it the most. But the good news is we don’t have to go there alone. There is someone there who has gone before us and made the sacrifices we’re talking about. His name is Jesus.
If you think about it, Jesus had the best set up in existence. Before becoming a human He existed in communion with the Father in a way no man since Adam had ever tasted. There was no pain there. No difficulty. Perfect fellowship. There was peace and joy and goodness constantly surrounding him.
But He loved us.
And because He loved us and because it was the Father’s will Jesus left Heaven and endured a world that undoubtedly was harder than the one He left. Pain was there. Heartache ran rampant. He would hunger for the first time. He would be tempted for the first time. He would become the only just man who had to endure suffering. Most important of all, He would leave the immediate fellowship with the Father and submit to living life like we do.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
and John, speaking about Jesus coming to Earth says:
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
John 1:14, The Message
And He did it all out of love.
But Paul (and I’m sure John) tells us these details about Jesus’ life for a reason. Just before Paul begins to tell the Philippians about Jesus renouncing His privileges, he says this:
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Paul’s point in telling the story is that we’re supposed to be inspired to do what Jesus did. He left aside the privilege of fellowship with God. He laid aside all the rights of Godhead. He didn’t count equality with God as something to be held onto at the expense of us. Instead He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
And we’re supposed to do the same. Out of great love and humility and servant-heartedness, we will need to lay down some of the “joys” we have as Christians in order to participate with the mission of God. Just like Jesus had to leave the comforts of home to win the hearts of people who didn’t know their need, so do we. He has gone before us, has been the example to encourage us, and now calls us to join Him outside the camp.
Will it be easy?
Is it always fun?
But Scripture tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus so that we don’t grow weary and give up. And if leaving the comfort of the Christian circle you’ve found yourself in is hard, then fix your eyes on Jesus who did it first. He is both our motivation and example.
Will you join Him there?