Have you heard of the Cajun Navy yet? They are an impromptu group of Louisianians who banded together to supplement rescue efforts in Houston and Eastern Texas. They utilize their own money and their own boats and watercraft in order to rescue people from a tragedy most of us only hope to comprehend.
So yesterday after hearing about the response that normal, everyday people had to the hurricane, I was extremely encouraged to see this Twitter thread from Brad Watson comparing the rescue efforts of the church in Houston to the way the church is supposed to function every day:
Frankly, Brad’s right. It takes a catastrophe to show us this, but when the church really recognizes the seriousness of its situation, it can mobilize and become the most generous, resourceful, and creative force for good on the planet. The issue isn’t our ability, it’s how awake we our to the situation around us.
Here in the city I live in Iowa, we have what amounts to a refugee crisis. We frequently have men, women, and children flowing in from Chicago, literally fleeing the violence and lifestyle that Chicago has been known for. Some people come with nothing but the clothes on their back. One of my daughters came here with her biological family in the back of a moving truck. But there are parts of our city that receive fresh influxes of wonderful people from Chicago who bring their hurts and their poverty. We love these people, but there are definite needs. It’s a quiet crisis, so there’s very little response or help. Your city has a quiet crisis of its own kind, I’m sure.
But even if you live in a near utopia suburb or small town, there is a constant crisis that we all are experiencing and few of us are awoken to it. It’s the crisis of a life with out Christ that culminates at death in an eternity in Hell. We don’t talk about those realities much any more because they’ve become unfashionable. They seem antiquated and an attempt to motivate people out of fear. We’d rather talk about how Jesus affects our life here in the present.
Make no mistake, Jesus changes everything! But in the same way that just a few days ago there were desperate people with water completely surrounding their homes that needed a volunteer navy to intervene, there is a generation of people who don’t know Christ that need the church to leverage what they have to rescue them from an unseen, but terrible fate. It’s a quiet crisis of epic proportions.
When we wake up to this quiet crisis, it compels us to get involved. The early church was so incredibly committed to the mission, that Luke describes it this way:
All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.
There was a common unity around Jesus and His mission (that included caring for the poor) that compelled the people in the Jerusalem church to leverage everything they have for that mission. Our ability to mobilize and be a solution to the crises around us are tied to our ability to not let our hearts get lulled to sleep by the seeming normalcy of these everyday emergencies.
There are quiet crises going on all around us. There is one eternal crisis constantly going on, being played out in the hearts of men and women we all know. We have the answer for both in the Gospel of Jesus. We just have to keep our hearts open to the need.
Stay woke, church.
Every night we have a certain bedtime routine where we read our kids a story from the Bible, pray with them, and tuck them into bed at night. However, the last three or four months or so, my youngest has started to ask us to tell her “the Jesus things” before we tuck her in. What she means by “the Jesus things” is the story of how Jesus rescued her (and all of us) from sin and its consequences. My daughter uses this as an opportunity to stay up late. I’m using it as an opportunity to soak her soul in the Gospel.
Last night on my 97th time telling my daughter “the Jesus things” I started to realize that I was only telling her part of the Gospel. See, I told her about sin, about how she was separated from God, about how Jesus came and lived, taught, healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, and taught people how to be close to God. I told her about Jesus’ death and the cruel way He was treated. I even told her about how Jesus was raised from the dead and because of that resurrection, when we receive Christ, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of God.
What did I miss?
Last night, I realized I missed anything that happens after saying “Yes” to Jesus. You see, I had focused on the theological, evangelistic portion of the Gospel…the “sign here” kind of Gospel that you come to expect from used-car-salesmen-style evangelists. what I hadn’t told her was what to expect after that and why it was still good news.
After I realized it, I changed the last few lines of my finely honed presentation to include a couple thoughts about what that would look like. It got me thinking about how often we present the Good News to people about Christ as a decision to make that will make their life better, but we present discipleship to people as a cross to bear. While I definitely believe that there is a cross to bear in discipleship, I do not believe that Jesus is the Good-News-yin to discipleship as a bad-news-yang.
So what’s the good news in discipleship? It’s simple and its what caused the first disciples to leave their businesses, family, and comfort and face persecution and death to spread the Gospel–we get to be like Jesus. Jesus put it this way: “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher,” (Luke 6:40).
That’s the good news in discipleship–that we can be like Jesus. This man who we begin to learn how to follow after coming to Him and surrendering everything, actually has a plan to make us like Him. We will grow up into all aspects of Him–His character, His power, His nature–everything Jesus was and is we get to grow into. This is the good news that keeps us saying yes to the discipleship process. It’s good news to our hearts when we’re tired and weary. Most importantly, it’s not the dreaded fine print to what had previously looked like a really good deal.
So, I told my daughter a little different Gospel. I told her when she says yes to “the Jesus things,” she gets to grow up and be like Jesus. I intend to tell those I’m discipling the same thing. My guess is they haven’t heard it from me nearly enough.
Maybe you should go back and check your Gospel, too?
One of the mysteries of the Christian faith is that God has always existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since before the creation of the world, these three have existed in an exchange of love and unity so perfect that we describe “them” as one God and three persons. This love flowing back and forth from God to God is the foundation for the reality we describe as Heaven. Everything we love about the idea of Heaven is born out of the glory of the love of God being exchanged between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So when we think about Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us, we often think about the fact that He was unjustly accused, the pain He endured on the cross, the loss of His physical life, and the punishment He took on Himself for our sins. Rarely, though, do we think about the fact that Jesus made an earlier sacrifice. Jesus actually willingly laid down the life of Heaven to come to be a man. He left perfection and chose to live in a world damaged by sin and full of brokenness. He stepped outside of the tangible presence of God in order to lay down His life for us. Paul actually says that He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men,” (Philippians 2:6-7).
Jesus had to give up everything that made Him God in order to walk out our redemption. He had to leave the unbroken relationship with the Father He had since the beginning of time in order to come and save us. He left the comforts of Heaven for a life on Earth that would end with the most terrible death humanity had yet devised. He traded everything He had so we could know the Father.
Friends, this reality should challenge us to our very core. At it’s root, there is a radical surrender unlike anything the world has ever seen at play here, all for our good. This sacrifice caused our salvation. It purchased redemption for our world. This sacrifice wasn’t just to save us though, Paul also uses this picture of Jesus laying down the privilege of being God as an example of what we are to do: “Have this attitude in yourselves.”
We are to lay down our lives the same way Jesus laid down His. Not just by suffering a painful death on the cross, but by leaving behind our privilege for the sake of others. Nowhere is this message more needed than in the West. We have become, for all intents and purposes the most comfortable generation in the history of mankind. And yet, though we have more comfort, more ease, and even more ability than generations past, we seem to struggle with sharing the Gospel and leading people to Jesus. We believe this is because of the hardness of our hearts, the wealth or wisdom of the population, or the fact that our culture is just tired of Christianity.
But what if the problem is at least in part that we’re not willing to get uncomfortable? What if as a church, we haven’t done what Jesus did? Is it possible that we haven’t been willing to embrace the radical leaving behind of the comforts of the world and the comforts of the church to bring the Gospel to places damaged by sin? Is it possible that we are making the opposite choice that Jesus did? Are we choosing the comfort of a relationship with God and God’s people, the comfort of nice things, the comfort of safety, and loosing out on a life lived among the lost helping them find their way back to God?
Friends, today, I want to challenge you. There is a radical sacrifice that Jesus made when He became a man. He laid aside His status. He embraced suffering, even to the cross and it opened up salvation for millions. Can you lay aside your status? Can you bring the Gospel to those who don’t have it? Can you embrace the suffering that comes along with that life, knowing others will come to Christ?
I don’t believe that most of the world hates Christ. I believe they’re waiting to see the life of Jesus displayed in front of them. The question is will you lay down your life like He did? Will you embrace the radical surrender of your own life for the life of Christ?
I challenge you to do it.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Recently a friend of mine from my time in Kansas City suffered a terrible tragedy. Jason Johns, an inner city leader of a church in Kansas City, was in a terrible car accident with his three children. All four were injured, but his daughters Hope and Elise need miraculous intervention. You can read more updates on their GoFundMe page. Please pray for Jason, his wife, their family and extended family with me and believe for God’s best for this young family.
When I was in Bible College, I had one of the best roommates I could have asked for. We had both come to the school to learn more about the power of the Holy Spirit. My friend was an evangelist, but our school focused almost exclusively on prayer and the power of Holy Spirit. So late in our first year at the school, he got permission from the head of the school to do some intensive research about how those three topics intersect.
My friend completed his paper, but I always remember the conclusion he came to in the paper was simultaneously simple and profound: The New Testament church’s experience was one of rhythms. Instead of focusing on one aspect or the other (something the church is exceptionally good at), the church of Acts would continually move through rhythms: The community would gather and pray, the Holy Spirit would respond, and the result would be a missionary thrust that lead many people to the Lord.
You see this in Acts 1-3. Jesus ascends into Heaven but tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the believers and a great harvest is gathered in from Peter’s message. The Harvest continues in Acts 3 with the healing of the lame man and many people coming to Christ.
The rhythm begins again in Acts 4-6. The apostles are brought before the high council and warned not to speak of Christ. When they are released they gather together and pray. This time the building they are praying in is shaken by the Holy Spirit and those gathered were filled with great boldness. Miracles begin to happen, a great number of people came to the Lord, other leaders were raised up, and the mission continues to go forth.
One more example is Acts 13-19. Acts 13 opens with believers in the diverse church of Antioch ministering to the Lord and fasting. It was during this time of prayer and fasting that God by the Holy Spirit spoke to the church to send Paul and Barnabas on their first apostolic mission. This apostolic mission was marked by signs and wonders and culminated in a number of new churches in Galatia and Asia Minor.
This is important for a simple reason: There is a great divide in the church. Often people who devote themselves to prayer are separated from those who give themselves to evangelism. Oddly enough, people who experience the Holy Spirit in profound ways are often separate from the people who pray and the people who evangelize. This isn’t the way God designed the church to function. We weren’t designed to live in continual prayer meetings that never see the Holy Spirit spill out to the streets and touch the lost. Nor were we designed to be constantly evangelizing without the power of the Holy Spirit that comes when we gather together and pray.
Instead, the church often will find itself somewhere in this cycle, praying, going in the power of the Holy Spirit, and then proclaiming the Gospel to lost people. In fact, this is the testimony of many of the great moves of the Spirit throughout history, starting with the book of Acts right up through the church planting movements that are happening across the globe right now.
Are you in a season where evangelism and mission is low? Maybe it’s time to return to the place of prayer and ask God to pour out His Spirit. Are you continuing in the place of prayer, but not much else? It may be time to lift your eyes to where the Holy Spirit might moving. Are you experiencing the Holy Spirit in profound ways but not seeing much harvest? It’s possible that the Holy Spirit is sending you to people outside of your church community to share the Gospel with power. The key is knowing what season you’re in. We get stagnant (even disobedient) when we choose one activity over what the Holy Spirit has us in.
So, what season does the Holy Spirit have you and your church in right now?
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Our house church network is in a season where we need to hear from the Lord about a number of things. There is no external threats, per se, but a number of us our sensing its time to gather together and seek the Lord in prayer in the way I described above. We are gathering tomorrow night for an extended time of prayer and listening to Jesus. Will you pray for us, that God would speak and help us forward in the next season of our lives together?
I would greatly appreciate it.
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.
Over the years, our house churches have sought to live out the mission of Jesus. Living out this mission has not always been easy. One of the realities that we’ve learned over the years is that there are two important qualities in someone wanting to truly live out mission: They need to be simultaneously consistent and flexible.
Consistent, because many of the people that are far away from God aren’t. Their lives can be erratic, often driven by the need or desire of the moment. But if you become the person that shows up at the same place, at the same time, and consistently represents Jesus, being a vessel of mercy and a safe place in the hectic world they live in, you stand out and can be found. They know where to find you if they need you and can count on you to help in a world that seems like is always chaotic.
And flexible for the same reason. The life of someone who doesn’t know Christ can be chaotic, but even if it’s not, emergencies happen. Being open and available to serve at the right moment requires a certain amount of flexibility in schedule and priorities. Showing up to help move, babysit, or just talk when things get bad are all significant in-roads we’ve had into the lives of people who don’t know Jesus. Leonard Ravenhill used to say, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.” Nowhere is that as true as in missional living. This has required us to hold lightly to plans and schedules, so we can be available on short notice.
A consistent person will be someone who can be counted on by those whose lives aren’t consistent. A flexible person can respond to a crisis when it comes. But a consistent and yet flexible person is able to meet lost people in both situations and allows us to quickly become helpful to those who don’t know Jesus. This requires us to die to ourselves and live for Christ and His mission in a different way that non-missional living won’t.
Years ago we started serving our community at a local park. We brought food, we played with the kids that were there, and generally loved our neighborhood. The neighborhood began to count on us being at that same place every week. But emergencies and life situations started happening that couldn’t be dealt with on Sundays, so the rest of our lives had to be flexible enough to deal with situations as they came up. It was a busy season for us, but it taught us a great deal about serving people who don’t know Christ.
If you’re struggling with missional living, it may be time to look in the mirror. Are you consistent? Are you flexible? You might be one or the other. Can you be both?