I was at one of our house churches the other day talking to an eleven year old who asked some great questions. We were talking about the places in Scripture where Jesus tells us to “go and buy gold refined by fire,” and his story where he tells us to “go and buy oil.” All of these are places that tell us go and develop a close relationship with Christ.
He was having a hard time understanding those concepts, so I told him this story:
“Imagine that your dad made you a deal. Every time you brought your dad a dime, your dad responded by giving you $20.00. Would you take your dad up on that deal?”
He shook his head yes.
“I bet you’d do it a lot, wouldn’t you?
He shook his head again.
“I bet you would. You’d do it until you became rich. Well that’s what its like with Jesus. We go and bring our small hearts to Jesus and ask him to reveal himself to us. We call this prayer. He responds by showing up and showing himself to us in ways that grow our hearts and make us wealthy in God, because that is real wealth — knowing God.”
Dallas Willard famously said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” We have to make the effort to show up and pray. We have to show up to encounter him. We bring our dime. When we do, God takes our ten cent prayers and brings $20 encounters and $20 answers to the things we ask for. This is grace.
This morning I was thinking of the conversation again. I realized that I hadn’t told my young friend the whole story. See, I had told the story to him as if the first dime he brings to his dad is his. The reality is one we forget often — the first dime he gave his dad is a dime his dad gave him first. We are able to bring our hearts in prayer to meet with God because he gave us the initial desire to do so. It was him, putting in us a desire to be close to him to begin with, that allows us to begin to want to pray. You may even be feeling the tug right now to spend time with Jesus. This is also grace.
So let’s bring our dimes and trade them in. The little we bring will be transformed into so much more. Let’s also not forget who gave us the dime in the first place.
At the heart of Christianity is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean that everyone who becomes a Christian has to have an experience like Paul did on the road to Damascus, but it means that everyone who is truly born again will encounter Jesus by His Spirit. Often that begins by faith, accepting the truth of the Gospel and the work of Jesus on the cross and then as we grow in faith we learn to interact with Jesus as a living being as we grow up in Him. But make no mistake, every believer (whether they feel it or not) encounters Jesus.
When I first became part of the organic church movement, there was a lot of talk about encountering Jesus. Many of those I learned from had taught us how to encounter Jesus by waiting on the Lord in silence and prayer. As I’ve been exposed to more and more parts of the house church movement, however, I’ve noticed varying degrees of emphasis on encountering Jesus in prayer, usually less. To some degree I’m sure this has to do with some who have tried to call the church away from religious prayer routines.
While I applaud leaving behind dead religious traditions, I’m often saddened by the hardness towards people who try to encounter Jesus within the organic church/house church movement. Our lives were never designed to be lived outside of a regular encounter with Jesus, so while we need to leave behind the trappings of religion that really were more like hiding than meeting Jesus, we also must position our hearts to regularly encounter Christ. Jesus tells us to do this individually in secret prayer routines where we meet the Father (see Mathew 6:5-6).
The life of the body, however, is not just the coming together of the individual lives of the believers that make it up. Christians have always believed that because of the blood of Christ they have had direct access to God themselves, personally (Hebrews 4:15-16), but they’ve also always believed that something different happens when believers come together and pray. Jesus said that He would show up in a different, more significant way when two or three believers gather together and pray. Part of the promise of Him showing up when those two or three gathering and agreeing in prayer is that He will answer their request (Matthew 18:19-20).
So this encountering of Jesus through prayer, this agreeing together, this listening and obeying Christ, must be done both individually and corporately. If we try and obey the commands of Jesus without it, we will find ourselves continually wearied and unequipped both individually and corporately, because we were never designed to live the life of Christ outside of being fueled by encounter with Him. While this must happen individually, it must certainly happen corporately. If we don’t teach our churches how to pray, we stop successive generations of disciples from learning how to pray together (we don’t pass it on) and we lose the promise Jesus gives us when we agree together on anything.
Friends, our brothers and sisters from the house church planting movements around the world almost unanimously agree that movements do not start without a groundswell of prayer. This may begin with one person, but it culminates with many, many people praying for God’s Kingdom to come to their neighborhood, city, and region. When they gather and pray in a significant way, God answers. These are the people that have put their dependency on God answering their prayers and because of that they see people healed, raised from the dead, and most importantly lives transformed by the Gospel. I believe we have much to learn from these brothers and sisters, not the least of which is their dependence on God answering their prayers.
Friends, we serve a God who desires to encounter us. He will do this both individually and corporately, but He will encounter us differently with a group than He does when we are all alone. So let’s not stop gathering together with other brothers and sisters to pray, as some are in the habit of doing, but let’s begin to gather to ask Jesus for the harvest that He desires to bring in.
He will respond.
Welcome to Inspiration Avenue!
My conviction is that our generation is over-taught and under-inspired, so every week I cultivate some of the most inspiring content I can find on the internet and bring it to you. I hope you are inspired to live fully submitted to Christ and pursuing everything He purchased for you on the Cross.
Maybe this goes without saying, but I don’t expect you to agree with me about everything I post here. In fact, I expect some of the things I post will rattle your theological cages. My suggestion? Be inspired by people who aren’t perfect. Realize you won’t agree with everything I share here. Eat the chicken, spit out the bones.
So, without further ado, here are three sources of inspiration for the week:
Methods and Tools vs. Prayer and Obedience: Roger Thorman writes about his journey into simple, organic house churches on his blog, SimpleChurchJournal. This post hammers at the thought that all of our disciple making methods and strategies are useless outside of a close walk with the Lord. This is so crucial, because often we get so caught up in the methods that a relationship with Christ can get left behind.
The Phenomenonal Growth of the Salvation Army: Lex Loizides is a church historian of the revivalist variety. He spends his time at his blog Church History Review telling the stories of revivals of the past. Currently Lex is telling the story of the Salvation Army. While the whole story is powerful, I was particularly touched by the picture here of William Booth as an old man, completely eclipsed by the men and women he had raised up into ministry from the ranks of the poor and disenfranchised. May God help us all to raise up disciples that touch the nations of the Earth like He did with William and Catherine Booth.
David Ravenhill: David Ravenhill is the son of famed preacher and revivalist Leonard Ravenhill. Leonard Ravenhill was known throughout the 70’s and 80’s for calling the church away from being like the world. I recently came across a quote of David, echoing his father in many ways: “this tidal wave of deception [. . .] seeks to make self the ultimate object of our worship while reducing God to being our ultimate personal trainer. In recent years, the words “your destiny” have been preached, prophesied, and promoted throughout the Body of Christ, to the point where self has become the center and focal point of life rather than Christ and His Kingdom.” Let’s all purpose to serve Jesus and not continue to ask Jesus to serve us.
Yesterday I shared some thoughts about how “not being fed spiritually” isn’t why we participate in a church. My primary argument (in case you hate clicking links) is that we weren’t primarily designed be fed by another person, but by the Lord Himself. But I realize that because of the state of the church today, that could leave many of you asking, “How do I do that?”
Because of that, I want to look at four different ways the Bible encourages us to fuel our spiritual man. God actually has ways for you to feed your heart and soul yourself as you encounter Him. My encouragement to you is to look at the four different ways listed below and pick one (or more) that you aren’t doing, but to also do it daily for ninety days before you give up on it. There are many, many days where the disciplines I practice don’t feel like they are accomplishing anything. But the overall effect of doing them consistently over the years has had a tremendous impact on my life.
So, to feed your spiritual man, you should try the following:
- Pray. I know what you’re thinking. You pray. But I’m not talking about the short “Help me, God,” sort of prayers we pray throughout hectic days. I’m talking about a kind of prayer where your mind is focused, your heart is attentive, and you and the Father are dialoguing back and forth. Part of the problem we experience with prayer is much of the church has taught us not to expect God to talk back to us. But prayer is a communion of our spirit with God’s Holy Spirit where real relationship happens. If you have problems praying I have a few suggestions: 1) Get alone. 2) Leave behind all of your electronic devices. 3) Bring a pen and some paper. Write your part of the conversation out on paper and then wait. And as God brings truth to your spirit or brings up a Bible verse, or shows you a picture write those things down. Over time as you practice this, you’ll begin to get good at hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit as you wait for Him.
- Read the Bible. Again, this can seem so elementary, but we so don’t do the simple things and it hurts us. Can we put away our books, our blogs (even this one?), our Christian programs, and truly begin to understand what God is saying? Jesus (and Moses) said “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matthew 4:4). We have to get to our place in our walk where we understand we are dependent on God’s word to feed our spirit on a daily basis. This encounter with the word has to go beyond just dull, repetitive reading, though, to ushering us into an encounter with Jesus (John 5:39). In our network, I encourage believers to get in groups of two or three and read 20 to 30 chapters of the Bible in context every week. Consuming a large amount of Scripture in context has helped us grow in understanding of God’s will for our lives. Not only that, but we’ve met God in the process.
- Do the will of the Father. “I have a kind of food you know nothing about…My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work,” (John 4:32-34). Jesus, as a human being, had learned to become dependent, not on natural food, but a spiritual food that came from the Father. This wasn’t just because Jesus was God. Jesus had to lay aside His divine nature and become like us in all things (Philippians 2:6-8). So His entire life was an example of how redeemed humanity can live in relationship to the Father. Friends, this means you can be fed spiritually when you participate in God’s will! That can be as simple as encouraging someone or responding to a truth from the Bible or as unique as Jesus prophesying to the Samaritan woman about her various scandals and leading her to repentance. Regardless, every time we do God’s will, it strengthens who we are on the inside. Many of my friends who understand spiritual disciplines miss this reality because it can’t be done alone in a closet. But some of my most spiritually dynamic mentors and friends are people who were people who received from God and obeyed when He asked them to act. Don’t miss this powerful step!
- Pray in the Spirit. Paul had a very particular type of prayer that he stressed was important for building up our inner man. This was praying in tongues or praying in the Spirit and it was designed as form of communion between our spirit and God’s Spirit. When Paul talks about this type of prayer, he says that a believer “…will be speaking by the power of the Spirit…[and] is strengthened personally,” (1 Corinthians 14:2-4). And because of this, Paul says about himself “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than any of you,” (1 Corinthians 14:18). I think many times, we under-emphasize the role this gift has in strengthening our spiritual lives. Much could be written about this gift, but let’s start here: If you have this ability, put it into practice daily. If you don’t have this gift, ask the Lord for it. He loves to give more of the Spirit to those who ask.
The Old Testament has a story that we can learn from in regard to these disciplines. During their time in the wilderness, God would rain down manna from heaven for the Israelites to eat and told them to gather what they needed for that day. If they tried to gather more than what they needed for that day, when they went to eat it the next day, what was left over had rotted and was covered in maggots. They couldn’t live off the previous day’s manna.
So too, we can’t live off of one good day with the Lord or three good days in a week, let alone one day a week when we gather as a church. Again, much of the church is weaker than it needs to be because they aren’t daily engaging the Lord in these ways.
My encouragement to you if you read yesterday’s post and didn’t know where to start is to pick one of these disciplines that you aren’t strong in and practice it for the next seven days. Take stock on what you’ve noticed as far as a change in your walk. I want you to spend 90 days trying a discipline, but even at one solid week, my guess is you will start to see a dynamic change in your walk with the Lord.
Remember, this is important. You were created for relationship with God. Don’t miss these avenues to encountering Him and growing by feeding yourself on God and His word.
Have you noticed it? Selfies. Selfies everywhere. Selfies on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve even taken a few. Selfie sticks, which were once thought ridiculous, are now common and acceptable. And it’s affecting everything we do, including how we relate to God.
Whether you instagrammed the last time you went out for coffee to read your Bible, pinned the latest margin that you colored in in your Bible, or hashtagged yourself doing something noble for the world to see, we have a ton of new ways to let people know we’re being spiritual. But our hearts haven’t caught up with our technology.
Jesus said, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in Heaven,” (Matthew 6:2). He goes on to talk about three different areas where this applies: giving, praying, and fasting. I’m sure there are tons of other sacrifices and disciplines He could have mentioned. But the principle is this: If you try and get recognition for what you do, you can have it, but that will be your only reward.
Instead, Jesus offers us rewards in Heaven for the things we do that no one else know about. I’ve gone too far with this. I’ve shut people out of my life in weird ways so they don’t know the good I’ve done. But it’s the heart that Jesus is going after: Are you doing what you’re doing to be admired by others?
If you’ve hung around this long, there’s a secret I want to share: There is an intimacy with God that comes from sacrifice that no one sees and its worth more than all the likes and retweets this world has to offer. Begin a secret life with God. Not a fake life, but do things that only He can see. Start asking Him for things that benefit the world, but only you and He know about. Give to someone who could never repay without being linked to the giving. And all the while, talk to Jesus about it and get His heart.
And if you get His heart, you will never, ever want to trade it for another like again.
One of the realities I struggle with many days in my walk with God is “How far is too far?” I know that seems like a weird question to ask when I’m talking about God. But the question is never, “Have I gone after Jesus too hard in a way that makes me unrelatable to the rest of the world?” More often the question is, “I sure feel like I’ve gone a long ways, but maybe there’s more of God and I’ve settled for too little. Could I have not gone far enough?”
Maybe you can relate.
But the mystery of God is this: God is unknowable and yet He invites us to know Him.
God is unknowable: He’s God because He is bigger and more complex than you. He measures out the universe in span of His hand. We’re talking about the God who laid the foundations of the world and taught the stars how to shine. He created the star and created the atom and everything in between and holds it all together through the word of His power. He knows you and your ways far better than you know Him. If you could fully understand God, if you could get your tiny human mind around Him and His ways, if you could know Him fully, He would cease to be God. You want a God that’s bigger than you.
God wants to be known: We first see Him creating a world where He can relate to people. Then people break that special bond they have with Him and hide and He goes to find them. He spends thousands of years beckoning and whispering to people that He will come and break the curse that we’ve put on ourselves only to finally end up shouting in fragile form of His Son, Jesus Christ. And with the final act of laying down His life Jesus atones for our sins against Him and the veil that separated God from man is torn in two, signaling an end to us being shut out from His presence.
So, yes, God is unknowable. But He wants to be known.
Which is why Paul prays in Ephesians 3 this prayer:
I pray that…you have the power to understand…how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is….though it is too great to understand fully.
Friends, God knows He’s too big for us. He knows we will never fully comprehend Him and His love for us. He knows that He is an ocean of love and our small, frail hearts are the size of a thimble. We can never fully hold the vastness of who He is.
But this, I think is a secret to God’s heart, that if you understand, will help you grow in Him:
He invites us to try anyways.
Friends, I don’t think the issue is to get a certain amount of God. That would be impossible. I think the answer is to keep opening your heart to receive more of Him, knowing that you will never be able to comprehend it all. Be okay with the God who is bigger than you. Who has more love than you. And keep opening your heart knowing it will never be able to hold everything God has to give.
Today, I pray that you would have the power to understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep the love of Christ is, though it’s too big for you anyways.
I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. They seem more like something to talk about than things people actually intend to do. Frankly, by the time I manage to complete Christmas celebrations, I barely have enough time to think about what I want to accomplish in the next year.
So a couple of years ago, I started something different. I started making resolutions in February. By February, most people have already broken their New Year’s resolutions. There’s no more pressure to have them and no one’s asking you for them. It actually allows me time to give serious thought to anything that needs to get done. I also get time to pray so I don’t just do what I want, but can actually submit to the Lord’s leading.
What that means for me now, though, is I’m looking over what 2016 was. Most people are constantly looking forward. I’m not against that, but the seeds of the future are found in the past. I want to learn from 2016, both the successes and the failures, and chart a course with the Lord’s help that is wise and ambitious.
So, with no further ado, I present the significant events of 2016:
My Prayer Retreat With Christy
This may have been my favorite thing of my entire year. Christy and I had desperately been trying to go on a much needed trip for just the two of us (i.e., no kids). And while the desire was there, the budget and the time weren’t always. But by the end of the summer, burnout from work and ministry and parenting was getting really high. So we picked a weekend, arranged for some time with the grandparents for the kids, and took a prayer retreat at a cabin in a state park.
And we prayed. We asked the Lord about what we were committed to. We asked Him for direction. We talked to each other about what we were hearing. We sang songs to Jesus around a campfire and didn’t worry about whether it would wake up the kids (or the other campers). We came out of that time more focused and more together. This wasn’t just my favorite thing that happened this year, it was also the most strategic. We hope to make this a yearly tradition.
(Side note: If you haven’t gone away with your spouse to pray and seek the Lord, you should give it a try some time.)
My Commitment to Read More Books
The last few years before this one, my reading had tanked. I kept being given books I asked for and they sat on the shelf. Late in 2015 I decided to give Audible a try. I had time in the car and while I shaved and other random, on-the-go moments. The number of books I read this year jumped from 3 the previous year to 16 this year. Not every book was great, but there were 5 that were significantly meaningful. You can check out my thoughts on last year’s reading here.
My Work As a Missionary
This last year, we opened our home to a lot of kids from the neighborhood and the results were really surprising. I’ve written a bit about this in a blog post from last year about hospitality and the spread of the Gospel. Needless to say, we are still feeling the affects of this change to our lives. Just yesterday a gaggle of kids showed up in our house and tomorrow I’m talking to one of them about starting a discipleship group. I believe God has a church for our neighborhood made up people more ethnically and economically similar to our neighborhood. This was a first step in that direction.
On a side note, I also believe there is a greater emphasis on this coming in 2017, not just as a missionary to my neighborhood, but to others in my city as well. As I write about my intentions for 2017 and the reality that plays out, I hope you all will see that.
Our Decision to Raise Up Shepherds
Some day I’ll explain more about my hesitation with the word pastor for those of you who aren’t from the house church perspective. For now, let’s just say this: we haven’t had pastors in our house churches and were fairly adverse to the title.
In 2015, those of us who were opening our homes for churches to meet in began to realize our church network was struggling. A number of us were trying to reach out and evangelize more, but the churches still needed people to care and help those who were struggling.
Enter the shepherds. These are people with a heart and gifting to care for the body without title, privilege, or hierarchy. We finally initiated this idea towards the end of 2016 but it’s already paid tremendous dividends.
My Commitment to Blog Daily
Part of my commitment to read more books landed me in the book “The Icarus Deception.” Now Seth Godin is not a Christian by any stretch of the imagination, but I could sense the Lord challenging me when I read the phrase “There’s no such thing as talker’s block.” And thus, (mostly) daily blogging was born. Can I just say I appreciate the support each of you has shown along the way? I know a lot of you have subscribed since that point or gave comments of encouragement along the way. It’s meant a lot.
My Daughter Graduating High School
For those of you who don’t know, in 2014, I became a dad to wonderful 17 year old. Andrienne had met us through our outreach to the neighborhood several years prior, confessed Christ, and become part of our church. When things at home needed to change, she moved into our attic and became part of the family.
2016 was a big transition for her because she graduated high school! This is and was a huge deal. We had worked for hours and hours to make sure we hit this goal. I’m so proud of her for this accomplishment and there are plenty more ahead.
My Progress on My Book
So, I had hoped to finish the book by the end of this year. That didn’t happen. But I did make progress. I went from one chapter to three and a half. I also took a big step and committed to it openly and publicly, so I need to get it done. If only to stop this guy:
My Over Commitment
Okay, now we’re to some of the not so good parts of 2016. I was seriously over committed in 2016. I was doing so much, that eventually the shepherd that is part of my house church looked at me and told me I was doing too much. And we felt this in 2016. I have a huge list of “to do’s” from 2016 that are on my white board in my office. Many of them are still left unfinished. So the need ahead is to find ways to get those finished without taking on extra. Also, I need to make sure I spend more time nurturing my family, as sometimes they miss out due my over commitment.
Changes at Work
This wasn’t a bad thing, but it was tough on me. I was a commercial loan officer, but in October I got tapped to be part of a project management team at the Credit Union I work at. This took me from a challenging, rewarding, and fun job that I was finally starting to excel at and threw me into a new position that I had never done before. Project management is different than lending, let’s just say that! This next year and a half (the duration of this job) is going to be a big change for me. Keep me in your prayers as I figure out how to manage projects.
That was 2016! Thanks for listening. This was helpful for me as I processed out the changes that took place this year and what they mean for next year.
How about you? What’s one thing that changed in 2016 that has implications for next year for you? I’d love to hear.