Reflecting On Bible Reading…

This past month, I finished up reading through the Bible using the 4+1 Reading plan.  The plan was very different from any plan I have used before as it took me to a couple of Old Testament passages and a couple of New Testament passages each day along with a Psalm.  It took a little while to get into a rhythm reading it this way, but quickly I found myself seeing the connections between OT and NT passages and the beauty of the Bible as one cohesive narrative where we see Jesus as the hero of the story of God’s epic story.  I found myself daily broken and frustrated by the mess of humanity seen in the OT and then the hope of salvation and restoration as Jesus inaugurates His Kingdom and initiates His Church.  And while the Kingdom has not arrived in completeness, I am reminded that effects of Jesus rule and reign have begun in the hearts of people who recognize His Kingship.  So, today I am hopeful in the midst of the chaos of this broken and fallen world.  The Kingdom is advancing and one day all the wrong will be made right.  The suffering, pain, and death will cease.  What an incredible realization!  However, not all will experience the ecstasy of that moment when Christ returns.  Many have yet to hear, understand, or put their faith in the good news of what Jesus has done.  Now, motivated by who God is and what He has done, I pray that we will live our lives to make the declaration and invitation of the Kingdom known to all until He comes or our days on this earth are done.  Will you join me?

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Living As A Missionary

When Jada and I moved to the Austin area over 5 years ago, we knew how to “do church”, but we were terrible missionaries.  We longed to reach people outside of the church, but we had become focused on implementing the “build it and they will come” strategy. For years, we allowed ourselves to be so busy creating programs and pulling off events in the church, that we rarely shared the Gospel with anyone outside of the four walls of the church building.  Personally, I could share the Gospel from a platform all day long, but found myself moving past neighbors, waiters, checkout clerks, etc. without engaging any of them in spiritual conversation. 

As we made the move, we asked God to teach us to live “sent lives” in all of life.  At first it was akward and painful…like trying to learn to ride a bike.  I struggled in conversations with people who did not believe the same things I do.  Sadly, I needed to reformat my spiritual hard drive and begin to see that I am just as jacked-up and in need of the Gospel as people outside the church community. I was afraid to offend people and so we would get to know them and never talk about Jesus.  At other times I would get impatient and go into “evangelism mode” like we had been trained to do for so many years.  Through it all, we just kept praying that we would see people the way that God does and love them enough to communicate the good news of the Gospel to them. 

Thankfully, God started to grow us and we began learning how to be effective missionaries. Now, as we are starting another local church in a different part of the Austin area, we are being stretched again and growing in new ways.  We are not planting a church service in South Austin, we are planting a group of missionaries to our city to be the church demonstrating and declaring the Gospel.  We are praying for people to know the love and truth of God through tangible acts of service and our willingness to speak about who God is and what He has done.  Here’s some of what we have learned, and maybe this will be helpful to you as well. 

1. Being an effective missionary begins on our face.  This seems simple enough, yet few of us actually spend significant time in prayer.  Jesus withdrew regularly to pray and told His disciples to wait in prayer before they started the work of accomplishing the mission of making disciples of all nations.  Yes, we are sent, but not without God’s Spirit.  If we do not pray, we are fools.  We will attempt to do what God has directed us to do without the power He provides.  In addition, we will not be aware and available when He puts opportunities in front of us.

2. Seeing God rightly is our greatest motivation for sharing the Gospel.  To say this differently, worship is the fuel for mission.  I used to think that if I could focus enough on the spiritual condition and eternal destination of others I would be moved to witness to them.  However, when we forget who God is in all of His glory, greatness, grace, and goodness, we will not talk about Him to others.  When I am struggling to be motivated to share the Gospel with others, it is because I have lost sight of Him and the good news of the redemption He is inviting us to experience.  When we are renewed in our awe of him, we can’t keep from talking about Him.

3. Reflecting on the Gospel message continually, is the most effective way to move away from mechanical Gospel presentations to applying the good news to every broken aspect of the our lives.  If the only reason we share the Gospel message is to get someone to give mental assent to a set of ideas and pray a prayer after us so that we feel accomplished as Christians, we are missing the point.  When we believe the Gospel at our core, we see how it changes everything.  This means that every conversation is a spiritual one with the opportunity to point people to Jesus. 

4. Accomplishing the mission of proclaiming the Gospel to all nations is impossible in isolation.  We cannot sustain mission without the people of God encouraging us, challenging us, and celebrating with us.  The church is that group of people, spiritual family, and the mission of the Gospel is what birthed the Church. As I heard recently from Alan Hirsch, “the church does not have a mission as much as the mission has a church.”

Why Every Believer Needs To Be A Part Of A Church Plant…

As I am fundraising and recruiting for our second church plant in 5 years, here’s 10 quick, raw thoughts on why I believe every follower of Christ should be a part of a church plant at least once in their life.

1) Church planting forces us to grow in our personal evangelism.  Since the primary goal of church planting is to reach unbelievers with the Gospel, the team is forced to open their mouths and share the Gospel with others!  We gain confidence and competency the more we do it.
2) Church planting develops our prayer life and dependence on God.  When our backs are against the wall and there is no way it is going to happen without God, we press into Him like never before!
3) Church planting reduces our consumer-mindset about church. When we are a part of a core team, we can’t use the excuse “someone else will do it” or say things like “what does this church offer me and my family?”.  Church planting moves our eyes away from ourselves and onto God and others.  It gives us a healthier understanding of what the Church is.
4) Church planting grows our awareness of the spiritual condition of our world.  We start to see people with more spiritually focused eyes, and as we engage them we start to deal with the brokenness of their lives.  God uses this to remind us of how badly people need Jesus!
5) Church planting challenges us to grow in our knowledge of scripture.  If the Bible is the source our message and a guide for what our faith should look like, then we quickly realize how much we need to know it’s truth so that we might be able to live it out and communicate it to others.
6) Church planting increases our confidence in the Gospel.  First, it forces us to ask ourself, “do I really believe the Gospel?”.  Then, as we live it out and share it with others, we see it’s message transform lives, which builds our belief in it!
7) Church planting expands our view of God and enhances our worship of Him.  We realize how big God is and how small we are.  We have a front-line view to see His faithfulness and power on display.  God still does miracles and many of them on behalf of those who position their lives to need them!
8) Church planting produces children that understand the seriousness of the mission.  Kids that grow up in and around church planting own their faith in a much fuller way.  The faith their parents are living out on mission let’s them know the Kingdom is not simply a matter of talk but of power.
9) Church planting helps us gain clarity about what really matters. We start to see life with eternal perspective as we sacrifice the temporary comforts of this life for what will last forever.  It changes our conversations about what we need and expectations of what we deserve.  It moves us to be consumed by the things that can never be taken away.
10) Church planting helps us build strong, lasting friendships as we work through blood, sweat, tears, and celebration alongside people that are sacrificing for the Kingdom with you.  The relationships built in the trenches are a gift.

Now, here’s the deal….I know church planters and church plant team members who have experienced few of the things I mentioned above.  Maybe they planted for the wrong reasons or did not fully embrace the process.  I also know that the success rate of plants over the past 15 years has not been great (stats say that approx. 2 in 10 survive long-term), and that this can leave people hurt and disillusioned.  However, I am still convinced that church planting is the most effective way to reach the largest number of people who are far from God, and it is one of the best ways to help believers mature in their faith.  Church planting is difficult, daunting, dangerous, etc., but it is worth it!  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, I dare you to be a part of one!

It’s Not Their Fault…

In my daily Bible reading I read Deuteronomy 11 yesterday.  Verse 2 stopped me dead in my tracks!  It says, “You must understand today that it is not your children who experienced or saw the discipline of the Lord your God…” He continues by briefly summarizing God’s rescue of them from Egypt.  Then, the writer concludes with verse 7 saying, “Your own eyes have seen every great work the Lord has done.”

As I sat and reflected on this, I was again reminded of the responsibility that I have as a Gospel-believing parent to help my children know and understand who God is.  If they don’t know who He is, it’s not their fault, it’s mine!  I must take every opportunity to share the stories of God’s grace and power in my life.  The stories of transformation and deliverance.  Here’s some reasons why I can struggle to remind my kids who God is and what He has done…

1) I assume they are getting it.  This is so dangerous to make the assumption that because my kids are growing up in our home that they “get it.”  As I have heard a number of times, what is assumed in one generation is forgotten in the next, and completely abandoned in the next.

2) I don’t want to talk to them about my sin.  I am afraid I will lose credibility with my children if I share my own struggles and weaknesses.  The truth is they need to hear that I am a sinner in need of a savior just like they are, or they will just see me as a hypocrite unwilling to own my struggles.  This will cause them to create their own patterns of pride and arrogance.

3) I don’t prioritize it.  I simply don’t make the time or take the opportunities when we are together to talk about the most important thing I could talk about…God!  I can actually spend more time trying to invest in others and help them get it and neglect my own children if I am not careful.  I am going to be held accountable before God, first and foremost for how I stewarded my family.

4) I forget who God is and what God has done.  How quickly we forget.  Just like the people of Israel, we allow the difficulties and realities of today to block out the faithfulness of God in the past.

In verses 18-21 God gives us practical wisdom on how to actually teach our kids about Him.  He says to impress them on their hearts and minds by teaching them when you sit, when walk, when you lay down, and when you get up.  He says to write His words on the doorposts and gates.  We should saturate their lives with God.  Every opportunity we get, we should be talking about Him.  We have to help them see Him in every aspect of life.

God, I’m praying that I will not neglect the amazing responsibility I have to tell my children who you are and what you have done.  Please keep me mindful and motivated to teach them over and over so that they will never forget your greatness and your grace in our lives! I recognize that it’s not their fault if they don’t know about you, it’s mine!- amen

Why Churches And Church Leaders Need Each Other

This past Monday and Tuesday I spent 24 hours at an overnight prayer retreat for pastors in the Greater Austin area.  This was my second year to attend and I think that the experience is one of the best environments to be a part of as a pastor.  I have been reflecting over my time there.  Some of our prayer was individual, some was directed by Bob Bakke (a pastor in Minneapolis, author, and global day of prayer leader), some was guided through worship led out by Ross Parsley (pastor of One Chapel in Austin), and much of it was in the context of small groups of pastors.  I am convinced that God is up to something big in Austin, TX.    I know I don’t pray as much as I want to and should, (Can we every really pray enough?), but this was a great time of refocusing on prayer.

While I am still mulling over what God said to me, I was also reminded of the power of partnership in the Gospel when pastors lay aside agenda’s and egos to support one another in advancing the Kingdom.  I was a student pastor at a large church for several years, and found it frustrating that my peers were many times too busy to get together to pray and connect.  It was difficult to build relationships with them when I had a better chance of connecting with them at a conference out of town than in my own city.  I am sure I contributed to this as well because of my busy schedule I created.  However, what I saw at this retreat this past couple of days was very encouraging!  Pastor’s from all sizes of church, and all types of denominational backgrounds interacting and praying for God to do something great in our city.

When we broke out into small groups at the retreat for prayer we had the opportunity to hear the stories of other pastors and how God is working in their churches.  We shared success and struggles with one another and prayed for each other.  I was so encouraged as men surrounded me and prayed for my personal walk with Christ, my family, and my ministry.

During our large group sessions, key leaders expressed some profound ideas that really convicted me and reminded me how significant this time is.  Here’s a few that stood out to me…

1) We need to be asking God not only what what He wants us to do in our church, but what is he doing in the broader faith community.  In light of this, how do we need to realign our priorities for the sake of partnering.
2) We don’t have all of the spiritual gifting we need in our church alone to accomplish the mission God has called us to.
3) We need pastors who will not simply be friendly with one another, but forge real friendships with each other.

All of these are great ideas, but I was also thinking about how we actually do this.  Here’s some ways I’m working to do this…

1) Personally I am praying for other pastors consistently, and leading our people to pray for them as well.
2) When I’m planning, I am creating margin to work with other pastors. (ie. attend the prayer retreat, respond to their initiatives, consider how to work with them)
3) I am having lunch or coffee with these men and asking them how I can support them and pray for them.  Also, I want to let them know I want to learn from them and let them speak into my ministry.
4) I’m committed to not speak badly about these men or slander them in any way to anyone.  I want to go to directly to them if I hear something about them that is out of line with Gospel conduct.  I invite them to do the same for me.

Bottom line: Pastor’s and churches need to work together for the sake of the Gospel.  I am not a believer that we can all merge our church together and become one church.  Each church has it’s unique passions, skills, gifts, calling in the city.  But if we believe that we are all part of the same bride of Christ called the Church, it should be normative that we embrace and encourage one another in the mission!

The Posture Of A Godly Leader

Our posture before God directly affects our success as we lead God’s people.  As I have been reading through Numbers over the past several weeks, I have noticed this recurring phrase  “Moses and Aaron fell face down before God.”  Moses along with Aaron had the daunting task of leading God’s chosen people out of slavery and towards the land God had promised them.  The people of Israel showed the same attitudes and actions we as people still exhibit today…rebellion towards authority, complaining, entitlement, and an “I know better” mentality.  However, Moses (the same Moses that was scared to death to go back to Egypt to speak to Pharaoh) confidently stands before the people and calls them to follow.  Where does he get this kind of courage?  He gets it from being clear on who God is and what God is telling him to do.  Because Moses wasn’t leading them without following God himself, he was able to consistently endure all of the leadership challenges he encountered.  In fact, even in the face of being told by some that he was in contradiction to what God was saying, Moses makes His appeal to God and let’s God work out the authority issue.  Sadly, but rightly, God kills the men and their families who were rebelling.

Here’s the deal.  Leadership is difficult and spiritual leadership is even more difficult.  However, attempting to spiritually lead people, including our families, without first spending time on our faces before God is impossible!  But, when we get our hearts in the right position before God, reflecting a place of ultimate submission to Him, we will walk in bold humility that is unstoppable.  That’s the type of leader God will bless and use to build His kingdom!  That’s the type of leader that Jesus was.  God please help me be that type of leader!

Trust Issues And Where They Lead

Where do you put your trust?  When you are failing?  When you are succeeding?  No doubt, the most obvious and most common object of our trust is ourselves.  We look to our strength, our abilities, our talents, our intelligence, our…wait, that’s a bit of a problem.  Somehow, we’ve forgotten that everything we are or ever will be is not ours.  In fact everything that exists belongs to the creator and sustainer of it all.    The One who’s eternal purpose will prevail.  And if we will surrender our agenda’s so that our lives are on His page, we just might get to see the supernatural hand of God do things we can only imagine.

Yesterday I was spending some time looking at Jeremiah 17:5-8 and was confronted again by one of the greatest issues I face.  Trusting in something other than God.  When you dissect this passage, you see such a common pattern of the human heart.  In the text Jeremiah records the words of the Lord contrasting the man who’s trust in mankind and the one who’s trust is in God.  The startling reality is sobering for me and yet encouraging at the same time.  Maybe you will benefit from a reflection on these powerful verses.

The Man Who Trusts In Mankind (vs 5 & 6)

  • Limited strength
  • Heart disconnected from God
  • Cursed
  • Struggling to survive
  • Only see’s the negative
  • Spends his life in the spiritual waste land
  • Isolated
  • Surrounded by death

The Man Who Trusts In The LORD (vs 7 & 8 )

  • Unlimited power at his disposal
  • Confident in God
  • Blessed by God
  • Deeply connected to God
  • Never-ending supply of spiritual nourishment
  • Eyes of faith that overcome fear
  • Thriving and productive even in difficult times
  • Vibrant life evident to all

Ok, so which one will you choose?