Christians, I realize that many of us are coming to grips with the SCOTUS/Obergefell decision. For some, this has caused great mourning. For others, this has caused great heartache as you have witnessed the reaction of your faith community. To one degree or another, many of you feel like the sky is falling right now.Read More
Suggesting we now live in a post-Christian culture ignores the large minority of Christians and Christian culture that still exists. It also presumes that persons who ignore or reject the Church no longer have a Christian memory or familiarity with the Christian narrative. But most importantly it gives a false perspective of what a Christian culture is and is not.Read More
For communal, messianic, kingdom faith, baptism is an initiation into a new/alternative social reality where Jesus is Lord and King of all. In this case, a person dies to "self-governing" freedom and self-centered love as she submits to the Lordship of Jesus and others-centered love. Rather than being an add-on display of inward realities, it is the true birth of a new life into an eternal Kingdom.Read More
There is no doubt that depression and suicide is an incredibly difficult situation and no one wins. Matt Walsh (@mattwalshblog) wrote a blog that got blasted earlier this week. Katie Hurley (@katiefhurley) wrote one for Huffington Post that has been well received. I appreciate Katie's and believe it offers potential healing for survivors of suicide. And I am honestly undecided on Walsh's position.Read More
If you have paid any attention to my Facebook recently, you know that I have been grieved and disturbed by what is happening in Iraq recently (as are most). If you have followed my journey over the last few years, you may have realized I have become a (sometimes hypocritical) pacifist. And if you have known me for an even longer period of time, you know that I am a domesticated redneck who likes guns and fighting to defend God, family, and country.
What does all this mean? It means that when situations like the one in Iraq arise, I become a very mixed bag of emotions. The redneck in me wants to send troops, drop bombs and seek justice! The pacifist in me submits to Scripture by turning to prayer. Most of that prayer is spent asking God why I can’t do more than pray. This is what happened this morning, and here is what came of my time with him:
Evidence of a restored relationship to God is evidenced in one's relationship to self AND others AND creation. One cannot live their relationship with God on an island of self. God is driving all of creation towards restored oneness. The others include the Church, neighbors, and enemies, i.e. all of humanity. Creation includes all that is.
The Christian life is a lifelong process of learning to live into the Way of Jesus, bearing his image. Discipleship is the necessary component to participating in restorative oneness as Jesus teaches us to love God, self, others, and creation unto oneness. What does it mean to love? Love's greatest testament, according to Jesus, is to lay down one's rights even to the point of death. So a big part of discipleship is learning how to, like Jesus, lay down our life for the sake of God, others, creation, and our ultimate self (Matt 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 17:33).
The story of the Christian is the story of God (according to the Hebrew Bible and New Testament) manifested most clearly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our story is not a temporal one but an eternal one. Christians must keep their eyes focused on the eternal glory, which is the consummation and completed mission (oneness) of God. Justice for God's people is not immediate but deferred. This is why Christians must join with the saints in praying for the return of Jesus. Until then our primary right is to lay our life down, even to the point of death, even death on a cross.
I.e. God's response to my praying was to remind me of the Gospel Story.
The earliest Christians were often the target of persecution and, unfortunately, this persecution often led to death. This type of death that Christians died, in persecution of faith, became known as martyrdom. The word martyrdom comes from the word martyr, which means to bear witness. These early Christians did not believe in violence, war, or retribution. They believed in peace and forgiveness. Rather than fighting with swords and violent weapons, they fought with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In doing so they bore witness to the life, death and RESURRECTION of Jesus. God had fulfilled the story of Israel and was putting an end to death and separation. The Christians, through their proclamation and witness, were asking, “Where oh death is your sting? Where is your victory?” (1 Cor 15:55). God was making the world one.
The result of martyrdom over the first few centuries was the exponential growth of the Church. When people should have been fleeing Christianity due to extreme persecution, people were actually flocking to it. Why? Because in Christ’s victory there is peace and there is hope. Church historians have gleefully (I suggest it should be grief-fully) exclaimed that the seed of the Church is the blood of the martyrs. History bears witness to this fact. Whenever Christianity has been persecuted to such high extremities it has grown.
Is this a good thing? Some will argue that even though this may be true it is not necessarily good. The Constantinian Church has committed great atrocities. I include within the Constantinian Church the Catholic Church, Geneva Reformation/Church, and the American Protestant Church. I could list more but the point is that when the church acts in a violent and controlling manner, it is no longer acting as THE Church. Christians, who make up THE Church, follow the Prince of Peace. Peace in the eyes of Jesus looked like sacrifice and/or martyrdom not war and perpetual violence. This world needs peace and the way to peace is by following the Prince of Peace.
What is happening in Iraq may be genocide, and I pray (without ceasing) that it stops immediately, but I also pray that these Christians (young and old) who have died and are dying become martyrs. My prayer for them is that they are strengthened and emboldened in the Spirit to fight with proclamation of the Gospel and bear witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I pray the Spirit gives them words to enlighten the hearts, minds, and spirits of those who are witnessing these atrocities. And I pray the Muslims in Iraq are more sensitive men and women than the Christians who stood by silently in Germany while Hitler convoluted God’s word into extreme anti-Semitism.
Some may think I am crazy (2 Cor 5:11-21). If you are not a follower of Jesus, I completely understand your point (Acts 26:24). If you are a follower of Jesus, I might suggest you look to his Way. When I prayed and asked God why, or more honestly, why I cannot do more about the Iraq situation, his response was to share with me the Gospel Story. The Gospel Story is the story of Jesus fulfilling the story of Israel, which was a story meant to be a blessing for the whole world (Gen 12). Some may ask why the Iraq Christians don’t just denounce their faith, and I suggest that it is for this Gospel Story.
As Christians, our response to situations like the one unfolding in Iraq is not to turn to our guns and bombs, but to turn to the Gospel Story. Proclamation of peace and victory over death is our greatest weapon!
Our family just got back from vacation. Family vacation these days means a cross-country trip to grandma’s house in Kansas. But don’t take this as a complaint. We had a phenomenal time with friends and family. Fishing, swimming, four-wheeling, boating and tubing, bocce ball, and Silver Dollar City with people we love beats private vacations and surreal views any day in my books. During the trip we were able to visit some old friends, and it just so happened the night we visited they hosting our old church for a cookout and party. On our way to the party we drove by the church building we used to attend, so Robin pointed it out to the kids. Her exact words were, “Hey kids, there is the church building mommy and daddy first attended together.” Safari, who loves looking at our old photos and wedding album, asked if the girl with the orange hair and other little boy go there. We both got a chuckle and said yes.
The girl with orange hair and the little boy were two of the first people we saw at the party, and neither is little anymore. They have both grown up! Lydia is a beautiful seventeen-year-old, and John is a twenty-three-year-old world adventurer now.
The party was in a field down by the pond. As we were walking down you could hear lots of commotion but you could not see anyone. You could hear the kids screaming and yelling, expressing their joy and excitement of swimming and kayaking around the pond. You could also hear the adults laughing and enjoying one another’s stories. A real sense of excitement welled up within me from the energy of the crowd, as we approached. When we turned the corner around the trees and could see everyone, my daughter Safari asked, “Daddy is this the church?”
She had seen the building and now she has seen the church!
Can we be honest? People who constantly speak about the good ole' days are annoying. Whether they are stories of how great the person used to be or how great our country's (the US) morals use to be, they are annoying. I'm ready for fresh vision that points people towards Kingdom breakthrough!
Leaning one way or another In my last post, I defined a disciple as an intentional follower of Jesus, who is learning to be like him (character), while also learning to do what he did (competency). A person growing in both character and competency will eventually start seeing kingdom breakthrough (in the form of Luke 4:18, 19 and/or Matt 11:2-5). Many people, if they are honest, look at their lives and only see limited breakthrough. When I look in the rearview mirror, I see a lot of breakthrough in the beginning stages of the various ministries I have started, but limited to no breakthrough in later stages. This begs the question, “Why does breakthrough become more and more rare as I move forward in ministry?
If you find yourself asking this question, the answer, more than likely, is that you are leaning too much on either the character or the competency of Jesus. People may immediately be attracted to you because of your character or competency, but sooner or later your strength will become your downfall. As seen in the matrix above, a person with high character but no competency runs the risk of becoming intolerant, while the person with high competency but low character may find himself critical of others. Do either of the realities sound familiar? Are you tired of talking about the good ole days?
Competency I typically lean more towards competency. I long to do the things that Jesus did. If I am not careful though my identity and self-worth gets wrapped up in how much stuff I do or that my community does that looks like Kingdom activity. As a “doer” type leader, Kingdom type activity is often associated with or defined as busyness. Eventually, I look back and discover those who originally set out with me have been left behind or have given up. The few that remain are often tired, stressed and/or incredibly cynical of those who could not bare the burdens I place on people. (P.S. These voices are poisonous for the “doer” type leader because it serves to justify or even glorify my hard work ethic.) It is important to understand that Kingdom activity is not and should not be directly associated with doing things. Yes, Kingdom activity is serving and loving your neighbor, but it is much more than this. The Kingdom that Jesus revealed, and Paul described and expressed, comes with power (miracles, healings, etc.).
Disciples, who focus primarily on competency, may see some success initially but eventually they find themselves with little fruit and no followers. Why? This is due to immaturity. Immature disciples often choose to “do” rather than to be and listen to the Father. They move at their own accord. Eventually these leaders become cynical, accusing others of not loving Jesus enough and/or being lazy and apathetic. These types of disciples are no fun to be around because they do not know how to relax and have fun. If a “doer” type leader does see continued personal success, they lead as glory mongers robbing the glory do to God. Glory Mongers forget they were representing the Father and began representing themselves. A mature disciple lives a humble life, knowing the work God wants to accomplish through her is done in the overflow of his in relationship with her. The mature disciple understands that Christ strength is revealed and magnified in her weakness.
Character Persons who lean more towards Character long to be like Jesus. Their identity or self-worth gets wrapped up in character development, which often gets translated as “do’s and don’t’s.” Character leaning leaders tend to enjoy relationships with believers, forsaking relationships with those outside the church because “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). It should be pointed out here that Paul was referencing other so-called believers who denied the resurrection (those with bad theology on an essential doctrine) and not with the outside world. But in any manner, outsiders often find it difficult to break into this type of group and thus little Kingdom breakthrough happens.
Immature disciples, who focus on the Character of Jesus, may see some success/breakthrough initially but eventually they become intolerant and/or separated from the world, tucked away in a religious community. They soon become lofty finger-pointers who love to point out the splinter in another person’s eye while ignoring the log in their own eye. A mature disciple knows they too are a wretched man (as Paul describes in Romans 7) and therefore approach people with grace and seek to restore them with gentleness. The mature disciple also knows God wants to do through him what he has done in him.
The Journey of the Disciple If you are like me, and you are tired of talking about the good ole' days, then you need to recognize which ditch you find yourself in. Immature disciples annoy people with stories of those good ole' days while mature disciples inspire people towards future days. These immature stories often have seeds of intolerance or cynicism. Choose not to camp in either of these pits. Choose instead the life of a disciple. The life of the maturing disciple is a journey of developing the character of Jesus while learning the competency of Jesus. This balance of character and competency will help us find sustainable breakthrough in ministry, not just in the exciting beginning stages, but throughout the entirety of the journey. It is certainly a journey that it is filled with many pitfalls, which is why we see in the New Testament that disciples had spiritual leaders who they imitated and who held them accountable. This begins the discussion of discipleship, to which we will turn in my next post.
I have been on an intentional road towards discipleship and mission for a little over two years now. I have repositioned my philosophy of ministry so that everything flows out of discipleship. Over these two years, this journey of discipleship has stretched and grown me, while forcing me to answer some tough questions. The main questions stem around “What is a disciple?” and “What do I mean by discipleship?”
I believe the entire church hinges on these two questions.
Jesus took his disciples up on the Mount of Olives at the end of his earthly ministry and commissioned them to do one thing, go into all the world and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20).
That was it!
Just go and make disciples. No plan B and no next step. Just make disciples.
Mathētēs So what is a disciple? There are several opinions on what a disciple is, but the simplest explanation makes the most sense and is the most accurate. The Greek word mathētēs translated into what we know as disciple simply means learner (student) or follower. Mathētēs is a student who is following someone, generally a Rabbi, in order to learn how to be like him. The disciple following the Rabbi did not simply want to know what the Rabbi knew; he wanted to be just like the Rabbi.
Have you ever heard the saying, “He is a real student of the game?” “A-student-of-the-game” eats, sleeps, and breathes his or her sport. If they are a baseball player, they act, look, think, and talk like a baseball player. If you ever ask for their help or advice on a subject, they will more than likely give a scenario involving their sport of choice as an illustration. A “student-of-the-game” will have a wardrobe that consists mainly of his or her favorite sport or team. For fans and athletes alike, their most memorable times center around a sporting event or moment.
A disciple of Jesus in simple words is a student of Jesus. He or she is a person following Jesus gradually learning to be just like him and to do what he did. A maturing disciple will begin to eat, sleep, and breathe the Way of Jesus. He or she will begin to act, look, think, talk, and do like Jesus. 3DM explains this through the lens of Character and Competency.
Character For a disciple, character is measured or defined by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5). Is your inner life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control? Is your life characterized by grace, humility, compassion, generosity, and mercy? Are your words filled with grace and compassion? Do you enjoy a deep relationship with the Father of Heaven? Do you have a love for the Scriptures? These are the qualities we see in Jesus, and these are the qualities that are growing within a disciple.
Competency For a disciple of Jesus, competency is best measured or defined through the making of other disciples. Can you make disciples who can and will in turn make new disciples? Can you hear the Father’s voice, and do you respond to it with the power and authority that Jesus exemplified? Are you present and aware of what God is doing around you? When you pray or move out in faith, do things happen? Do you joyfully accept the responsibility of representing the Father and Son here on earth? Do you trust the Spirit to lead and guide you? Can you teach the Scriptures well? Are your actions just and merciful? These are the things we find Jesus doing, and these are the things disciples are learning to do.
Both/And Most of us typically lean towards one or the other. We either want to focus on our character development in hopes that we can grow closer to God through holiness, or we want to focus on competencies in order to build the Kingdom. This is not an either/or scenario, it is a both/and. Our developing character does enrich our relationship with the Father in Heaven (Covenant), and our growing competencies do assist in building God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. Only when our character and competency is aligning with Jesus will we see true sustainable Kingdom breakthrough.
I am a runner. Not a fast runner nor a good runner, but at least I can say I am a runner. I have mapped out several routes near my house. I have 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 11 mile routes that I run depending on how much time I have and how good of condition I am in. In truth, the 2 mile run is no different than the 11 mile run when I am in good shape, other than the fact that the 11 miler is more enjoyable. I am in no shorter breathe after the two miler than I am the 11 miler. My muscles may be a bit more tired but not much. Why is this? A few years ago, while visiting Robin's parents, I decided to run from the place we were staying at in town to their house out in the country. The total distance was about seven miles. I remember how much I was looking forward to the run. We had traveled several days to get there (we live in the DC metro area and they live in KS) and upon arrival we had done a lot of sitting around. The fresh air and running was a treat.
In the beginning I was having a good time. Running, praying and enjoying the scenery; but there was a problem. The run was primarily one long stretch of highway and I was not use to it. I had no landmarkers and no way of knowing where I was at. This through my pace off and I was a bit lost. Somewhere along the line my prayers switched from conversation with God to "PLEASE make this run stop!" I would pray that I could see Robin's parents house as I ran over each hill, but I was continuously disappointed. My muscles were sore and I was tired.
When running my routes at home I have familiar landmarkers. These landmarkers let me know where I am and what I am looking for next. They also help me set my pace. I like to push myself a bit and so my pace changes up depending on where I am at in the run. The routes and landmarkers seem to help my muscle memory know what pace I need to be at.
Family Rhythms This is what family rhythms do in our lives. I am a church planter and church "professional" (not really, but I suppose that's what my job title says). Robin is a full-time nurse. We have three kids and one is an infant. I am not supposing our life is much crazier than anyone else's or that you could not handle ours, but I am proud of how our family does it with relative ease. Breakfast and dinner questions and prayers and our bedtime routine serve as our primary daily rhythms. But we also need weekly, monthly and even seasonal rhythms. These rhythms allow the mental "muscle" memory kick in and keep us enjoying life, rather than panicking and stressing.
Family day One of my favorite days of the week is family day. Family day is our rest day. One of the most important things you can do for your family is rest together. Our Father in Heaven thinks rest is so important that he included it in a list of things that also include "don't murder," "don't steal," and "don't sleep with another's spouse." Seriously. In that same list you will find "don't skip your day of rest." Questions and devotions are nice, but life will quickly dry up if we cannot get away to laugh and play together as a family.
Now when I use the word rest, I am implying what refreshes and renews us. What gives us energy and strength. This is different for different people and for different families. For us this typically means a day at the park, a long walk, rock climbing, a trip to the zoo, or some other simple adventure from spring to fall. It is a bit trickier during the winter but we find other things to do. Play games, watch movies, paint, or go to Chick-fil-a and play on the playground there. The goal of this day is rest and recuperation. I would suggest trying to keep the day the same every week for consistency. Unfortunately for us we have had to switch it up fairly often because of Robin's work schedule.
Oh Yeah! A few weeks ago we headed to the lake to play at the park. As we walked across the street Safari shouts "Oh Yeah! It's family day!!!" We did not tell her but she saw the signs. Mom, dad, Sojo, Kanoa and her were all together and we were heading to the park! She then exclaimed, "This is going to be the best day!"
Why is this?
To be quite honest it is because it is rare that she gets both mom and dad's full and undivided attention for more than an hour at a time. On family day she gets us all day. Yes, it would be nice (I think) if we could be together all day everyday, but that is not possible. It is also not the way that God designed it. We were created to work and produce. Maybe when they get older we will get the luxury of working and producing with our kids, but this is not the case for now. However, we can AND SHOULD set aside a day for our family to rest together.
At the end of the day, Safari let us know that she loves us "to the moon."
Your children love you. You are their heroes. There is no one more cool in their life. There is no greater influence. Take advantage of it.
Practical guidelines Here are a few other practical things that help make family day a great day for us.
- We try not to spend money on family day, at least not too much. We do this almost every week. It could get expensive if we spent a money every week.
- We also keep it simple. The goal is to relax, not stress out. Do not plan too much. Plan one thing and see where that leads you.
- We do not set a timeline. We are not in a hurry and are not worried when we get back. We are not hurrying from one thing to the next.
- We let our children set the pace. On walks if they want to stop and check out the flowers, we stop and check out the flowers. If they want to throw rocks into the lake, we throw rocks into the lake. Robin and I will chat while they do it.
The point of family day is to enjoy one another and celebrate life together.
PLEASE drop a line and share what your family does. Give us some ideas.
Bedtime is lots of fun around our house. And I am actually being serious. For the most part our kids enjoy the routine because it is a family affair. When we skip our bedtime routine (yes we do miss it from time to time) for the sake of wanting them to go straight to bed, they have a hard time settling down for bed. But even when they are wound up and going crazy, going through our bedtime routine gets them ready for bed by the end. Having a bedtime routine creates a pattern, like muscle memory, for preparing to sleep. Devotions After putting on our PJ's and brushing our teeth, we jump on the bed and pull out The Jesus Storybook Bible. This is an excellent book that helps us see Jesus in each of the more highlighted stories of the OT, as well as showing us Jesus' purpose on earth through the NT. As with every children's Bible, they leave out the bad parts like Noah getting drunk and passing out naked in his tent, so I make sure to include them. How else can I make a biblical threat on their life? You never know when I may need one of them to cover me up. I cannot wait for the day Safari is sitting in Sunday School and the story of Noah's ark is the topic of conversation. I can see it now. "My daddy said Noah got drunk and passed out naked. He said when that happens to him I cannot make fun of him or he will put a curse on me."
Seriously though, we do add the stories about how each person fails and God's love restores them. The people in the Bible were far from perfect, and our kids will not be any closer . Albeit I hope my son's do not pimp out their wives for their own safety.
Safari has to read first. Bedtime is not fun if we do not allow her to read first. When Robin and I are tired and want to get rolling this can be frustrating, but it is also fun to see how much she remembers about the stories. We have read through The Jesus Storybook Bible several times, so when we tell her what story we are reading she recalls some of the story as she makes up the rest.
Singing After doing our devotion, we sing two songs of their choosing. These typically include Jesus Love Me, This Little Light of Mine (which we scream at the top of our lungs), Open the Eyes of My Heart, and other fun songs like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and the ABC's. These are fun and often times give us some laughter.
What were you created for? From songs we move to life. We ask each of them, "What were you created for?" In response, they each say "love, joy, adventure, relationships, and to rule by the grace of God."
Love Life is meant to be one filled with love. God make man and woman in His image and was well pleased with them. Love includes putting others before ourselves, something God has done from the beginning. It means seeing others needs and wants as important or more important than our own. It means working together and forgiving one another when we mess up. It means fighting for one another and fighting for justice.
Joy Life is meant to be enjoyed. In the beginning God looked at all creation and proclaimed all was good. Creation is not evil and is not meant to be rejected but enjoyed in the presence and glory of our Father. Life should be filled with fun and laughter. We should not feel guilty that our life is filled with joy and laughter, but through the lens of love we must not live joyful at the expense of others. And we cannot forsake the needs of the others.
Adventure Life should also be an adventure. In the beginning God told Adam and Eve to go subdue all creation. Talk about a wild wild west! Life is still an adventure and mission is similar. Adventure involves risk and willingness to go and do.
Relationship Life is also meant to be lived with others. God saw Adam alone and said it is not good for man to be alone. Life is meant to be lived in relationship and community.
To Rule by the Grace of God And God created us to rule by His grace. As followers of Jesus we are a royal priesthood. We represent the Son, who is now King. This is authority is not an authority of lordship in which we hold it over others, oppressing and holding others back or underneath us. Rather this authority is an authority of servanthood towards others, and over evil and demonic powers.
Every night we plant these seeds of life and truth into the hearts and minds of our children. We do not give these definitions and explanations during the night routine but they are, and will become more, acquainted with them through daily life. We pray they grow with faith and focus in their relationship with the Father and others. This is our way of planting the right seeds.
Who loves you? Feelings of loneliness and unworthiness drive people crazy. One of the biggest issues I see as a pastor is insecurity. At a basic foundational level Robin and I are trying to combat this with our children with a simple question that reminds them of their value. Every night before bed, after asking them what they were created for, we ask them who love them. They each reply, "Daddy, mommy, Safari/Sojo, and Kanoa." Then we ask them who else loves them, to which they reply various people from our community (Unlce Choe Choe, Uncle Andrew, Aunt Katie) and friends from the neighborhood. After their laundry list of people we ask them who loves them most of all, and they shout Jesus! We reply that we will always love them and believe in them, and Jesus does so infinitely more.
Who do you want to pray for? Next we ask them who they want to pray for and why. We typically pray for our neighbor friends, community family, and family. Safari has started praying for her friends and family. Afterwords we say a prayer for Safari and Sojo. At the conclusion of the prayer, Robin and I pray their life's prayerful purpose over them.
Safari's middle name is Soleil, which is French for sun. The sun is what brings life and energy to all creation. So we say, "Safari, we pray you bring life and energy to all creation." Sojo's middle name is Justice. Justice means to restore right living. So we say, "Sojo, we pray you fight for the justice of all people."
And then we say good night. The last thing they typically hear from us before bed is our general vision for their life.
So our bedtime routine goes as follows:
- Devotion from Jesus Storybook Bible
- What were you created for?
- Who loves you? Who else? And who loves you most of all?
- Who do you want to pray for?
- Our prayer for them? And our prayerful vision for their life.
Our favorite times to do this is when we have friends over. We do not put our family practices on hold because we have friends and family over. We invite them into our family and therefor into our family practices. Most of the time this goes great! Unfortunately it did not go so great the other night. We had some of our community family over for dinner. When the kids were ready for bed we brought down the Jesus Book for devotions, but Safari got distracted and let's just say bedtime did not go so well. This does not mean we will never do it again. In fact, it means I want to do it again as soon as possible.
The best part of seeing things like this happen is that others get a chance to see that you are not perfect. Just because Robin and I are intentional about most things does not mean most things are easy. But we have a lot of fun doing them. Bedtime is one of the best!