Saturday, March 11, 2017

Discipleship and Leadership Development Guide

Over the past year I have been working with my ministry partner in crime—Pastor Tyler—towards a better understanding of the development of a disciple. The most helpful resource in this endeavor has been the book Discipleshift written by Jim Putman, Bobby Harrington, and Robert Coleman.

In this study we outlined a plan to raise up and equip leaders using a five-stage disciple-making maturity guide. It is our belief that every disciple of Christ is a potential leader because every Christ-follower is expected to grow into the full measure of a man that is defined using Christ as the model (Ephesians 4:13). I’ve included the graphic we will use going forward to help guide our efforts (this graphic is originally from Discipleshift, we made a few minor tweaks).  

Click to enlarge
As you look at the graphic from the 12 o’clock position, you see the beginning of every disciple and potential leader: We were all once DEAD in our sin and unbelief. When we came to Christ, we craved spiritual milk like any INFANT would. At FAC we provide that “milk” through 1-on-1 relationships that use Francis Chan’s and David Platt’s Multiply material as the structure for sharing life, truth and new habits (that’s what a “baby Christian” needs to grow to the next level). As the disciple matures into the CHILDREN phase, a different need presents itself: a need to grow from one’s desires of getting one’s personal needs met to the maturity level where one’s desire becomes more about serving others in worship to God. We believe that—and studies have shown that healthy churches believe—small groups meet that need. When the leaders of the church—many of whom will be the small group leaders—recognize that the disciple has matured to the YOUNG ADULT phase they will be introduced to the executive pastor for the beginning process of training and equipping for leading in various church ministries. When the disciple is equipped and experienced, they are folded into these various church ministries so that they are positioned to serve the body. In their service they help in discipling others who are growing through the same process. As PARENTS the disciple has become a trainer as well as a leader whose goal is to reproduce themselves. 

My hope is that the thought of this process functioning in the body gets you excited. Will you consider what you need to do to grow? If you are new to Christ and know your greatest need is to understand the Bible, will you contact leadership so that they can direct you to a one-on-one discipling relationship? If you are not already involved in a small group, would you contact leadership so that they can help you find a group in which you can grow? Imagine a church where everyone is involved, functioning according to God's purpose and design. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Pastor J’s Devotional from Bible Reading plan (11/1)

Many of us are familiar with the story of Esther, her uncle Mordecai, King Xerxes and the villain Haman. The basic outline of this story is: 
  1. The Set Up: Esther becomes Queen, 
  2. The Problem: Haman's genocide plot against the Jews, and 
  3. The Resolution: The divine victory against Haman.
The passage that jumped off the page as I read was Esther's discomfort and the action she took once rebuked by Mordecai:
Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.”  So Mordecai went away and did just as Esther had commanded him. (Esther 4:13–17).
We can all relate with the uncomfortable situation that is “confrontation”—most people do not like it. Esther’s story is a good reminder that when we are walking with God, He is orchestrating our interactions for His glory and our enjoyment of Him forever.[1]

Whereas we'll be called on to have uncomfortable conversations within the church and outside of it, let’s not forget the lesson to learn from Esther: Pray before everything. I’m often too quick to add my two cents to a discussion about resolving issues without committing the outcome to God in prayer. Esther’s demonstration of God’s prayer expectation is a great reminder for me today. 


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Building Relationships Through Prayer

When you get a moment, sit down and open your Bible to Luke 10:1–17. This is a familiar passage where Jesus sends out seventy of His close followers on mission. The sub-headings in my Bible for the surrounding context are “Exacting Discipleship” (Luke 9:57–62) and “The Happy Results” (Luke 10: 17–29). Are there any followers of Christ who would deny their desire to experience “happiness” in relationship with Him? Are we willing to align ourselves up with the demanding (exacting) requirements necessary for that level of vibrant relationship? 

Every follower should want to achieve the same goals as his or her leader; if possible they should want a close relationship with the leader of their movement/organization. The requirement to be a close disciple of Jesus is found in Luke 9:60b, “Go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Ask yourself if there is any way to please God and grow close to Christ without proclaiming His kingdom to the world around you. You may think, “What about worship? What about growing in the knowledge of God? What about teaching the saints? Don’t these disciplines result in God’s pleasure?” Ultimately each one of these pursuits loses its authenticity without the accompaniment of the intentional mission we’ve been given by our leader. Think about it. 

The key for “closeness” to our Leader is found in the commissioning of Jesus’ disciples here in Luke ten. Outreach is the defining characteristic of any follower of Christ. In between the definition of discipleship (Luke 9) and the happy results (Luke 10:17) we are given a clear outline as to how we should proceed in our outreach. 

Beseech the Lord of the Harvest

The first point that Jesus made with the seventy was to pray to the Lord for help. Verse two, where we see this instruction, begins with the words “He was saying to them.” The verb tense for “saying” carries the idea that Jesus consistently told the seventy they should pray to God for the help. Picture a group of people walking out of the church, while they are going someone at the door is reminding everyone to pray for help. The person repeats it again and again, “Don’t forget to pray.” That’s the idea here. If we want success in outreach, we can’t forget to pray to the one who is in control. Do we approach outreach in this manner? Do we spend more time in prayer than we do in worrying about how we will be received? Do we spend more time in prayer than learning a methodology? We are a church whose stated vision is we pray before everything—we are committed to preemptive prayer. Is that an aspiration or is it a reality? We must begin any outreach by crying out to God for help. 

Pray For and Connect with Partners

This passage tells us that Jesus selected seventy and then organized and sent them out in pairs. We know the crowds that followed Jesus were larger than seventy. In chapter 9 of Luke Jesus fed over five thousand of His followers. Yet Jesus appointed only 70. Pray that God would raise up and appoint an outreach partner(s) for you. Don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t turn out to be your whole friend group. Every morning at 10:02 my alarm goes off as a reminder to pray to the Lord that He raise up leaders for the harvest. I’m praying for ministry partners—like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ—to be on mission with me as we go to reach our community for Christ. I’ll be honest with you, I have struggled with frustration when only a few have responded and are on mission with me. Don’t become paralyzed in frustration because there are only a few in your circle who are like-minded; but rather remember that the harvest is plentiful and there are only a few laborers.

Pray and Look for Persons of Peace

In verse six Christ instructs His disciples to seek out a person of peace and when that person is found, they should stop and not go to any other homes. How often do we “go out” with our own agenda in mind? We set our sites on a family member or a friend only to be responded to negatively. When they don’t respond positively (peacefully) we get discouraged and stop our efforts? Or how often do we have a positive conversation with someone, invite them to church, only to then move on to the next “house” convincing ourselves we have fulfilled our obligation? Jesus instructed us to seek out the person of peace and stay there with them. 

We are to advance the kingdom of God through our outreach and experience happy results by following the Lord’s clear outline found here: Pray to the Lord for help, Pray for partners, and Pray for persons of peace. Won't you join us. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Christ Our Sanctifier, Part 2

Bill Bright was the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, a ministry to university students around the world. He illustrated a teaching of Holy Spirit victorious living for the Church. This teaching showed me what it means to walk in the Spirit and live a life of victory. It demonstrated what it means to be sanctified—showed me how to live in consistent obedience.  

For several years after becoming a Christian I was living in defeat. Sin continued to be present in my life and appeared to be getting the better of me. I tried to be good, I tried to ressit sin; but consistently failed. I thought that I was supposed to control myself—choose not to sin in my own strength—but that simply does not work. As I tried to avoid sin in my own strength, I would do well for a while, but ultimately would return to a sin that I thought was behind me. The inconsistency was making me miserable because I was not having the “success” I thought should be the norm for every Christ-follower.

There’s a term we use in Christian-ese for that “misery” we experience when we allow sin into our lives—CONVICTION. If you don’t speak Christian-ese you might call that feeling “GUILT”—you feel guilty. Both words are appropriate. We know that when we do something wrong we stand “CONVICTED” or “GUILTY” before God for our sin. It is normal to experience CONVICTION or GUILT when we ignore God's Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ has given us the living Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit indwells us—lives within us at the point of Salvation. So when we do something wrong, be assured HE will tell us. And if we ignore His voice the sense of conviction and guilt will grow.

Before I understood how this all works someone once asked me, “Why are you afraid of the Holy Spirit’s communication with you? Isn’t this something you should receive gladly?” They asked me that after I told them I didn’t like conviction. “Conviction makes me feel guilty.” They helped me to see conviction for what it is. It is not an instrument used by God to condemn me or to punish me, but it is loving communication from His Holy Spirit directing me away from sin. We are not being punished when the Holy Spirit convicts us, we are being instructed how to respond to a given situation where we have fallen.

The circles graphic on this page is adapted directly from Bill Bright’s teaching at Campus Crusade (CRU). Over the years I’ve added my own squiggly lines on white boards, note pads, and napkins to come up with what you are seeing.

The first circle to the left represents our life before we accepted Christ. The chair (or the driver seat) in the middle is occupied by each of us, at that point—we are in control our lives. Christ and His Holy Spirit are not in our lives but are on the outside (depicted by the cross in the lower left hand corner). The “S”s in the circle and out of the circle represent sin. The first circle is our lives before we became Christians.

The second circle represents our lives with Christ (this is the point after we’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord). Notice, there is no sin in circle two, but there is Joy, Peace and Freedom.

The third circle to the far right is our lives, again with sin—Christ hasn’t left us (He’ll never leave or forsake us, Hebrews 13:5b). But sin has entered our lives and because of that we are back in the driver’s seat.

If you look at the space in between circle two and three (towards the top) you see how Satan uses temptation to persuade us to sin. At the same time Satan is tempting us, the Holy Spirit is convincing us to do what is righteous. When we choose to listen to Satan’s tempting over the Holy Spirit’s voice we give birth to sin in our lives—and we move from circle two (where there is peace, joy and freedom) to circle three where there is heart ache, guilt and shame. In essence what we’ve done is taken away the control we gave to the Spirit of God. This is the point in which we stand in conviction—guilty of our sin. The apostle Paul calls giving in to Satan’s temptation and rejecting the Holy Spirit’s voice “grieving the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30). It is at this point that we feel defeated, guilty and miserable—we have grieved the very person to whom we have committed our lives. We cry out along with the man at the end of Romans chapter 7: “Oh wretched man or woman that I am.”

Something every Christ-follower needs to understand—for encouragement as well as for exhortation—is that even the most seasoned Chirst-follower will fall into sin. In the apostle John’s letter to the church (1st John) he wrote in the first chapter that if we deny that we have sin we make God out to be a liar. So, every Christ-follower will at one time or another find themselves in the third circle where the Holy Spirit has been dethroned, and they are sitting in the driver’s seat. Sin again is present in their lives. John tells us what to do with that sin. In 1st John chapter one verse nine he writes, 
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
 When you look up the word confess in the dictionary you will find something similar to: “admit having done something wrong” or “acknowledge something to be true.” Our confession of sin is our admittance that we’ve done something wrong, or it is our acknowledgement the the conviction of the Holy Spirit is true. In order to experience forgiveness for the sin we’ve committed we need to come to a point where we say: “Heavenly Father, what I did was wrong, forgive me.” or “What you said is wrong is wrong. Forgive me.” And He will forgive our sins and He will purify us from ALL unrighteousness.

When we listen to the Holy Spirit like this, the Christian life becomes joyful, peaceful, free and full of love again. This is because we are returning to circle two where He is on the throne and sin is not effecting us.

My heart breaks for the Christ-followers who live in circle three. I lived there for years—years offending (grieving) the Spirit of God and ripping control of my life away from Him. I was on the throne of my life because I disregarded His guidance and allowed sin to enter into my relationship with Him. There are so many Christ-followers with anger issues, with lust issues, with addiction issues, with bitterness issues (etc.) that are choosing to live in circle three. In the same chapter of 1st John, he writes in verses five and six that 
…God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1st John 1:5–6). 
I was coming close to living a lie—my relationship with Christ was in danger of being a lie. The Holy Spirit was pushed off to a remote corner of my life because I was choosing to control rather than surrendering control to Him.

If you are in a similar position, where you have not understood this dynamic of relationship that you have with Christ, all you need to do is surrender to Him. This is accomplished through confession and repentance. This ministry of the Holy Spirit—SANCTIFICATION—will bring the Christian back to that victorious Christian life they experienced prior to sinning (circle 2). And when we consistently live this way—listening to the HS voice and confessing and repenting when we fall—we will grow because He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Sanctification is the continuous work of Jesus that takes place in our lives through His Holy Spirit. Sanctification is the work of being separated from sin for the expressed purpose of serving God.

The founder of the Christian and Missionary Allinace, A.B. Simpson, wrote:
“Men and women who do not press on in their Christian experience to gain the fullness of their inheritance in Him will often become cold and formal. The evil in their own heart will assert itself again and may very likely overcome them, and their work will bring confusion and disaster to the cause of Christ” (Simpson, Fourfold Gospel, 25).
Praise be to God, we don’t have to live there. We can live where He is on the throne in our lives and we are responsive to Him. We can live where we are being used by God to further His kingdom through our lives. We don’t need to cause confusion and disaster to the Cause of Christ, but we can live bringing clarity of Christ to others.

Now, I will say it again, “Be holy as God is Holy!”

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Christ Our Sanctifier, Part 1

One of the most relatable passages in the Bible is found in Romans 7:14–25. Over the past several weeks I’ve shared these verses with those that are new to Christ; and it has been fun to see the light bulbs of understanding come on as I’ve explained how the ministry of Jesus Christ as Our Sanctifier works. 

Read the following verses and ask yourself, "Can I relate?"

What I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate (15)… For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want (19). 

Paul is talking about being obedient in his walk with Jesus. He is saying he’d like to be consistently obedient, but he is failing.

Who can’t relate to this? Who doesn’t find themselves saying something to the effect of “I don’t want to be angry” or “I don’t want to be lustful” or “I don’t want to be addicted.” Paul goes on to write in verses 21–25:

 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:15, 19, 21–25

A former pastor of Fulton Alliance Church wrote:
“Unsuccessful struggle against sin and a lack of power in life and ministry frustrates those who have asked Jesus to be their Savior but not their Sanctifier, resulting in a lack of joy in their walk with Christ. At the point when we are born again, we become members of God’s family. We believe He paid the price for our sin, and we are positionally sanctified, or set apart from those who are not born again, and are seen as holy because of what Christ has done.”  —Rev. John Soper
The “unsuccessful struggle against sin… frustrates those who have asked Jesus to be their Savior but not their Sanctifier.” This is the type of person who Paul is writing about. It’s the person who accepts Christ as Savior but finds themselves continuing in life seemingly unchanged with sin as a constant reminder of their failure. That is so frustrating.
If a Christian is sentenced to live a life imprisoned to sin, how is that appealing? When a Christian continues to do the things that they know God is opposed to, how is it possible for them to say they have JOY, PEACE and FREEDOM? How are they ever to believe that God is loving when it seems like all they ever do is disappoint Him? Why should a Christian resist sin if they are doomed to eventually fall in into it? Those are some great questions—questions that I’ve asked myself.

If we rely on our own strength and moral fortitude to overcome sin and be “successful” in our practice of Christianity, we will eventually fail. As people who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, we are saved by God and experience what is known as positional sanctification. However, we still live in a world whose god is Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4), and we still are left to face our daily lives in a body corrupted by sin (1st John 1:8). We cannot live in a fallen world and depend on an corrupted body and then expect to overcome sin. A successful follower of Christ—a victorious follower—must depend on God and the power He gives to overcome. Just a few verses after this passage at the end of Romans 7, Paul writes in Romans 8:1–2,
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
Paul just finished crying out, “Who will save me—the wretched man that I am?” And the answer here is the Spirit of life that is found in Christ Jesus. Those of us Christ-followers who cry out like Paul, “Wretched man (or woman) that I am” can find their hope to overcome sin in the Holy Spirit. Each of us that are in Christ Jesus have this hope to be set free.

Paul goes on to write in 1st Thessalonians chapter 4:1–8,
Brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;  that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,  not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.
Our hope is found in Jesus Christ who has given us God’s Holy Spirit. God’s desire for us—according to these verses—is that we would not walk in sin but rather in obedience to the commands He has given us. The word that we are given here that describes our walking in obedience is the word “sanctification” (ἁγιασμός). This Greek word is taken from the Greek word for “holy” (ἅγιος). “Sanctification” literally means “to make holy.” God’s desire for us is that we would be made holy (v. 3). Paul explains our holiness (our ability to be obedient) is realized in the person of the Holy Spirit. And in verse 8 he explains that the one who rejects this teaching does not reject the writer (or the blogger) but rather is rejecting Father God.

So, my friends: Be holy as our God is holy. Be holy by not rejecting the Holy Spirit. Those who are reading this blog that live like I once lived—in defeat, repeating the same sins again and again—aren’t encouraged by me telling them to BE SANCTIFIED, BE HOLY, or BE CONSISTENTLY OBEDIENT. Well wishes don't resolves anything for us if we don't understand HOW something practically functions. How are we to be holy? and How are we to embrace and not reject the Holy Spirit? In the next post I'll try and answer those questions.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Philippians 4 Reflection

God has been teaching me through His Word, His Spirit and His body (the brothers and sisters in my life) how I can fight against anxiety, which can lead to depression. The teaching flows from the basic truth that God is sovereign. Whatever I experience in life, I can be assured it’s all part of His plan. 

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." 

My anxiety is born out of my frustration with people—I feel guilty when I get frustrated with people. A couple of weeks ago I was encouraged to hear a respected church leader say, "I can't love all people. Jesus doesn't expect me to love all people." Here's what he was saying: I may not be able to love certain people—on my own. I might not be able to stop myself from being frustrated with certain people—on my own. I may not be able to forgive certain people—on my own. But through Christ I can. 

If I’m not careful I easily get caught up in my mind with people I allow to frustrate me, or who anger me or who I perceive to be antagonistic towards me. When I give my mind liberties to dwell negatively on certain situations and people I can get anxious and depressed. I won’t act out publicly, but inwardly I can experience some emotionally grueling struggles. 

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God."

I’ve come to the realization that I can’t think right, lead right, or minister right on my own. When the anxieties are felt I begin to pray truth:
“Father, this is part of your plan for me and those around me. If I have any thing to learn or to change in this situation please reveal it to me through your Holy Spirit. If there are others that have something to learn, let them know through your Spirit. Empower me to think right, lead right and minister right in this situation.” 
"Focus on the true, noble, just, pure, love, good report, virtuous and praiseworthy things."

I finish out my prayer (or sometimes I begin it this way) by spending time in praise of Him for the many good things He has done and is doing. The result: Anxiety dissipated, depression avoided.  

I’ve experienced the Lord growing me in this perspective. I strive to surrender to Him so that His work in me and in others is able to take place.  

If you are experiencing similar difficutlies: Hang in there by clinging to the Lord and what He has led you to do. He will take care of you and the result will be fruit, powerful prayer and fullness of joy (that’s a little John 15 thrown in for added emphasis). 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"By Walking the Bridges of Fulton"

“Pastor, we can start practicing the ‘walking the bridges’ part of our vision statement” is a statement I’ve heard more than a few times from people. I’m never quite sure how to respond. Typically I’ll ask for clarification; “What do you mean?” The usual reply is something akin to, “The weather is warming up, and we’ll all be more likely to walk the bridges now.” It’s usually at this point that I begin wondering if I am too serious-minded—if I’m a stick in the mud. Pushing those thoughts to the side, I’m writing this article to insure that our community is on the same page. It is true that the “walking the bridges of Fulton” could be applied literally as one walks the bridges of our community. I would never discourage someone from walking for the purpose of getting out and being active in warmer weather. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get a little exercise while building relationships, sharing Christ and growing together. The apostle Paul did tell us that physical training—even though of little benefit—still is of some benefit in and of itself (1st Timothy 4:8), right? To be clear, the point of our vision statement is that we as a faith community will greatly benefit by applying this last phrase—not literally but metaphorically—to all areas of life. The desire is that we will be a people who practice “walking the bridges” from January to December. We want to be a people who are always looking for ways of making connections with people who are without Christ, so that we earn the right to share Him and subsequently grow together with those who are responsive to that message.

One of my favorite Bible passages is found in Matthew chapter 28, verses 18 through 20—known as the Great Commission. These are Christ’s last words in the book of Matthew spoken to us. In these last words, Christ gave us a command.
Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).
It’s natural for people to read these words of Christ and make the word “GO” the focus or the main impetus. People could have approached Christ saying, “The weather is warming up Lord, soon we’ll be able to ‘go’.” If people did say that to Him, do you think He struggled? When He thought clarification was in order, do you think He wondered if He was being far too serious-minded? I’m quite certain He would have responded, “You do realize the command is to ‘make disciples,’ not to ‘go’, right?” In the original language the verb “to go” used here would have been understood as “while you are going make disciples.” It would not have mattered if it was deep winter in Jerusalem or mid-summer, the expectation would have been that the people would be going as a way of obeying the command to “make disciples.”  

As we implement our vision at FAC we hope people are seeing themselves as always “walking” so that they can Build Relationships, Share Christ, and then Grow Together with those who respond. It should not matter if you find yourself in Wal-Mart, at a local fast food establishment, the barber or a beauty shop, the hope is you will have eyes that are looking for disciple making opportunities.  The phrase “by walking the bridges of Fulton” is our way of saying “while you are going.” The phrases “Build Relationships, Share Christ and Grow Together” are our way of saying, “make disciples of all nations.”

Won’t you join us every day, every month, and every season in seeing the vision God has given FAC fulfilled?