Category: Our Covenant With God


How do you tell a wolf from a sheep?

How do we know a wolf from a sheep? How do we know if someone is speaking God’s truth or their own? How do we know if we should trust someone’s council or not? How do we know if we are associated with people, groups or churches that are good for our souls, or those who will end up damaging us? If I were to give the standard Western Church answer to this question, I’d say, check out if their doctrine is correct. I’m not against good doctrine, good doctrine is healthy. But that is not the answer that Jesus gave. He gave a simple, profound and completely different answer to these kinds of questions. And, if we choose to follow Jesus’ parameters on these types of questions, it may very well throw our sense of safety and theological well being into turmoil. Jesus was pretty good at that.

In Matthew 7:15-16 Jesus tells us we can know a sheep from a wolf by their fruit. But how do we discern good fruit from bad fruit; grapes from thorns, figs from thistles? For that we need to go to John 7. In John 7 Jesus snuck into Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles. Even his family didn’t know he was there. Jesus starts teaching in the temple courts and is immediately confronted by Jewish leaders who question his right to teach because he didn’t have the right theological credentials. This is how Jesus proved that he was worthy of being listened to.

Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him (John 7:17-18).

Don't let the smile fool you.

In the minds of the Jewish leaders Jesus didn’t have the right theological credentials because he “hadn’t studied” (Jn. 7:15). This is the same kind of thinking we do today. For the Jews, Jesus hadn’t been taught by the right rabbinical scholars. We tend to look at the right doctrinal statements. It’s the same kind of thinking. Jesus answer to this was straight forward. Anyone who wants to know, can know me in this way, I point to God and not myself. Actually I believe we could simplify this concept of Jesus’ even further. Is someone true to God? They will point to God. Is someone false, a wolf? They will point to anything else. He, who is true, will consistently point to God and only God. That’s because he who is true to God is only and wholly focused on God.

John, who penned these words, gives us the same criteria in different words in 1 Jn. 2:20-23. It is evident that he had meditated on this principle of discernment, given by Jesus, throughout his life. Here’s how he tells us to discern a faithful person from a liar.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.  I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.  Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son.  No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

John is being consistent here. We discern the truth from a lie by discerning to whom the speaker points us. If they point to Jesus as the Promised One they are faithful. If they point to something else, anything else, run away, or you might get eaten!!!

Don't judge by external standards.

Let’s use Jesus’ parameters for discernment of whom to trust and not trust. Does the person, or group you are speaking to, point to Jesus as the Christ? Trust them. Do they tell you that you should be under their covering? Run away!!! Do they point to Jesus as your answer? Trust them. Do they tell you that you must see everything through their theological paradigm? Run away or you might be served for lunch!!! Do they try to help you find your answers by listening to the voice of Jesus? Trust them. Do they tell you that their denomination is better than the rest? They are carnivores!!! Do they point to the Spirit of Jesus in your soul as the source of truth (as John does in 1 Jn. 2:20)? Trust them. Do they point to the book of policies and procedures of the organization? They bark at the moon!!! Do they teach you to follow Jesus and listen to him by faith? Trust them, they understand the new covenant. Do they tell you that you will only be safe if you are a member of their church and follow the proscribed way? John would tell you such a person is an anti-Christ; a dangerous wolf.

Am I being too harsh? Well, I’m intentionally being pretty pointed, because this is not an insignificant issue. Here’s the frustrating thing. Many of these “antichrists” have good doctrine. I speak as former wolf myself. Frankly, much of the doctrine of the Pharisees, Jesus’ sworn enemies, was correct. But that theological correctness didn’t connect them with God. They understood good doctrine, but they weren’t following the Spirit. The correct letter of the law was killing them while they denied the very Spirit who could have given them life (2 Cor. 3:6). They didn’t understand the very One who was ushering in a new covenant, far superior to the correct, but old covenant of the right ideas.

We need to learn to use Jesus’ standard of discernment. It is the same standard that John brought up in I John 2. Does it point to Jesus the Christ as our Source, Answer, Lord, and Trustworthy Friend? If it doesn’t; no matter how good it seems; we need to learn to run away. We also need to be honest with ourselves and check to see if we are pointing to the Source of Life, or some other seemingly good things. We may be running with the pack that makes us feel safe; but wolves run in packs.

  • Do we need to have perfect doctrine to know Christ and follow him? Do you believe your doctrine is 100% accurate? 
  • Do you read in my words that I don’t think that good doctrine is important? If so, you are deeply mistaken.
  • I’ve brought up others as our covering, theological schools of thought, denominations, and organizational policies as potential wolves? Does that mean that these things are always and necessarily wrong and evil?
  • Besides the potential wolves I’ve mentioned, can you think of other things that can seem good but end up taking our focus off of Jesus the Anointed One, who speaks to our hearts and minds (Heb. 8:10)?
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Leadership???

Leading biblically...really? Isn't this what Jesus told us not to do?

There’s nothing more fun that a good oxymoron. Let me share a few: cruel kindness, approximately equal, civil war, burning cold, explicit innuendo and my all time favorite, servant leadership. Oxymora are a combination of contradictory or incongruous words or concepts. This is actually quite different than a paradox, which is a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is true; often conveying a profound truth, difficult to fathom. Oxymora, are contradictory and illogical; paradoxes only appear to be so. Jesus used paradox very effectively, he didn’t use oxymora.

The term servant leadership has become common, even ubiquitous in Christian circles nowadays. I suppose, if we think about it at all, we chalk it up to being a paradox; something that seems contradictory but really isn’t. I’d like to propose that, in fact, the concept of servant leadership is a true oxymoron. As such it should not be worthy of our consideration as a concept for guiding our behavior.

Our confusion comes from two interrelated issues. First, Jesus is talking about something that is common to all human communities; leadership. It doesn’t matter what culture we come from, nor what strata of that society, some are leaders, some are followers. The second confusion comes from Jesus talking about leadership with a contradictory concept; servanthood, at the same time.

Let’s look at Jesus’ brief lesson on leadership and see what he actually said:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves (Lk. 22:24-27).

When we read these words we commonly think Jesus is giving us a new kind of leadership, or a different kind of leadership or a way of being a leader with a different attitude. Nothing could be farther from the truth; he is giving us something to do instead of being a leader. Servanthood isn’t a different way of being a leader; it is not being a leader at all. He is saying “don’t do this; do this instead.” He wasn’t saying something similar to I’ll give you a new way of being a leader; he was saying don’t be a leader.

Why do we keep trying to turn Jesus words back into the very thing he told us not to do? Why do we feel compelled to use his vocabulary to describe what he was preaching against? I believe there are two reasons, one is motivational and the other is organizational. First, the motivational reason we try to avoid real servanthood, instead embracing leadership, in the name of servanthood, is that we are unconsciously succumbing to foundational principles of the world (Gal. 4:3,9; Col. 2:8.20). The world we know needs leadership to function. Leadership, like all of what Paul called weak and miserable principles (Gal. 4:9), are the way the world works. It’s the worldly way of doing things. The biblical Greek word for this is stoicheia, translated, ‘basic principles or foundational principles of the world.’  But we are to live above and beyond the hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ (Col 2:8).

But there is also an organizational reason we keep falling into the clutches of the worldly leadership principle, human organizations can’t function without leaders. The buck has to stop somewhere in an organization. They need presidents and team leaders, titular pastors and CEOs. But the Church, local, citywide or universal, is not designed by God to be an organization. It is designed to be a body with Christ as head. A multi-headed church isn’t a body, it’s a beast. We have the new covenant. Christ speaks to our hearts and minds (Heb. 8:10). Jesus Christ can function perfectly as our Head. He knows how to talk to us and his Spirit can control us. And we can function as members one to another who need each other and serve each other; one body, with one head, yet many members.

So what should we do about leadership? We should do exactly what Jesus said, “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” Don’t be a servant leader; it is still being a leader. It may be a new or different kind of leader than most are used to, but it is still a leader. Do exactly what Jesus actually said, do something else INSTEAD. Just love people through helping them. Let Jesus be their Lord. If you just point out where Jesus is, and encourage them to follow him, it will be enough.

  • Can you think of other reasons why we feel compelled to fall back into the basic worldly principle of leadership?
  • Can Christ truly lead us, in real time and in practical ways, or is his lordship merely to be understood as a good doctrinal metaphor?
  • What would the Church look like if we all just did what Christ told us to do then loved and served each other? Would it be chaos?
  • Could part of the problem be that we really don’t trust Christ (faith) and believe he can lead?
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Last week I signed a contract for the publication of my book Viral Jesus with Strang Communications. It will probably be about a year until you can actually hold the book in your hands. In the mean time, I’d like to share the preface of the book, as it now stands, as an example of what the book will be like and of the themes on which it will focus. When the book is finally available you will be able to buy it here from The Jesus Virus Blog.

Preface

...only let me attain to Jesus Christ.

The year is about 107 AD. Ignatius of Antioch, an Apostolic Father of the Early Church, is being marched through the tunnels of the Coliseum of Rome. He can hear the roar of the lions in their holding pens below. He can smell their strong musky stench. As he emerges into the daylight, he tracks through the sticky blood, soaked into the sand; the blood of his brothers and sisters killed moments before, for the entertainment of the 50,000 murderous, overwrought, deafening spectators.

He had been captured in his homeland, Antioch of Syria, north of Israel, by the soldiers of Emperor Trajan. He has been brought to this point on a long and difficult journey. In his Epistle to the Romans, chapter five he writes, “From Syria even unto Rome I fight with beasts, both by land and sea, both by night and day, being bound to ten leopards, I mean a band of soldiers, who, even when they receive benefits, show themselves all the worse.”[1]

Ignatius didn’t have to be here. He could have bowed before a statue of Trajan, sacrificed a little wine, declared his allegiance to Trajan as Emperor and gone his merry way. But he wouldn’t and he didn’t; why? Instead, his life ended much as he had anticipated.

 

The colosseum could seat 50,000 blood thirsty spectators.

May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched. But if they be unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me [in this]:I know what is for my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple. And let no one, of things visible or invisible, envy me that I should attain to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocations of bones; let cutting off of members; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ.

[2]

We will meet Ignatius again in Viral Jesus. Not everything we see will be spotless, wonderful and clean; but hopefully we will understand Ignatius’ unbending devotion to Jesus his Lord. And that is the point. The backbone of Ignatius’ life was based on two undeniable facts, Jesus is Lord, and Ignatius’ life operated on a covenantal agreement with his Lord, called the new covenant. Everything Ignatius did; how he lived, and how he died, was based on these two truths. Not truths in the sense of correct ideas, but truths in the sense of the certitude of experience, of how he lived his life and how he willingly gave it up.

The Early Church lived out ‘Jesus is Lord.’ The Early Church understood how to live every moment within their new covenant agreement with Jesus their Lord. And because of this, the gospel spread like a wildfire through Greco-Roman society. Less than 200 years after Ignatius’ death, Christianity became the most important religion in the Western world. That too is a story we will explore.

The gospel is no longer spreading like a wildfire through the Western world. And it is precisely because we don’t really understand how to live with Jesus as Lord and within his new covenant agreement with us. We may agree with these two truths as correct doctrines; but we live something far different. In place of these living truths, we have human planning, ministry as business, human leadership, techniques, methods and strategic principles.  Professing to be wise we have become fools. We have succumbed to the foundational principles of the world the apostle Paul warned us about. And the end result is the Kingdom of God stagnated in place, even losing ground in the West. We have replaced the kingdom of God with Christendom; a cheap and gaudy imitation.

I believe the gospel can once again spread like a beautiful, healthy contagion in the West. I believe the message of our King can become unfettered and thrive and proliferate like a living thing. I believe we can once again see the beautiful truths of the lordship of Jesus and his offer of a new covenant, in other words the gospel, spread like the Jesus Virus. And I truly believe Jesus can go viral again in western society. I believe you and I can be part of this viral Jesus movement, but how? That’s the question this book seeks to answer.

  • I am stating that living life fully with Jesus as Lord and in new covenant relationship with Him is key to viral Christianity. Does this make sense to you? Do you agree or disagree? 
  •  Are you like me, having lived much of your Christian life unaware of the new covenant (Jer. 31: 31-34; Heb. 8:7-13)? 
  •  Do you believe that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is more than correct doctrine, it must become the certitude of experience?  
  •  How do you think the new covenant and Jesus as Lord lifestyle are connected? 

[1] New Advent, Fathers of the Church The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans, Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson [article on-line]; available http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0107.htm Internet accessed 23 January, 2011.

[2] Ibid.

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Making Disciples

Making disciples involves helping people draw closer to Jesus and move out in the harvest

In Matt. 28:18-20 Jesus gave you and me our marching orders; we are to make disciples. That’s the core; everything else he says in those three verses explains what making disciples entails. I’m sure this is nothing new to you. What I would like to do is share four practical suggestions on how to make organic, reproducing disciples who reproduce organically.

Give them skills not information

So much of modern discipleship is information based; we download more and more information with no opportunity to use it. It’s like feeding a baby with a fire hose. It can do more damage than good. Instead, I would suggest that making disciples is merely teaching them a few simple reproducible skills (i.e. obey everything I commanded you Matt. 28:20) and then giving them opportunities to try it. Let them learn by connecting with Jesus and obeying. It’s OK if they are Making Mistakes with Jesus, as long as they are following Jesus and not anyone else, including us. Let Jesus sort out the mistakes (Rom. 8:28). Here are the basic skill set I give new disciples:

  1. Read the Bible as a personal conversation with Jesus. Obey what he tells you to do.
  2. Pray as a personal conversation with Jesus. Obey what he tells you to do.
  3. As a group, pray, listen, obey.
  4. As a group invite the Spirit of Jesus to attend. Obey what he tells you to do.
  5. Pray for those who need Jesus. If Jesus tells you to talk with someone, obey.

In reality Jesus is leading this process, we are just facilitators. We also have to follow Jesus in this process. We shouldn’t try to control it. Let him do that through what comes up in our discipleship friendships. For more on what that looks like see the section called Non-Sequential Discipleship in the post Sequentialismalso check out the post Organic Discipleship.

Look for the movement of the Spirit

Pay attention to what Spirit of Jesus is doing. If our friends mention a desire in their heart that is biblical, we help them realize that it has come from the Holy Spirit. If they gain insight into a Bible passage, or feel an impulse to do loving ministry, we explain to them that these thoughts in their mind and these godly desires of their heart are really Jesus speaking to them. This is what Jesus did with Peter in Matt. 16:17 “Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”

Look for their individual calling and design

God designs each of us differently. We shouldn’t try to reproduce ourselves in someone else’s life; we should allow Jesus to use us to reproduce himself in that life. For example, I’m beginning to notice that my friend Cesar is a thinker and comes up with good ministry ideas. I encourage him in that, let him know that these ideas come from Jesus and then help him bring those ideas to fruition. Vitorio, another friend, is currently growing leaps and bounds in listening to Jesus in the Bible and in listening prayer. I’m helping him grow in the discernment process and encouraging him to obedience to the voice of the Spirit. I’m doing different things with Toño, German and others in the group.

Also pray, listen and pay attention to what God is doing in the whole group. Right now the friends I’ve just mentioned are planning their own baptism event at a beach and trying to figure out how they can serve “the least of these” around them (even though they are very poor themselves). This is the work of the Spirit. My job is to help them follow Jesus.

Model, don’t just talk

Our lives need to be an open book on walking with Jesus. We can’t control what those disciples of Jesus, we are involved with, are noticing. Don’t even try. We need to just walk with Jesus, abide in him, pay attention to his voice and obey. We need to love our friends and receive their love. We can be “Jesus in skin” for them. In the process the Spirit will flow out of us like rivers of living water, we and our friends will bear fruit and we will grow closer to Jesus. None of this is complicated; it’s really quite simple, just not easy. But we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

  • To whom and for whom has God called you to be Jesus in skin? Whose life helps you understand what a deeper walk with Jesus is like? Are you paying attention?
  • What is going on in the lives of your friends, which you can point out as activity of the Spirit?
  • Are you living the basic skills of an obedient walk with Jesus (see skills 1-5 above)? Where do you need to grow? What resources do you need so that Jesus can lead you to growth?
  • Does your walk match your talk? What should you do?
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Institutionalism was the spirit of the modern age

Institutions or Communities

The organizational principle of the modern age was the institution. Any group of any significance, during the modern age, automatically assumed an institutional structure. The institutional structure gave moderns a feeling of purpose and seriousness that provided them with a sense of security. In the pre-modern and modern age, government went from clan structure to institutional government. Military organization went from fighting for the tribe in mobs to the institutionally based professional military. In the modern age, business went from family owned cottage industries and shops to multi-national corporations. Because the institution was the organizational principle of modernity, churches took on the institutional structure with its hierarchies, titles and formality.

Certainly there was institutional structure before the modern age, the Roman military machine for example; but institutionalism didn’t become the spirit of the age until the modern world. Institutionalism became so embedded in modern thinking that even human groups that had no need for this type of structure, none the less adopted it. In the 1950’s women just didn’t get together to play bridge, they formed a “bridge club” and elected a president, a secretary and calendar director.

In the postmodern age the new fashionable organizational principle is community. For those of us old enough to think back, how often did we talk about communities in the 1950s-1980s? Back then the word community was the functional equivalent of a village or neighborhood. It almost never referred to a group of six to twenty people. The word did not carry with it the same sense of warmth and goodness, as it does today. How often do we use the word community now? It has become ubiquitous and it almost always refers to a small intimate group of people.

I believe this shift from institutional thinking to community spirit is a very good thing. Institutional thinking turns individuals into units. It fills slots in a hierarchical structure with whoever is available. An individual is no longer Bob, who is a whiz at woodworking and is struggling in his relationship with his daughter. He becomes a mere pipefitter with social security number 546-xx-2107. He can be easily replaced with any other trained pipefitter in the union.

Institutionalism dehumanizes us and worse yet, it disconnects us from God. The whole point of institutional structure is for humans to organize their work to accomplish their goals. God’s way, in stark contrast, is all about relationship and intimacy; which is the whole point of community. The community organizational structure just fits much better with God’s intimate new covenant way of interacting with us. Community structure is much more apt to fulfill his goals of loving intimacy with us and with each other. Whether we recognize it or not, structures count. They end up having a strong effect of our emotional and spiritual life.

Communities or Communitas

Buy The Forgotten Ways here and learn more about building communitas

But there is something deeper yet than community. There is an organizational principle which can draw us even closer to God and each other than community. Alan Hirsch in his book The Forgotten Ways introduces us to the idea of communitas, which he defines like this: “The most vigorous forms of community are those that come together in the context of a shared ordeal or those that define themselves as a group with a mission that lies beyond themselves—thus initiating a risky journey” (p.25).

Too much of what I see in simple church gatherings is mere community, not communitas. There is a sense of sharing life with each other, of getting to know more of God and each other together. There is a much clearer understanding of why we should be grouped in small, close, loving family like structures. This is all good. But far too often there is no sense of shared mission and willingness to share sacrifice and ordeal. We have become focused on ourselves not on God himself and the task he has called us to. We aren’t even asking the question of what God is calling us to.

Did the early Church have a sense of community? Yes. But did they also have a sense of purpose beyond themselves? Again, yes. Jesus gave us marching orders in Matt 28. We cannot truly live the life he has called us to without living in community. But we cannot fully live the communal life he has called us to without engaging in his mission; being willing share ordeal with him and with each other.

My call to my simple, organic brethren is to live community to the fullest, just don’t stop there. Keep going. Ask Jesus where he wants us to go together, what adventures he has for us as a group, which minister to the lost world around us. Not only will we fulfill his purpose for his world, but we will also meet him and our friends in a much deeper way.

  • Why do you think we tend to get stuck in institutional thinking or mere community thinking?
  • What other spirit of the age issues is the organic/simple church movement facing? In what other areas do we need to continue to move on to all the God would have for us?
  • Is the difference between community and communitas clear to you? What questions do you have that would make it clearer?
  • Can you see why forming ourselves in institutional structures can inadvertently damage our relationship with each other and with God?
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This is not what true life is really about.

Jesus said what needed to be said. He wasn’t afraid to tell us what we didn’t really want to hear. Often he did this through paradox. I believe he did that to weed out those who were really willing to listen and those who only wanted their ears tickled. One of Jesus’ most painful paradoxes is the following: Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it (Matt. 10:38-39).

If we want to find our life, we must be willing to lose it. If we want to have a rich, fruitful ministry, we must lose our life. If we want to have deep intimacy with God, we must lose our life. If we really want to experience the presence of the Lord, we must lose our life. But what does that mean? I’d like to give six examples of the kinds of loss Jesus is talking about. This list is not exclusive, but it does exemplify the types of loss we must embrace, if we are to truly follow him.

 

 

Loss of Attachments

What are we attached to? What do we consider important to us? Is it significance, our title, our job, the admiration of others, our money, well being, health, standard of living, being right? Is Jesus more important to us that any and all of these things? If he isn’t, we probably haven’t really taken up our cross to follow him.

Loss of Control

Jesus is the Lord of the harvest. He is our Lord. That means he gets to call the shots. That means he gets to call us into extended periods of pain and trail; if that’s what he believes to be in our best interest. He gets to chose where we live. He gets to chose what our ministry looks like. He gets to chose if we are in periods of fruitfulness or in one of those long dry stretches. He is Lord. He is in control and we are not. Are we willing to live like that? Are we willing to forgo statements like “I will follow you but first…?” If we can’t pray like Jesus did at Gethsemane, we have not taken up our cross.

Loss of Territory

God, I will serve you as long as I can live in the great state of Texas. God, I will serve you as long as I don’t have to live in Texas, or San Francisco, or some place that has nasty bugs and snakes? God I will serve you as long as I can be a conference speaker. God, I will serve you as long as I can work with my friends and be near my family. Territories can be physical places or they can be cultural or emotional places. Physical, cultural or emotional; if we haven’t given these places to Jesus, actually thrown them aside for trust in the goodness of his lordship, we haven’t taken up our cross to follow him.

Loss of Structure

One of my close friends, who has been involved with me in organic church for the last four years, got a call from the Lord to become a youth pastor in an institutional church. It was a very uncomfortable call for him. He brought it to our organic community and we listened together. The call was from the Lord. He was faced with a choice to obey God and go back to an institutional structure or choose his comfort. He obeyed; and by doing so took up his cross and followed Jesus. Sometimes the structure we hold onto is denominational, sometimes it is doctrinal, sometimes it is a certain mission organization or local church. Our call is to Jesus the Lord, not a particular structure, not matter how “right” or comfortable.

Loss of Future

How would we like to be Peter and hear a prophecy from the risen Lord which implied we would end up being crucified? How would we like to carry something like that around for forty years or so? Are we willing for our future to be “unsuccessful?” Are we willing to be called into poverty? If not, we haven’t taken up our cross.

Loss of Meaning

Humans, to feel actualized, need to feel like their life has meaning, like they are accomplishing something worthwhile, like their life counts. And, when we truly follow the Lord, our life does count. But it doesn’t always look like that to others or even to us.  Are we willing to set aside that perception to ourselves and others that our life is making a difference? Are we willing to wait until we are face to face with the Lord to find out what our life was all about? If not, we haven’t truly taken up our cross.

Ideal and Real

Ideally we would willingly suffer loss in these six categories and others like them. But the reality is that we are sinful humans and we will struggle. The best we can do is lay these things at Jesus feet. Then, when he shows us that we have put down our cross, me must take it up again. Besides, even when we think we have given up our territory, our favorite structure and even our future; we find out that we have really only given them up to a point. Later the Lord may take us deeper into loss so that we can be taken deeper into him. We never arrive; we are always in a process of losing ourselves to find ourselves. We are to take up our cross daily. But in the process, we find ourselves with Jesus and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

  • What does your cross look like? Have you allowed Jesus to show it to you so you can take it up?
  • What areas of loss do you struggle with most?
  • If you prayed through the passage of the rich young ruler, what would Jesus challenge you with? Would it be wealth, or significance, fame, family or where you live? Are you willing to give it up and take up your cross for the sake of knowing Jesus better?
  • Are you willing to have the Lord call you to a future of insignificance and pain? Are you willing to trust him that such a life will have meaning even if you and everybody else don’t see it?
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Thinking 1 then 2 then 3 then 4 can get in the way of what God is doing.

Felicity Dale recently wrote an excellent post in her blog Simply Church: A House Church Perspective in which she responded to an important question, “should we increase community at the expense of being missional?” You can see her post by clicking on the picture to the left.

One of the issues she dealt with was the idea of sequentialism; that is, doing things in a specific planned order. This is not a particularly good ministry practice (though very common). In fact, it can retard the spiritual growth of disciples. I’m not going to rewrite Felicity’s blog for her; she did a better job than I can. You should read it yourself and don’t miss the interaction in the comments. What I would like to do is give a fresh example of non-sequential discipleship from my own ministry. When I say fresh, I’m talking about this happening less than two hours ago as I write.

Discipling Vitorio in the Harvest

My buddy Toño and I led a guy name Vitorio to the Lord awhile back. You can read that story in Burgers and Jesus. You can read about how Vitorio and Toño´s stories fit in a bigger story in: Best 5 Story Posts of 2010. Toño is a guy I helped lead to the Lord a couple of years ago. I did that with my buddy Ryan and some teachers in our language class. Vitorio has become a part of a church that meets at Cesar’s apartment (again part of the bigger story in Best 5 Story Posts of 2010 particularly in Another Story from the Harvest). Vitorio has been accompanying me as I pass out lunches every Friday morning to Hispanic day workers waiting for work. This is an extension of the work Ryan and I originally started over a year ago and how Ryan and I met Cesar in the post Cesar, Man of Peace.

In essence, Vitorio has taken Ryan’s place in the ministry. Ryan is still a vital part of the ministry, but he is doing other things. However, part of Ryan’s ministry has been reproduced in Vitorio. The Kingdom is growing organically.

Non-Sequential Discipleship

Typically we would think about this sequentially. Toño and I have led Vitorio to Jesus. Now we disciple him until he is “mature enough” to be taught to take a mature person like Ryan’s place. We train him in evangelism and then he starts to do evangelism and ministry. Yeah right! It doesn’t look anything like that. To give you an example, let me tell you what this morning was like.

At 7:15 AM I went to Cesar’s house. Brenda, Cesar’s wife, makes over 70 sack lunches per week to pass out to day workers. Then I picked up Vitorio at his apartment. We went to a local restaurant to have breakfast together. While at the restaurant, I asked a simple question, “What is Jesus doing in your life?” An hour long conversation ensued; partly over breakfast and partly while passing out lunches and flyers for our language class.

Here are just a few of the topics we discussed: what is prayer, how do we pray, being a temple of the Holy Spirit, the new covenant, listening to God, responding to God in obedience, reading the Bible as a conversation with Jesus, what is the role of a spiritual community, discernment of other voices (world, flesh, the devil), the Kingdom, Jesus’ lordship, how we spread the Kingdom…I could go on. In the process we prayed together, spread the Kingdom through lunches and comments, started to discern God’s design for Vitorio’s life, gave sacrificially (Vitorio spontaneously gave his lunch to someone else), and listened to God. Those are just some of the things I can remember talking about and doing together. Who knows what else Jesus was doing that I wasn’t even aware of?

Let’s put all of this another way. Jesus, Vitorio and I shared life together. In the process Jesus was glorified, the Kingdom was announced and both Vitorio and I grew in our faiths. None of it was planned beyond passing out lunches together. Vitorio is just now learning the basics of prayer and reading the Bible, yet he is already involved in intentional Kingdom extention. He doesn’t need to reach a certain maturity level to do such a thing. He doesn’t need an evangelism class. He needs to be and do with Jesus…and a more experienced friend. Jesus can lead the discipleship process. It will come out of Vitorio and my friendship together.

Am I being intentional? Absolutely. But my intentionality doesn’t look like a sequential curriculum; it looks like a few foundational spiritual skills that I train all new disciples in. You can read more about that in Organic Discipleship. My job, as a more experienced brother, is to make disciples of Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20). I point people to Jesus; that’s making his disciples. Jesus himself can use Vitorio and my friendship to weave together the curriculum he wants for Vitorio’s life. I just need to pay attention to what Jesus is up to and keep pointing Vitorio back to Jesus.

  • Did you notice that Vitorio came to Christ partially through Toño´s ministry while I was discipling Toño? Did you note that Toño came to Christ because of Jesus using Ryan and me? Did you note that Ryan and I met Cesar (whose wife makes sandwiches to help us meet more people) and that a church meets at their house? Toño, Vidal and others are a part of that church. How could we plan such a thing sequentially?
  • Did you note that a ministry of helping people in need (language, donuts, lunches) is woven together seamlessly with evangelism, discipleship and church planting?
  • Can you see how human sequential planning could get in the way of what Jesus is up to?
  • What part does human planning take in this kind of ministry? Where does our role leave off and Jesus’ role begin? Is that even a good way to ask the question?
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Stories have a special way of capturing what people are experiencing

I started this blog on May 26, 2010 as a resource for people who long to experience a simple, living Christianity that spreads easily from person to person, in other words, the Jesus Virus. My first post was An Oikos Isn’t a Building. I’m sure at least five people read that post, maybe six. Since that time, I’ve written 117 posts. And, by the grace of God, I’m now getting regular readers from all over the world: the United States, Finland, Greece, England, The Philippines, Australia, Mexico, India, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, some countries I can’t name for security reasons…the list goes on. Most of these readers probably haven’t read some of my earlier posts. But these posts related to the purpose that God put on my heart; to be a resource. So, I’d like to do a series of posts throughout 2011 that highlight older posts from 2010 which, in my opinion, were helpful for that purpose. Here is the first in that series: The Best 5 Story Posts of 2010.

I may be a blogger, but I’m also a simple church planter and practitioner who is attempting to live the life I blog about. One of the things I blog about is the stories that come out of the ministry God is giving me. Stories have a special way of capturing what people are experiencing. They can also help us learn practical lessons. If you read the following stories, in the order they are given, they also weave a bigger story. So, in that spirit, here are what I think are the five best story posts from 2010.

Story 1: Meeting the Person of Peace

Those of us who plant simple/organic churches, among those who don’t yet know Christ, look for the person of peace Jesus taught about in Luke 10:6. Here is an encounter I had with such a person: Cesar, Man of Peace.

Story 2: Following Jesus into the Harvest

Organic ministry isn’t just about leading people to Christ and planting churches (as wonderful and fun as that is). It is about following Jesus and seeing what He is up to. In the process, we end up ministering in people’s lives. That can be anything from giving a child a cup of cold water to…Here’s an example: Francisco- Another Story from the Harvest.

Story 3: Taking Others into the Harvest

When Jesus begins to give us fruit, in the form of people, we need to make disciples; that is, help them become disciples of Jesus. In the process, we should take them into the harvest with us. Here is an example of what that can look like:  Burgers and Jesus.

Story 4: Learning to Follow Jesus, Not a Technique

We can be doctrinaire about how we think ministry “ought to be done.” Or, we can just follow Jesus, even when He doesn’t play by our technique and paradigm rule book. I would like to suggest that following the Lord of the Harvest into the harvest is always wiser. Here is an example: Another Story from the Harvest.

Stories 5 and 6: Gathering Under Jesus’ Lordship

When Jesus gathers us together, we find out that gathering under Jesus’ lordship is both dynamic and seldom what we expect. Here are a couple of brief stories from when my friends and I have gathered under Jesus’ lordship. You will meet some new people (friends I partner in the harvest with) and some people who by now I hope are old friends: Organic Church Gatherings – 2 Stories.

If you find these stories helpful to you in understanding what this organic/simple life, under the lordship of Jesus, is about,  share it on Facebook, Twitter, another social media or email it to your friends. My calling is to share what Jesus is up to. I’m just one of many who are living this exciting and fulfilling life.  And, I hope to encourage you to begin or deepen in this journey which Jesus is calling many of us, around the world, to embrace.

  • Do you have stories like this? If not, do you want to? If so, do you want to share them? Feel free to send me your stories by posting a comment. I may post (with your permission) some of those stories as a resource to others.
  • What one or two lessons did you learn from these stories? Do you want to comment and share your lessons with others?
  • Did you find anything strange or mystifying in these stories? What would that be?
  • What questions do you have about this kind of organic/simple church ministry? If you’re asking that question, probably others are too. Good questions lead to new posts.
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Everyone in our culture knows what "going to church" means

One of those annoying holdovers from our Christendom experience, which gets stuck in our spiritual DNA like Bedbugs in Our Suitcase, is the idea of church as a meeting. Consequently church is something we “go to.” When we envision church in our mind, we think of a meeting. Granted, those who have some organic experience no longer think of church meeting in a specific building, equipped with pews, isles and pulpits; but we are still often tend to think of the church as a planned activity. We all know theologically that the church is the people, not the meeting or the building, but if you are anything like me, in our minds we still have the church “going to church.” So let’s explore the idea of a church that is just a church. It doesn’t have anywhere to go because wherever it is, it is already everything it needs to be.

Church as Community

We need to explore the idea that if we are truly to be church, instead of people who go to church, we need to actually develop a community. One of the best ways I’ve come up with to describe a church that has become a community is trying to remember what it was like in high school. You had your group that you always hung out with. This was your oikos, your affinity group. That’s your church. That, by the way, is why Jesus taught us to plant churches in oikoi. For more on that see An Oikos Isn’t a Building. Remember what it was like with your group? You met each other in the halls. You ate lunch together. You did all sorts of activities together and you were at each other’s houses, especially if there was food involved. You were a community.

Can we go to church without being the church?

We all long for a sense of community; it’s built into our humanness. So, be a community with your church. Visit each other’s homes. If you are 35 years old or younger you can constantly text each other ;) . Meet for coffee. Actually visit each other’s homes. And when you do minister to each other, pray for each other. Talk about what you are experiencing in life and how Jesus is interacting with that. Jesus is the Head of your community. It doesn’t take an organized meeting for that to happen. It takes two or three of you getting together. Does that sound familiar? In fact, it can even happen in the cereal aisle of the store.

This is one of the things we are working on in the church I’m currently planting (see Cesar, Man of Peace, Another Story from the Harvest, Organic Discipleship – 2 Stories). I’ve been encouraging my friends to hang out more together. Toño had an insight about the new covenant and called me to tell me about it. I told him his insights were great, now call some of the other guys and talk to them about it. We arranged for Toño to help Francisco learn to read while I was out of state visiting family (see Francisco- Another Story from the Harvest). Vitorio is helping me pass out lunches to the poor (see Burgers and Jesus). I could go on, but the point is that we are doing stuff together. Our community doesn’t just consist of a bunch of people that meet once a week.

Don’t be an Exclusive Community

This may seem contradictory but while we need to develop an “us-ness” we need to avoid a spirit of “us and them”. We need to have fuzzy borders to the edge of our community. Others need to feel comfortable when they are with us. We need to be the kind of community that has such an open accepting spirit that others would like to be a part of it, without feeling like a third wheel on a bicycle. We need to be able to accept others into our community. We need to not feel like we are letting the team down if we hang out with someone else. And we need to be able to multiply for the sake of the Kingdom. All of this needs to be done without excessive emotional baggage. One of the other bedbugs in out suitcase from Christendom is that we have learned how to be exclusive, without actually ever having been community in the first place.

Oh, and By the Way, Meet

None of this precludes intentionally meeting. Going back to my analogy of high school, some groups had their special times and places to meet. Perhaps it was meeting every Friday night at Tim’s house for pizza and a movie. It is OK to be intentional about meeting. It is good to meet regularly and intentionally. Just don’t make that the only time you see each other and Jesus is in your midst.

  • What kinds of things should a church community do that isn’t built around a church meeting?
  • Why do you think meeting has become such a big part of Christendom’s culture?
  • What are some things we can do to encourage “us-ness?”
  • What can we do to avoid becoming “us and them?”
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The wind blows wherever it pleases

I’m often asked what simple church meetings are like. I’m also asked how Jesus leads a church.[1] How can we do simple church right? What are simple church gathering techniques or rules? These questions are a little like asking what cats look like. They have their similarities but a tabby is different than a tiger. Having said that, let’s talk about a simple church done well; one where Jesus is in charge and he accomplishes his purposes. 

One of the most important things to understand about “doing simple church right” that is to say, making sure you are following Jesus, not asking him to follow you, is understanding spiritual dynamics. Actually one of the best expressions of the natural, organic spiritual dynamics of a simple church meeting were stated by a secular organizational expert named Harrison Owen. You can read about his theories here. Owen came up with what he called the Four Immutable Laws of the Spirit, also called his four principles. They are the following:

  1. Whoever is present are the right people.
  2. Whenever it begins is the right time.
  3. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
  4. When it’s over it’s over.

While Owen wasn’t a Christian, to my knowledge, he certainly understands the spiritual dynamic which happens when Jesus is leading a group of people to his Kingdom purposes. So let’s look at these four immutable laws of the Spirit and see how they lead to productive simple church meetings and allow for Jesus’ leadership.

Whoever is present are the right people

I just wish Candice could have been here. Boy, Andy needed to hear that. Well the truth of the matter is that Jesus allowed and caused whatever happened to happen while the people who were there were present. He knows what he is doing in each life. They are his disciples, not ours. So we need to trust him to do what needs to be done with his disciples. Our part is to make disciples under his leadership, see Making Disciples: The Key to Movements.

Whenever it begins is the right time

We have become so accustomed to timed, controlled meetings that we don’t leave room for the Spirit to direct. Can we trust Jesus to get things started? Can we trust him to control the timing of events when we gather? Can we really do him a favor by planning the event to come out the “way it should?” My question would be, is it “the way it should” by our standards and agenda or Jesus’?

Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened

To be a little less fatalistic perhaps I would rephrase this, can we trust Jesus to work everything out for good for those who love him, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28)? I’m not suggesting that everything will go perfectly. I’m not suggesting that this isn’t a human event. I’m not suggesting that we will never make mistakes, see Making Mistakes with Jesus. I am suggesting that our human foibles don’t throw Jesus off of his stride. Can we trust him with that? Or, do we need to wrest control away from him so that what should happen does happen? Hmmm!

When it’s over it’s over

So it is with everyone born of the Spirit

This is not a timing issue; it is a matter of the special presence of the Holy Spirit. In John 3:8 Jesus compared the Spirit to the wind, which is completely uncontrollable: The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. I’ve noticed that sometimes the “Spirit shows up” in simple church meetings. I don’t know a better way to describe it. See Organic Church Gatherings – 2 Stories, for a couple of illustrations of this issue. Like the wind, the Spirit comes, then goes. When he goes; it is over. I’m not implying that we have nothing to do with his presence. It is a relational spiritual dynamic. I am expressing that we can’t controlled it; nor should we try.

                So, with everything in an organic, simple church meeting we need to learn to trust the Spirit of Jesus to lead the process. I can guarantee that it won’t ever end up like you’re expecting, but if you trust Jesus it will be good. And, over time he will accomplish everything he intends. We need to focus on obeying and staying out of his way.

  • Can Jesus really lead a meeting? 
  • Isn’t trusting Jesus to lead the meeting about faith, which is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Heb. 11:1)? 
  • Do you think that too much human planning and control risks “chasing away the Spirit?” 
  • Is it wrong to use or reference secular leaders to explain simple church dynamics? Do you think we could get the same principles from the Scriptures? 

 


[1] For a good post on this issue see: Authority: How Jesus Leads a Church

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