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What Works

One of the elders of our church used to work for Social Security.  The other day he told me about how Social Security absorbed the administration of state-run disability benefits.  To streamline the process, they sought to automate the system through the use of computers.  An outside vendor was brought in to pitch a system which could handle the massive load.  The only problem was that the vendor didn’t actually have the technology they sold.  The demo unit they brought to their presentations was nothing but a metal box equipped with a very impressing array of buttons and flashing lights.  The vendor believed that if they could just get the money from Social Security first, they would be able to produce the promised equipment.  The decision makers at Social Security had little knowledge of computer systems but didn’t want to admit this fact so they went with the vendor.  This interplay between pride and deception brings to mind the old fable of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.”  Except in this case more was at stake than a leader’s public image.  Millions of dollars of taxpayer money was lost through the debacle.

This story makes me think of the various worldviews that exist.  So many promise much but deliver little.  When people decide what to believe about reality (and it is a decision), perhaps they should consider a worldview that has proven effective.  Check out these observations made about Christianity by an economist raised in an atheist state.

I’m not saying we should choose a belief system simply because it works.  I’m saying that if it works when nothing else does, perhaps a greater Mind was indeed behind its inception.

Life Transformation Groups – A Testimonial

I have a friend who is also an elder at our church.  In the past couple of years I’ve watched him grow into a spiritual leader who inspires and challenges me every time we talk.  God has done many things in his life to effect this season of growth but much of it started with his participation in a Life Transformation Group or LTGRead his testimonial below –

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16a NIV

For many years I struggled with a particular sin that was very stubborn. Try as I might, I could not get mastery over this shortcoming. I pleaded with God to take it from me but I was unable to get any lasting relief. Last summer I started an LTG with another guy. To my amazement the sin I had struggled with became a footnote. It is not to say that there has been no struggle whatsoever, but knowing that I am going to be asked about it every week is a strong deterrent.  I have been able to move on and work on other areas where God is prodding me.

An LTG is formally called a Life Transformation Group, but it could also be called a laughing together group or a learning together group because those things happen as well.  An LTG has three parts to it: scripture reading, accountability questions and praying for the lost.  The scripture reading is done at home. You come together once a week and ask each other the scripted accountability questions, discuss the scripture reading and pray for three people you know who are lost.

It is interesting that James says to confess your sins and pray for each other and you will be healed. Sin does a powerful amount of damage to ones soul. Spiritual progress cannot happen until the wound of sin is healed. An LTG with another committed believer can be a vehicle of healing that allows your relationship with God to go to a much deeper level. Won’t you consider joining one?

For more information, click the picture below:

LTG

Boots On the Ground, Part 1

Jesus prayed.  He got up early to do it.  He stayed up all night in it.  His first disciples followed his example devoting days on end to prayer.  Every saint throughout history who has ever done anything worth remembering has been devoted to prayer.  So why do modern Christians devote so little time to this discipline?  I believe that it is because they have not learned to pray.

Luke, the evangelist, highlights Jesus’ prayer life.  In 5:16, Luke relays that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  It seems that Jesus did not pray with his disciples much if at all and yet they knew he was praying.  Jesus told his disciples to pray and gave them specific things to pray for such as in 10:2.  I’m sure they did this but when compared with the vibrance of his own experience they seemed to know their practice of prayer was lacking.  So, they asked him to teach them to pray.  According to Luke 11:1, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.'” Over the next twelve verses Jesus gives a perfect lesson on prayer.  Beginning with this post and over the next two, I will expound some of the content of that lesson.

Jesus’ lesson on prayer comes in three movements.  In the first movement, Jesus gives his disciples the very words to say to God.  He does this because learning to pray is far different from learning about prayer.  Learning to pray is like learning to ride a bike or learning to swim.  In each case a person must engage in the activity in order to begin learning it.  The disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray;” not “Teach us about prayer.”  So, he had to get them actually praying.

The words he gave them had to be without fluff or flaw.  They say practice makes perfect but that presumes proper technique.  Really, practice makes permanent.  So Jesus gave them a very short prayer that they couldn’t mess up.  Each phrase of the prayer reveals the priorities of the kingdom and the heart of God.  Let’s take each in turn.

“Our Father” – To address God as “Father” is to come to him in the bold humility of a child.  We’re not God’s distant relatives who stammer out requests for small, short-term loans.  We are his dear children who dare to bring him our every need and who quietly trust that he knows our need better than we do.  God is my father but he’s not just my father, he is our father.  We come to him as part of a larger family.  We are to come to him together in united prayer to our father.

“Hallowed be your name” – Everyone who has come to know God as father longs for the rest of humanity to see his glory.  Imagine standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon and on either side of you stands scores of people facing the desert.  Wouldn’t you be compelled to get them to turn and face that breathtaking view?  Everyone who has experienced God through the gospel of Jesus Christ shares that same longing for everyone to see and admire him.  We instinctively loathe anything which would diminish him in the minds of others.  Our purpose in life becomes to glorify him that many others will cry out with us, “Hallowed be your name.”

“Your kingdom come” – Many who have learned this prayer have no idea exactly what it is that they are asking for when they use this phrase.  I would suggest that the kingdom comes first to individuals.  Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is in your midst.”  As people embrace the gospel of Christ’s reign, they come under the liberating authority of God.  Individual lives so changed begin to influence families and entire cultures.  People will never be at peace with each other until they are at peace with themselves.  People will never be at peace with themselves until they are at peace with God.  Jesus has come as Christ the king, the prince of peace.  He has announced peace with God to all who will lay down their arms and join the triumphal procession.  The kingdom has come.  It is coming.  May it come!

“Give us each day our daily bread” – Those who have joined the Father’s cause can be assured that he will care for their needs.  Just as soldiers on active duty need not worry over their rations so Christians on mission need not fret over their material needs.  So often people want to come to Jesus for bread without taking up his cause.  Jesus is not running a mission.  He is on mission to bring the kingdom of God and spread the glory of God.  Our job is to follow Jesus and trust that the provisions will follow.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone who sins against us” – We do not take up the cause of Christ as if we were Christ.  We are first recipients of his grace and also agents of it.  We do not go to fix the world but to admit to the world that we are broken and being fixed by the same One who will fix them.

“And lead us not into temptation” – As I go into the mine field of a fallen world, God knows which mines are particularly configured to my tendencies.  I do not know my own heart and am prone to overestimate my strength.  I need our Father to guide me through enemy territory without fatal incident.

Well, that’s the first installment.  Next time I will unpack the what I believe to the be centerpiece of this section, “The Friend at Midnight.”  I hope to build some discipleship material around this prayer which will become a page on this blog later on.  Check back for it and the next post.

5 POP’s

Jesus not only commanded his disciples to make disciples, in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 he also gave them his method for doing so. Neil Cole relates Jesus’ method as the 5 POP’s in his book, Organic Church.  I’ve found these to be a very helpful framework on which to hang and a myriad of disciplemaking activities.  I hope you will too.

1. Practice of Prayer – The church is conceived in heaven before it is born on earth. If we are going to see churches planted and reproduced, we must plead with the Lord of the Harvest for everything we need – guidance, opportunities, boldness, the words to say, signs and wonders following, etc. Organic Church Planting is not a formula that works according to predictable outcomes. It’s a partnership with God to carry out his Great Commission.
2. Pockets of People – The approach to church planting as presented in Scripture had entire households (oikoi) in view. An oikos is a web of relationships. Every person (except the Unibomber) has one. As disciplemakers, we need to intentionally consider who in our oikos needs to hear the saving message of Jesus and begin praying for them. If we’ve reached our oikos or been rejected by it, we should find another Pocket of People that will accept us and begin prayerfully reaching them.
3. Power of Presence – They say 90% of baseball is showing up. That’s the case with disciplemaking.  We don’t have to hide from dark places; we must invade them with the confidence that “Where we go the King goes and where the King goes people bow.” If we partner with Jesus to make disciples we will find ourselves knee deep in the dirt of broken lives.
4. Person of Peace – In an oikos there is often a particular person that God has prepared the be the agent of the gospel for the rest of the group. This person is usually either the best person in the group such as with Cornelius in Acts 10 or the worst person such as with the Samaritan woman in John 4. We should look for this person. They will be receptive to the gospel at some point. Once they come to faith, we should equip them to reach the rest of their oikos. Their transformation will awaken others by demonstrating the saving power of the gospel.
5. People of Purpose – Once several in the oikos have been reached they should begin to gather as a spiritual family on mission for God. They should be taught to support and challenge each other to live in obedience to their king and to spread the knowledge of his kingdom reign into other oikoi.

As a parting shot, I want add a sixth POP – Probability of Pain.  Disciplemaking is an act of war.  Those who engage in it will experience the harship, hurt, and harm common to soldiers on active duty.  Before we set out, we should count the cost associated with victory.  If you can do anything else, you probably should.

Polite Revolution

I’m reading Luke this week with my LTG. In chapter 24 vs 28 Luke tells of how Jesus nearly walked on by his disciples once they reached their destination. He had to be urged strongly before he would join them for a meal.
At the meal, they came to realize his identity.

This is how Jesus works. He introduces himself but will not invite himself. When a person hears his story with burning heart, they will not let him pass by. They may not have yet grasped his identity but they will not be denied the opportunity to get to know him better. He waits to break bread with such as these. With such as these he carries on his polite revolution.

In Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand tells the story of Piotr, a Russian soldier occupying Romania who came to faith through this story. Out of all of the amazing stories of Jesus recorded in Luke, this one struck a cord. Piotr commented, “The Communists are impolite. They force us to listen to them from morning to late in the night…We have to listen continuously to their godless propaganda whether we like it or not. Jesus respects our freedom. He gently knocks at the door of our heart.”

God is looking for a relationship of love. Love does not behave itself rudely. He means to overturn the hate and hurt of our world but he will only heal and help the willing. Those who have experienced him willingly join his cause. This is the polite revolution.