Definitions are extremely important.

There are many relationships and organizations that run into communication problems, not because people aren’t talking, but because they have defined words and terms differently than one another.  If you think about it, it’s the words that we are the most familiar with that we have the hardest time defining.  The church is really no different.  We use words and assume that everyone interprets them and understands them equally.

Here’s an interested exercise I usually do with our new members class in Chapter One: I have everyone in the class write down a definition of church.  Sounds simple, right?  You’d be amazed though at the varying definitions that we have from just a handful of people in the room.  I do this to show that even by saying the word “church” to them, they may have a different definition than their neighbor.

Part of our success as a church is tied to everyone believing in the mission, vision and values of our church together.  So when our mission statement says: “Providence church exists to spread God’s fame by multiplying disciples of Jesus and multiplying churches in our churches in our community and around the world“, we need to define what we mean by making disciples and what we mean by church.

This year, we’ve embarked on a theme entitled Disciple: it’s who we are, it’s what we do.  It’s our desire that we not only grow in our identity in Christ, but also in our practice of making disciples.  Repeatedly, we’ve driven home the idea that Jesus’ final command to his disciples to make disciples of all nations and people (Matthew 28:19-20) is one of the greatest priorities that a follower of Jesus has.  But here’s what I want to ask you today: How would you define “making disciples”?

When we use words like discipleship and making disciples, there are pictures and behaviors that come to mind.  Most of these have probably come from our previous experiences within our church context.  So what do we mean, or better yet, what does Jesus mean when he says to make disciples?

I would define making disciples using 3 words: reach, teach, release.

Reach – Disciple-making has to involve reaching out to those who do not know or follow Jesus.  Jesus’ command to go to all the nations, or people groups, explicitly makes that a non-negotiable in discipleship.  Most of the time when we hear about discipleship we think of 2 Christians getting together and learning about the Bible, but it is so much more than that.  If we are not actively and intentionally reaching out to our friends and neighbors and pointing them to Jesus, then Christianity will eventually die.  God expects all of us to live as missionary disciples where we live, work, and play.

Teach – Another main ingredient in making disciples is making sure that the content of Christ’s teachings and the character of Christ’s life is transferred from one follower to another.  One of the things that Bobby always teaches is that you don’t have to be an expert to teach.  All you have to do is be one day ahead.  One of the greatest lies that the enemy wants us to believe is that you don’t know enough about Jesus to share it with others.  “Leave it to the professionals” is the mantra that we don’t say, but believe.  Think about this: God has placed someone in your life for the reason to help them become a disciple of Jesus.

Also, it’s vital that we not only share content, but our own lives.  Paul modeled this is 1 Thessalonians 2:8.  I watched a video the other day about revolutionary education (you can watch it here) .  As I was processing it, I realized that God created us to learn and to pass on learning in a very unique way.  The most effective learning always happens within relationship.

Release – The end result of discipleship is not a really smart Christian, but a disciple of Jesus who is making other disciples.  For some reason, we have bought into the misconception that the mark of maturity is knowledge.  It’s not.  A true mark of Christian maturity is informed mission that is motivated by God’s glory.  This means that our knowledge must lead us to action.  If it doesn’t, we don’t actually believe the content we know in our minds.

Every parent knows that one day your children will leave your home.  This is a good thing.  It’s part of God’s created order to multiply families (Genesis 2:24).  Likewise, every person that is being discipled should have the vision to disciple.  The Christian who chooses to keep the gospel of Jesus to themselves says to God, “This is where mission stops.”

So how do we define “making disciples” at Providence?

It’s as simple as reach, teach, release.  Now let’s do it together.

Disciple: it’s who we are, it’s what we do

Disciple: it’s who we are, it’s what we do.

Every year since 2010, our church has had a yearly theme that drives our teaching and ministries. The simple vision of our church since the beginning has been to spread God’s fame by multiplying disciples of Jesus and multiplying churches in our community and around the world. As we put our fingers on the pulse of our church body this year, we knew that a huge step we needed to take was to develop disciples who would make disciples that would make disciples. The final words of Jesus before He left earth still ring true for us today almost 2,000 years later: go make disciples.

We need to remember that the most important things for a church family are the most simple things. We can never move away or forget the simple, yet life-altering command by Jesus to go make disciples of him. Being a disciple means that you are following Jesus, but our idea of what it means to follow Jesus is incomplete if we don’t make disciple-making a huge part of that. He wants his disciples to be disciple makers. He wants his followers to help others follow him.

Isn’t it amazing how a local church family can hold Sunday services, have a praise band, develop a great kid’s program, have a podcast with all their sermons, hold fellowship meals, and do a bunch of other churchy stuff, yet neglect to make disciples?

We don’t want to be that kind of church. It’s our desire that we become a church that doesn’t just do churchy stuff for Christians, but that we are a force in our community that are scattering the seeds of the gospel to every man, woman, and child we come into contact with. When all of us begin to own the powerful command of Christ, it will ignite a multiplication movement of God that can and will transform a community.

But before we can think big, we have to think small. I don’t need to worry about the 35,000 people that are within our community. I just need to see the people around me. I need to see my children that need spiritual direction and instruction. I need to see the couple that lives across the street from me that seems to have everything, but they don’t have Jesus. I need to see the couple that lives across the street from me that seems to have everything, but they don’t have Jesus.  I need to see the guy working in my office that thinks his good works are a better substitute than the cross.  I need to see the student in my class that is hurting and doesn’t know how to find healing.  I need to see the mom who feels overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to find rest.

So this is the direction of our church this year.  We want to help every person and every family within our church community become disciples who make disciples.  It’s a great undertaking, and one that cannot happen without prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit.

Over the next couple days, I’ll be posting some additional thoughts about our theme “disciple”.  I want to leave you with one question to meditate over before our next post:  Who is following Jesus because you are?

The best place to be

I was driving down the road in England when I had my first experience of culture shock.  It wasn’t driving on the left side of the road.  It wasn’t seeing fields of sheep instead of cows.  It wasn’t the small cars, narrow roads, and never-ceasing roundabouts. It wasn’t the architecture, accent, or the food.  My first experience of culture shock happened in a  town outside of Birmingham, named Alum Rock.

A couple of hours previous, we had just met our new friends who are ministering in another suburb of Birmingham.  We went for a tour of the city to see the opportunities for ministry and to get an understanding of what life is like in that area.  Our friend drove us through Alum Rock to give us a taste of what life is really like.  You see, Alum Rock is 90% Muslim.  If you were blindfolded, and plopped down in the middle of that village, you would be tempted to say you were in Pakistan.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  I’d experienced London a few days prior and had been through a number of smaller English towns and quaint villages, so I thought I had a taste of England.  This was a flavor, I had never seen or experienced before.  No one ever goes to England and visits Alum Rock, I can promise you that.

It was during this drive that I felt completely overwhelmed by the gospel need of this town, but I didn’t know where to even begin.  My mind couldn’t process what church and ministry would be like in this neighborhood.  In this part of Birmingham, there are a few small churches, and abundant mosques.  We drove by 2 of them that can hold thousands.

I’ll never forget Alum Rock or the drive that day, and I hope I never do.  As I was processing all that we had experienced earlier in the day, I cried out to God to help me light_in_dark7understand what I had seen.  God in His perfect timing brought to mind a sermon I had heard earlier that week from Tim Chester about how the church must be a community of light because God is light, and in this world is great darkness.

What a powerful truth!  The best place to be sometimes may be the darkest.  Not because the dark is good, but because it’s in the darkness that the smallest light has the greatest power.

As a child, I was afraid of the dark.  I always had to have a nightlight on when I went to bed.  In some ways, the darkness, spiritual darkness, still captivates my heart with fear.  I hope that God will continue to give me the grace to push beyond this fear and go to places that need light the most.

You may be in a dark place emotionally, spiritually, or relationally.  Our tendency is to run to false lights that promise hope and comfort.  My prayer for us as a church today is that we would let the light of the gospel shine forth from us and that we would be willing to shine this light into the dark places around us.

Going to the dark places of this world is difficult, but it may be the best place where God is going to show you how great and powerful His light really is.

What our church needs to hear

One of the things I take very seriously is the teaching theme and calendar of our church. There is a lot of prayer, meditation, and discussion with our elders that goes into what we teach and preach during our Sunday gatherings.

As we’ve started this year’s theme of “Every man, woman, and child”, I recognize how far I have to go in order to live a life of mission. I’ve realized that many times the greatest hindrances that you and I have in living a life on mission are the idols in our hearts. What it comes down to is that we all love certain things more than Jesus. It’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth. We can do a lot of talking about mission, but the proof of our faith will always be manifested in our lives.

I can’t help but think about what our church would look like if we were unshackled from the idols that rob us from the Kingdom joy and work that God wants for us. Talking about idols of the heart is always difficult because we don’t like looking at reality, but reality is our friend. There are times that hard things need to be confronted and said.

This leads me to share with you that after we get back from our mission trip, on March 16 we’ll be starting a new series at Providence talking about the biggest idols we all face: money, sex, and drugs.

I know that some churches talk about these things in order to be provocative, but our desire is rather to address these things because there are idols in our lives that are keeping us from being a church that is fully realizing our kingdom potential in Christ. Simply, we cannot live on mission while holding onto the idols of the world.

Over the next few months we’ll be talking about some hard things, but, more importantly, necessary things. If we want our church to mature, there are things we need to confront and talk about.

I was talking with someone from our church the other day and they were sharing how in their corporate culture, the leader doesn’t like to hear about the problems that exist in the company. Maybe you’ve felt frustrated by a similar work culture. The church should be different. We need to courageously and boldly talk about the problems and issues that lie before us.

I share this all of you, so that we will all be in prayer to see and hear what God wants us to see and hear. We need to pray that we would be courageous enough to confront our deep seated idols, so that Jesus would receive the worth and glory that is due His Name.

May we all be free to experience the joy in worship and the power of mission in Jesus’ Name. We’ll see you all in a couple weeks.

My son prayed for $100,000 last night and I hope he gets it.

Last night, as our family was doing our regular bedtime routine of stories and prayers, I asked my oldest to give the final prayer for our family.  We have a list of things that we usually pray for, and he proceeded to pray for all of those things.  My kids have picked up on some of the things I routinely pray for, so he mentioned some of those as well.  Then my son threw a curveball into his prayer last night and prayed for 100 grand.  Now before you jump to conclusions, I have to explain why and who it was for.

Yesterday during our Sunday gathering, if you were there, you know I mentioned the 539444_242466675871887_1606113187_nUganda missions trip that our church is going on, as well as, an offering that we are going to take to help with the completion of the baby’s home.  In passing, I mentioned that they needed $100,000 to complete the 5,000 sq. ft. orphanage and medical clinic (our church and another in Nebraska have a very good relationship with Ken and Cathy Nganda and their amazing ministry to orphans in Uganda).  My son, who heard about this need in church yesterday, decided to start praying for the $100,000 for the orphanage.

At first I was proud that my son was not only listening in church, but also had enough compassion and faith to bring this before our Heavenly Father.  I was then confronted with the reality that I had not thought of praying for this need sooner.  I wrestled with this and realized how numb I have become about the needs around me.  I hear about families and marriages that are hurting.  I hear about missions needs and orphan needs, and because it’s all too big for me and overwhelming to really contemplate, I start to become numb to it all.  And what I realized was this numbness was leading to prayerlessness.

Have you found yourself feeling numb to the needs and hurts around you?

I need to rediscover the childlike faith displayed by my son last night.  He simply heard of a need, a need that’s too big for him to really do anything about, but he responded by taking this big need to the One who can something about it.

What if we all started to pray like this?  What if our first response and our continual response was prayer to the needs around us?  There’s something too big for all of us today that we are facing.  How will we respond?

I hope that my son keeps praying for $100,000.  I know I need to as well.


Different day, same struggles

Have you ever felt that God keeps teaching you the same lesson over and over again?  I found an old journal that I had written in over 15 years ago and as I read it I found myself saying, “I still struggle with the same old stuff!”  Things look a little different based on 1338997261_1385403335the stage of life I’m in, and God has definitely changed me, but the same root issues are still there.  I wonder how many of us could say the same thing?

There are two things that the Holy Spirit reminded me of as I leafed through my old journal.  The first is that there are some idols of my heart that run very deep.  I was reminded of the source of all of these sins the other day when I was reading Matthew 15.  Jesus after an altercation with the Pharisees about uncleanness teaches his disciples that what defiles a person is not their external conformity, but what comes out of their heart.  When I see things in my life that I don’t like, it’s a reminder that I continue to need God’s grace to shape me and transform my heart into Christ’s image.  I need to keep preaching the gospel to myself daily because there are some idols that can’t be fixed by going forward after a service or attending another Bible study.  My need for Christ is as great today as it was when came to Jesus over 2 decades ago.  I feel like Paul in 1 Timothy 1 when he says, “I’m the chief of all sinners”, yet in the same breath I can say “but praise be to God for His marvelous grace!”

The second thought that God reminded me of was how amazing His faithfulness really is.  After all these years, and after the constant moving, prodding, enlightening, convicting, teaching, comforting, and leading of the Holy Spirit, I still can turn my back on the one who has given me everything and has loved me more than anyone ever can.  Who loves like that and who keeps loving like that?  I’m in awe again of the shear magnitude of Christ’s kindness and mercy and grace towards me.  Why would I run to any other that promises my heart all that my soul craves?

You may feel defeated today because it’s the 12,537 time that messed up in that one area again, but if you are in Christ, His work hasn’t stopped, and He’ll keep working on you and in you until you are conformed into His image.

You may feel tired of struggling with the same old weight of sin, remember that Jesus paid it all.  It is finished.  Live in the freedom of grace that He’s provided for you today.  He isn’t tired of showing you grace.  Let His love fuel your desire to change.

It’s good to know in another 15 years, I may have the same struggles, but the same God will be with me as well.  As Paul said in the final chapter in his letter to the church of Thessalonica, “He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.”