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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Elephant in the Pew

Hey Sojourners!!  Don't forget to submit any questions for the upcoming You Asked for It message series in August. Just reply to this email or send me a note at jeff@sojourncommunity.org. This is for topics or issues you would like to see addressed in a message at Sojourn on Sunday Mornings.

Missional Church Multiplication

The following article by Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird is well insightful and well worth the read.
Several significant hurdles remain before missional multiplication takes off in the United States. Following are some thoughts of what has started to happen, but must continue at a higher and more widespread level.

1. Driving DNA Passion for Church Planting

People will need to consider church planting as one of their ministry’s core values. Church planting cannot be an afterthought, someone else’s ministry or a department. Churches will live, eat and breathe it. The widespread expectation that people will be sent out must become normal rather than exceptional. 

First-time planters need to assume and plan for the sending away of people. Movement leaders need to engender this attitude into the greater life of the church today. Pastors of established churches need to embrace it as a personal measure of their ministries. Church multiplication will become inherent in the DNA of our churches only as far as it is inherent in the DNA of our leaders.

2. New Measures of Success
Churches will always have a scorecard. A change of measures changes the current peer pressure and also creates positive peer pressure toward accomplishing the goal. As in all instances, scorecards can either press toward the goal or become a source of pride or depression. The chest-thumping meetings where we compared our Sunday attendances with one another are beneath the calling to ministry. 

With our emphasis on a multiplication movement, a new scorecard will lend itself toward opening relationships and dialogue between church leaders. Let’s cross the proverbial aisles to help those in varying denominations, networks and methodologies celebrate how God is multiplying churches. Then our members will do the same. We replicate what we celebrate.

3. More Roots in Historic Biblical Discipleship
Too often a church can’t multiply its leaders because it has too few robust disciples. Instead it has lots of dependent believers who take a consumeristic approach to their faith and ultimately are shallow in character development. Multiplying churches are going to do a better job of disciple making. This is due to their determination to emphasize the transformation occurring in small communities and to simpler church structures that give more time to personal formation.

4. Less Facility-Driven
Future churches will be less tied to the construction of buildings. The multi-site movement is helping our culture accept the idea of “de-building” large church facilities. 

The average megachurch seating capacity is only 1,400 (median). The average for all Protestant churches is 240. We think the small facility will get smaller. But more important, people’s minds will more completely detach “facility” from “church.” That shouldn’t be too hard, because it’s not in the Bible. 

Churches will not cease from having facilities. But we can drop the hyperbolic reliance on the “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Multiplication movements are built on the principle of easily reproducible models, and facilities must follow suit.

5. Non-Anglo Leadership

Churches in the United States have heard that the growth hub of our faith is both south and east of us—such as South America, Africa and Asia. Now that North American Christians are understanding the reality of God’s movement in other churches around the world, however, it is time to for us to assume a position of learning from the global Christian community. We can learn much, for example, from the worldwide church planting movements. 

Here in the United States, the majority of church growth continues to come from immigrant and non-Anglo congregations. They may take a leadership role in this country’s church multiplication movement, because their congregations may be willing to multiply sooner and faster than others. 

6. Less Permanency
To many of us, the idea of churches forming, flourishing and then going away, all somewhat quickly, seems to be a bad thing. We need to get a sense that God’s people will last for eternity, but our facilities can be far less permanent. In fact, lots of churches died 30 years ago, but no one turned out the lights. 

Saints persevere, but their institutions and facilities are temporary. As new congregations are formed in the multiplying movements, we will view church facilities as kingdom assets. Church buildings are like an inheritance to pass along rather than a living trust to keep.

7. Multiple Pacesetters
“Historically all movements have begun because of the charismatic efforts of one lone individual who touched a nerve among a host of people. Who will step up to be that person?” asks Bill Easum, a prolific writer and co-author of Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts. 

We think we’re seeing multiple people step up, all sharing the same stage. Lots of good things are happening—but for a church multiplication movement to happen, the small stream has to become an unstoppable rushing river. If more people can decide to learn what God is up to in church planting movements, then we may be blessed to see them populate the continent in the next decade. 

We hope you will learn to do small well, to create cultures of permission-giving for God’s people, and to multiply everything. Then we’ll move from church starting (a broad category that includes church splits) to church planting (focused on reaching lost people) to church multiplication (people self-initiating to go out into the harvest, and then passing to them a heart for multiplication). 

If so, then a church planting movement might be closer than we think. And the kingdom of God will take root into more lives than we could have ever dreamt or imagined.

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Adapted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers (Jossey-Bass) by Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird. Copyright © 2010 by Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird. This article may not be reprinted or redistributed in any form.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

DAY THIRTEEN (John 13)

Radical discipleship.  

In John 13, Jesus tells his disciples that he is giving them a new commandment—that they should love one another.  What is new about this commandment?  After all, isn’t the instruction to love our neighbor included in the Old Testament teaching?  In fact, love for God and others was the whole summary of the law (see Mark 12).  The newness Jesus was eluding to is the radical nature of how we are to love.  What was new were the words;  just as I have loved you.  These 6 words are my constant struggle.  My notions of what it means to love others and to forgive and to serve and to show compassion seem both reasonable and doable until I am faced with the call to follow Jesus example.  His is a radical discipleship.  His love is rooted in a redemptive love that requires something beyond myself.  His forgiveness is an immeasurable grace demonstrated in the cross all of which is so foreign to my way of thinking.  

Reread the contrast of Jesus prediction of the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter.  Neither sin was beyond the grace of God, but the response of Judas and Peter following their sin turned on the application of God’s grace and love upon their own life.  Only to the extent we experience the unconditional love of God in our own life, are we able to love others in this new way.  Only to the depth we have known the forgiveness of God  in our own life are we enabled to forgive others that same way.  

Extensions of God's love and forgiveness to others can only come from a heart where the truth and experience of his grace have been knit together.    It was W. H. Auden who said “In the deserts of the heart, let the healing fountain start.”   Only as we allow God’s love and grace to permeate our own life are we then able to love and forgive and serve in this new way; just as I have.

Monday, July 12, 2010

DAY 12 (John 12)

Jesus upside-down Kingdom.  
In Chapter 12 of John’s Gospel, Jesus shares with us the true meaning of discipleship in the Kingdom of God.  He describes the disciple as a seed that falls into the ground and dies.  Jesus radical notion of discipleship is that we are to die to ourselves and not get caught up in the glitter of the world around us.  Strangely he tells us in the gospels is this is the way to happiness and meaning.  Where are you personally looking for meaning and purpose in life today?  What would it take for you to be truly happy?  As you think about our own times in which we live, think how counter-cultural Jesus call on our life really is.

    The world tells us to believe in yourself—Jesus says deny yourself and follow me

    The world says try hard to be #1.  Jesus tells us the first shall be last.

    We are taught to get ahead at all costs.  Jesus teaches us how to give yourself away.

    Today we stand up for rights.  Jesus says lay down your life.

    The American dream says the one with the most toys wins.  Jesus says if you gain the whole world    and lose your soul you have lost everything.

As we read Jesus view of the world around him, it’s as if he has gone into the window display of life and switched all the price tags.  Mankind has turned happiness into pleasure, position and possessions.  The world tells us in a thousand different ways that things satisfy.  Where are you finding your ultimate satisfaction?  If you lost every material thing today, would you have a self left? 

There were basically two kinds of people described in the book of John that followed Jesus.  It was those who ultimately saw who they were before God and the sufficiency of Jesus to make them whole that found the true joy of beginning to live.  I pray that God would grant you today, that same kind of heart. 


Sunday, July 11, 2010

DAY 11 (John 11)

Where is God when we need him?  In John 11, Jesus gets a message from friends that he is needed immediately at the bedside of a dear friend who is near death. Upon hearing that request, the text tells us a rather odd thing---that Jesus decided to wait.  I think how many times I have asked God to show up in some way or respond quickly because I was facing some crisis or challenge. I needed to hear from God.   And then, God seemed to be silent.  Where was God when I needed him most?   If he really loved me, why was he so distant? 

While Mary and Martha are left suspended in the unknown, the text does a remarkable thing.  It allows us to hear what’s going through the mind of Jesus.  We learn that Jesus had the bigger picture—we find out that he not only had a plan but that he also knew the precise timing that would bring about the greatest glory to his Father.  The problem was that Lazarus’s sisters were not privy to what God was thinking.  I hate when that happens! 

Think about how different this story would have been had Jesus arrived on the sister’s schedule.  Or, how much easier it would have been if the sisters just knew what God was thinking.  That’s the point of the story.  The days between their request and Jesus response felt like silence to them.  But, in fact, these were the days when God was doing his greatest work.  It’s in these “in-between days” that God allows us to face our doubts and stretches our faith.  We are not born with great amounts of faith, it has to be developed. 

We have the advantage of being able to look at the end of the story.  We know that in the case of Lazarus, God had a plan and a purpose and because Mary and Martha continued to trust Jesus despite their doubts, God worked all things together for good as he promised in Romans 8:28.   While I love what God did in this story, I really don’t get as excited when I find myself in that in-between time.  Ever been there?  Perhaps you are there right now.  God feels distant.  You Need God to show up now but he seems strangely silent. 
 
John reminds us in this beautiful chapter that it is in this time, that God is doing his greatest work in you. I love John’s comment that Jesus waited “although he loved Mary and Martha.”  Like these sisters, God loves you deeply—he really does.  He has a plan and a purpose for what you are going through right now. Continue to listen, follow and trust him. And like the sisters in this story, do your part.  And then, watch and see God continue to unfold his creative work in you that weaves all of the circumstances of life together (yes the joy and the pain) in a way that cares for you and brings glory to himself. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

DAY TEN (John 10)

In Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, we find Jesus' words polarizing the people.  In no uncertain terms, Jesus is claiming to be the one way to God. How true is this today?  My experience is that  Christianity’s claim of exclusivity—that is the teaching that Jesus is the only way to God-- is the biggest objection people have with the claims of Christ.  Regardless of whether or not you accept that teaching, it is clearly what Jesus taught and what the Bible claims.  Despite a growing movement that looks for the common ground among such religions as Judaism, Islam and Christianity, the claims of each are simply incompatible with one another. 

It’s interesting that the interfaith movement that holds their view of God is superior and their insistence that the difference among the various religions is unimportant is, itself an exclusive claim.  All religions can be wrong, but they cannot all be right.  That is an untenable position.  It makes no more sense then saying this Jesus who John quotes and writes about was simply a “good teacher”.  If he is not God in flesh, (see John 1:14) his claims to be so, either make him a lair or a very self-diluted man.  Either of these conclusions stands in stark contrast to a good teacher. 

After Jesus spells out who he really is and the purpose for which he came to earth, He says in verse 27-- My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  That leaves us with the same pointed question that caused such great division in Jesus’ day; who is this Jesus to you? 

As you close your time, look ahead to John 20:31 and recall the purpose of John in writing this Gospel.  Is that any different then our purpose during these few moments we call life?  Think about our times and culture and this recession that we have been navigating through.  Ever person around you today has the same longing you and I have---for hope, to be truly loved and for purpose.  I am finding these days such a renewed interest in spiritual conversations no matter where people are with Jesus. 

Ask God to make you a good listener as he points you to people today that might be more open then ever to this Jesus who calls himself the sacrifice and the only way to the Father. His only agenda is to love people into the kingdom of God so he can be with them.  Listen to His voice, continue to get to know him and follow Him.  That’s what his sheep do.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

DAY NINE (John 9)

Blindness is defined by Webster as the inability to see due to physiological or neurological factors.  There is another kind of blindness—that of the heart.  This blindness is an inability or unwillingness to perceive or understand.  Sometimes we say things like “a person is blind to their lover’s faults” or that “teenagers seemed to be blind to the consequence of their actions”.   Likewise, Chapter 9 of John describes a spiritual blindness. II Corinthians 4 says that Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don't believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don't understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.  Never forget that was our condition before we met Jesus! 

As John writes about the healing of the blind man, did you notice how he makes a point of telling us that this man was well known to the community because he had been blind from birth?  Why do you think that detail is important?  My hunch is that John is setting the stage to show us just how antagonistic these leaders really were towards Jesus.  They refused to accept the obvious fact that this man had been blind and could now see.  So they call his parents to testify.  When the facts are confirmed, they decide to call a technical because Jesus healed him on the Sabbath (the day of rest). 

Do you remember the cries of these religious leaders from Chapter 8 demanding of Jesus “Who are you?”   These leaders could see physically but refused to acknowledge who Jesus really was.  Despite the overwhelmingly set of facts pointing to Jesus divinity, many in Jesus day refused to accept His claims.  Do you think things are much different today?  If Jesus came down to our city today and performed miracles and healings, do you think people would accept Him any more readily then they did in His day?  What does this tell you about the role of prayer when sharing who Jesus claims to be?  What’s the remedy for spiritual blindness? 

I love the responses the blind man gives to those investigating Jesus miracle!  He tells these sophisticated theologians that there is a lot he does not know. Uneducated, unskilled at argument, the man could only utter the difference Jesus had made in his life.  Have you ever thought you couldn’t share your faith because you’re not equipped, or trained or you don’t have all the answers?  I have!  That’s why this story is such a great encouragement for people like you and me.  It reminds us that a changed heart is one of the most powerful statements you can offer about who God is.  If you are a Christ-follower, you have a story to tell.  That story is the difference Jesus is making in your life.  Crafty arguments and slick presentations really don’t convince people of who Jesus is.  In fact, often it is not truth that offends, it’s our arrogance.  We are, as C.S. Lewis liked to say, “just one beggar telling another where there’s food.”  Our responsibility is simply to share who Jesus is and then pray that through the power of the Holy Spirit, their eyes would be opened.    We don’t change people’s hearts, God does!

Spend some time today specifically praying for God to use you in sharing your story and, by name, pray for the Holy Spirit to begin working in the life of each person He brings to mind.  Friends that you would love to find a true saving relationship with Jesus.

I close with a Hymn I wrote sometime back during one of my own struggles.  May you feel God’s presence today as you walk with Him and observe where He is at work in and through you!

Oh Word of Light

Oh word of light cast down on me
That I might see anew
The true self that your light reveals
My idols never few

Come clear these eyes my folly see
Heart’s idols now constrain
And set me free to learn your grace
Your praise, my lips refrain

Wash clean the stains rebellion makes
My life ambitions stayed
And teach me how to follow God
Abandoning my way

With rays of grace, awaken me
Come shine in secret thought
That I might find my rest in Thee
Made safe from what I’ve sought

My Christ my Savior and my God
Make now my passions new
And let me show in moments here
A heart made free by you

Jeff Weber
2009

Day Eight (John 8)

Chapter 8 of John’s Gospel offers us one of the most compelling glimpses into the forgiving nature of Jesus’ heart.  And, it is here that Jesus utters three words that may be the single biggest stumbling block to experiencing true freedom in Christ; Neither do I.  God’s forgiveness toward us is a treasure few completely unwrap.  If we are not convinced of the depth of God’s grace towards us, we, in turn, will struggle with extending that grace to others.  Someone once said that "God’s forgiveness towards me and my forgiveness toward another are like a voice and eco”.   

Do you still still carry the baggage or weight of past sins?  Is there a whisper at times that you are not good enough or you just don’t quite measure up?  Let Jesus remind you again through these words—Neither do I and, as He did for the prostitute in John's account, let him chase the accusers away. 

Remember that receiving God’s forgiveness and forgiving those who hurt us is ultimately a demonstration of our faith in God.  Faith that God can handle what has worn us out for years.   Let the reminder of God’s forgiveness flow over you today and then hear the words of John again; If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

DAY SEVEN (John 7)

The Crowds Thin.  As you have been continuing your journey through John, have you noticed that Jesus is getting increasingly controversial?  Why do you think that is?  Have you also noticed the crowds getting increasingly hostile?  The crowds are thinning and the true followers of Jesus are becoming fewer.
 
It’s interesting to see all the different reasons why Jesus captured people’s attention.  The vast majority of Jesus-followers loved Him for what He could do for them---feeding and healing them.  John tells us the crowds were captivated by the signs and wonders and clamored for more.  Like many today, they missed the point of what Jesus was all about.  Their fascination with the miraculous eventually led to disappointment.  As soon as Jesus began to call them to a deeper level of discipleship, John says that many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.  Jesus said that only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign.

Think About It What is it that you really want from Jesus?  Like the crowds in John, I have a tendency sometimes to think of God in terms of what he can do for me.  Even my prayers can reflect that---ending up in such shallow categories of “requests” and “praises”.  I pray when I need something from God and praise him when I get what I asked for.  I seem to be driven to me knees in crisis but pray less when things are going well.  Today, spend some time in prayer just talking to God like you would a friend.  In fact, in not too many chapters we will hear Jesus utter these words to his true followers:  I call you friends.   Think of it—a personal friendship with the creator of the universe!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

DAY SIX (John 6)

John 6 records the feeding of the 5,000.  The theme of this story is one that is repeated again and again in the bible.  It is the theme of a big problem solved by a big God.  God seems to love the moments of dilemma—the places where we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place.   Why?  Because it's in those times that a problem or issue in life looms so large that its impossibility is easily recognized.  It’s God’s way of getting us to look up.  Are there any things in your life right now that apart from God, there really is no good solution?  If so, then you have an opportunity to watch God do what he does best. 

Whenever we face a seemingly impossible situation or problem we also face a great choice.  We can either choose to be consumed by the problem or hand it over to God and ask him to take the reigns.  God asks only two things.  One, that you contribute whatever it is you can as a step of faith and, two, that you trust God completely.  God loves to use whatever we offer, no matter how meager or small. It’s never the substance of our contribution that matters; it’s the faith that clings to God as we turn over whatever it is we have.  And remember, He never requires more then we can give but never blesses less.  God wants us “all in”. 

I love Andrew’s dilemma.  He says “I have something to give, but what good is it really?”   In Andrew’s hands---it counts for nothing.  In God’s hands, it becomes an unlimited resource.  Notice the turning point in the story?  It was Jesus taking the loaves and fish.  Do the things you have to offer sometimes feel like they’re worth so little—that in the face of a world of such great need or in light of a particular problem, it feels like anything you might do or offer is just a drop in the bucket?  Let Jesus take them and then step back and watch him multiply it. 

Friday, July 2, 2010

DAY FIVE (John 5)

The Big Question.  John 5—what an incredible Chapter of this Gospel.  It begins with the story of Jesus healing the lame man.  Did you notice where Jesus begins with this man?  The same place he always begins—He wants to know if we are at the end of our own solutions and way of doing things and our desire to be well is greater then our addictions and sin.  In Jesus first pubic message the very first thing he told his disciples on the Sermon on the Mount was “You’re blessed when you are at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule.  Your blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.  Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”  (Matthew 5:1-2).  

Is there something in your life right now that you’re hanging on to?  Is there something you can’t or won’t let go of, yet you know you should?  We have to get to the point where we say; “I can’t but God can--that left up to me,  I am incapable of getting this ship upright."  Only then are you, like the lame man in our story, ready for healing.  Ask the Holy Spirit to identify anything that stands between you and God.  Then, turn it over to Him as the first step in being made whole.  Brokenness is always the first step toward Jesus. 
It’s All About Jesus.  As you read a little further in this Chapter, isn’t it interesting that Jesus tells the religious people of His day that the Bible had become a hurdle to seeing Jesus for who He really was?  (see verses 39-40).  These were not people just familiar with the bible, they were students of the “the book”.  Jesus is saying that if, in the end, He doesn’t end up front and center reflected in a radically changed life, bible study is not only a fruitless activity but can create an arrogance that can actually make your heart grow cold toward the things of God.  In verse 41, Jesus tells those who claimed to follow Him and name the name of Jesus, that unless their lives demonstrated the radical nature of God’s love, their allegiance meant nothing to Him. 

The idea of making Jesus Lord in every arena of your life lies at the epicenter of true biblical faith. Jesus is either Lord of every area of our life or we're missing the point.  Are there areas in your life that are not under the lordship of Jesus?  Are you willing to take that first step today and answer the question Jesus posed to the lame man;  “what is it that you really want?”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

DAY FOUR (John 4)

Breaking Down Barriers.  As you read the account of Jesus and the Woman at the well in Chapter 4, notice how Jesus relates to this Samaritan.  Jesus was Jewish and this woman knew that Jews looked down on Samaritans.  How does Jesus break through that cultural prejudice and reach into the heart of this woman?   Re-read verse 7.  Here is the Creator of the universe asking for help.  It was a legitimate need as the text tells us that Jesus was weary from His travels.  He was God, but also true man!   Do you think it takes more humility to serve or ask for help?  For some reason, it’s really hard for me sometimes to ask for or accept help.  Probably because I am too prideful.  One of the best ways to reach into the heart of another person and break down barriers is either to serve them in some way or give them an opportunity to help you in some way.  Then, it is so cool the way that Jesus takes this conversation to the next level.  Did you notice how he takes an ordinary conversation and turns it towards this woman’s deeper eternal needs? How hard is it for you take everyday small talk with people you know to that "next level"--to talk about things that really matter?  Ask God to make you sensitive today to His promptings as  you carry on your conversations.  

Temporary versus Eternal. Notice the beautiful comparison Jesus makes between temporary satisfaction and those things that will last for eternity.  As you contemplate the Living Waters that Jesus talks about, think about your own life right now.  Is the majority of your time, treasure and talent being used for temporary or eternal things?  Take a moment and ask the Holy Spirit to bring any imbalance in your life to your attention.  Then, remember that God is the God of the fresh start!  He loves to wipe past mistakes clean and offer us a new day to begin rearranging our priorities so they reflect the priorities of our Father.  Remember, there are only two things that will last forever—the souls of people and the Word of God.  God’s very best for your life is always just one decision away! 

Connecting the Dots.  As you finish up this chapter with the reading of the story of Jesus healing the government official’s son, check out verse 53!  One of the most exciting aspects of our daily walk with God is connecting the dots between things that happen in our life and our prayers.  When I am flying through life, I have a tendency to miss the places that God is showing up.  The official asked Jesus for something and then, we see him in verse 53 put two and two together.  Think about starting a prayer journal and as you look back on your conversations with God, have fun connecting the dots!