Drive-by prayers for life-giving churches

December 15, 2009 Leave a comment

I took my two oldest children to band practice this morning.  Though I don’t always use it well, I believe time in the car with my kids is Deuteronomy 6:7 time:  time to dialogue with and instruct my kids about following Jesus.  In doing this I try take a cue from something out the window or something going on in our lives.  Since we happened to be passing a life-giving church, I decided to use that church as my cue.

“Guys, that is a great church.  That pastor has been there for over 30 years and he’s been faithful to Jesus and to his wife and he’s raised his kids well.  The church has many leaders who love Jesus and they’ve seen many, many people come to Jesus over the years.  They are a very active part of our community and they really love the people who live in Logan Square.  That is a church is a church that is being faithful to Jesus.”

Then I prayed for the church, thanking God for their faithfulness and asking God to bless them with a new season of growth and refreshing.  After praying it was time for a little more instruction.

“Guys, it will always be easy to talk about other churches based on the few things they do wrong.  A lot of times people talk down about other churches to feel better about their own church [pastors in particular–but we’re slick about how we say it so that you’d hardly know we were talking down].  That is no way to be a family.  Always look for ways to bless and speak well of other churches.  Other churches are part of God’s family and God’s family speaks well of each other.”

Can I make the same appeal to you?

  • Let’s pray for other churches.
  • Let’s see them as Gospel allies who love our city and our savior like we do.
  • Let’s stop people from speaking unkindly of other churches when they’re in our presence.
  • Let’s operate like a healthy family in our speech and thoughts about our cousins who meet in other places under other leaders.
  • Let’s put a smile on the face of Jesus because we operate with real love for each other.

And for those of you asking the important question, “who’s in the family? How do I know if a church is life-giving?” let’s tackle those questions tomorrow…

When you fast.

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment

And when you fast…

In Jesus’ mountainous sermon he utters this simple phrase to introduce some brief teaching on the spiritual discipline of fasting.  Speaking into an especially religious culture where fasting (abstaining from food for a set period of time) was regularly practiced among the spiritual “elite” he gives concrete direction about how to fast.

But what is easily missed is that short introductory phrase “and when you fast”.  By that simple phrase Jesus expresses fasting as a practice that his followers would engage in.

As a church we practice fasting both privately and together.  Beginning on January 3rd we’ll be fasting together for 21 days.

If you’d like to get your heart, mind and body ready for this fast, I’d encourage you to read a free pdf edition of John Piper’s book A Hunger For God. I’m reading it (off my Blackberry) and its stirring my heart to be ready for the fast.

Like clockwork

December 8, 2009 5 comments

The Redhead is leading her small group to practice bible memorization.  (Single men, find a woman who likes memorizing the Bible.  Trust me–its sexy.)  I wanted to share the method she’s using because I think its both innovative and useful.

Using the clock as a guide, they are memorizing Scriptures that relate to times of the day.  So when they pass certain moments of the day their mind is prompted to remember a portion of Scripture.  In a time-oriented culture, this method can help redeem your busyness by attaching Scripture to moments.  Brilliant!

Here are some examples to prime your thinking:

  • 1:08pm–Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…”
  • 2:10pm–Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
  • 3:16pm–2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (you thought I was going all John 3:16 on you, right;-)

You get the idea.  Now post your ideas.  And more importantly, go memorize some Scripture.

A magic number for growth

December 7, 2009 4 comments

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Convinced that growth happens through close, long-term, Christ-centered relationships, we have added into our leadership environment micro-groups of 3 that meet weekly to encourage, pray for and challenge each other to stay white hot for the Gospel.  We call these micro-groups “prayer cords” or “triads”.  We operate them in our pastoral team and among our location leaders at New Life Lakeview & Lincoln Park.

When we meet in our triads/prayer cords, we spend some time sharing about our lives and we also ask each other questions like:

  • What are you doing right now that is keeping your heart near to God?
  • How are you doing in keeping your sexual desires only for your wife?
  • When was your last date?  When is your next date?
  • Are you keeping boundaries on your ministry work so that you have time given to your family?
  • Are you shutting off the blackberry and engaging with your kids?
  • What Scripture will you be spending time in next week?

And then we pray for each other.  Its a simple and powerful formula for growing together.

It was great this past week to have the men in my men’s fraternity group initiate this same kind of group with each other without being prompted by me.  Intuitively, they realize that 3 are stronger than one.  They want to grow together.

Here’s the thing: anyone with a little initiative, desire and courage to be possibly told “no thanks”, can form a micro-group like this.  In my experience one person tends to initiate but everyone benefits and everyone grows.

All a micro-group needs to start and be sustained is:

  • 3 willing and available members (men with men, women with women)
  • consistent time together (ideal: weekly)
  • honesty/transparency
  • safety/confidentiality
  • a growth/grace/Gospel focus

I’m a part of two of these micro-groups.  I guess I need growth help that much.  Are you a part of a micro-group like this?  What are your best practices?  Please share.

Message notes for 12.6.09

December 6, 2009 Leave a comment

Here is a pdf copy of my notes from this morning’s message.

The power of suffering to reveal the greatness of God (week #4)

It follows you

December 3, 2009 2 comments

Dallas Willard, in his book The Great Omission, repeatedly points to bible memorization as the most important spiritual discipline a follower of Jesus can engage in.  His words have motivated me to climb a mountain in memorization.  With my son as my coach, I have begun memorizing the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). It has really put a log on the gospel fire in my heart.

Here are some reasons why I think memorizing the Bible is so powerful:

  • It passively supplies biblical language to your prayers.
  • It causes many life situations to bring specific Scripture to your mind.
  • It empowers the Holy Spirit to nudge you back toward Jesus.
  • It excites your heart–you know that you have locked up treasure when you can repeat Scripture without a Bible.
  • It gives you a tangible spiritual reality when so many spiritual realities are intangible.
  • It brings joy, all by itself.
  • It treasures what God treasures–His words to people.
  • It breeds faith and courage.
  • It follows you (even when you aren’t feeling up for following Jesus.)

Here are some reasons why I believe we don’t memorize the Bible:

  • No one challenges us to.
  • It seems like it will be too hard.
  • We’re not sure it’s any more valuable than merely reading the Bible.
  • We’ve believed lies about what our memory is capable of and so we give excuses: “I’m too old”, “I’m not a good rememberizer”, “I don’t have time to memorize things”.
  • We lack tools or methods that would help us.
  • We’re apathetic or at least haphazard in our commitment to spiritual growth.
  • We’re pretty content with far less than God’s best.
  • We’re intimidated by the scope of the whole Bible so we fail to take a small first step in memorizing it.

So please, let me give you this simple, bite-sized challenge:

  1. read a chapter of the bible today
  2. pick one verse from your reading
  3. write it down on a piece of paper
  4. put it in your pocket
  5. memorize it before you go to bed tonight

(And no, John 11:35 does not qualify for this exercise.)

“follow me and I will make [me] fishers of…” cash?

December 2, 2009 1 comment

“Follow me.”

If I were to play word association, you would probably identify the speaker as Jesus. Its one of the most recognizable New Testament phrases. And maybe that’s why it makes a such provocative statement on the cover of a business magazine.

…but with one simple change–the actual speaker is none other than the creative genius behind Punk’d:  Mr. Ashton Kutcher. If you take the time to read the article you will discover that Kutcher, though defined primarily by his adolescent behavior & characters, is in this article a man with a very adult focus on what he wants: cold hard cash.

For him the massive social network he’s created is not to provide an altruistic peek into his celebrity lifestyle–its an opportunity to market products to his very loyal following.  “Its really a war to make money,” says Kutcher.

So to complete the biblical reference for Kutcher, “follow me… and I will make myself much more wealthy.”

The original quote finishes quite differently, doesn’t it?  “Follow me… and I will make you fishers of men.”

And so Fast Company’s magazine cover inadvertently provides one of the more valuable contrasts between the life of a disciple of the American Dream and the life of a disciple of Jesus.