The Rest of the Beloved

Yesterday was a retreat day for me.

Every few months I try to set aside my agendas and to-do lists and really try to spend time with Jesus. While this isn’t easy – and I blow it off more than I’d like to admit – the focused time in the presence of the divine is always good – and necessary.

For me, this means I listen to Jesus. I can’t hear Him unless I set aside everything and focus on HIM. I listen and listen and listen.

I usually plan a FULL DAY to do this. Sometimes my schedule allows that to work out, others times it doesn’t. But at least I am intentional about it.

Now the truth is, I don’t sit still very well. (For those of you who I live and work with this comes as no surprise.) So if I really want to spend time with Jesus and listen I need to go on a long run. Preferably, this is a ‘down and out run.’ I run far in one direction so that I have to run the same distance back. (It keeps me honest.)

Yesterday was a 10 mile so that gave me plenty of time to listen.

While running, I try my best to get rid of all thoughts and aspirations; all plans and agendas; all anxieties and challenges…and just listen. I do all I can to quiet the ‘other voices’ that are always chattering in my head and listen…to the voice of Jesus.

God said much to me during that run: things I needed to hear; things I needed to be reminded about. He told me about the sins I need to deal with. He told me about the here relationships I need to mend. He told me about getting a better handle on my frustrations.

I heard Him and I know what to do.

And I was able to rest during that run. (Yes, you can ‘rest’ even when you’re running or walking or exercising.)

The rest I am talking about is one that happens when God has the chance to whisper into your soul because you’re focused on him and you’re trying to listen. Because when you give God the opportunity and really listen, you will hear from Him. And you will hear that you are beloved and that your life is in his hands and that there is nothing to fear and no amount of striving or pursuing will make Him love you more than you already are.

Because when you listen to God you will hear you are beloved. Yesterday, during that run I heard I was beloved. Again.

May you find the time and place to hear from God as much and as often as possible. Amen.

God is always doing new things…

Don’t be Discouraged

Chances are if you’re trying to start new things for the Kingdom, you will face resistance. After all, Jesus warned us of in the parable of the Sower:

3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”No matter how barren or rocky the spiritual soil in your community or city is, God is capable bring new things to life (Mark 4:3-8).

We should listen to Jesus

I direct NewThing, a catalyst for movements of reproducing churches. We take our name from Isaiah 43:18-19:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Do you see it? Life springs from the desert, see, I am doing a new thing!

We forget that God has a penchant for creating; that he’s a God who very much loves the new and the vanguard. He created creation and that doesn’t mean he’s done.

The beautiful part of the story is that we are called to join with him in this great endeavor.

As we plant new churches, God creates life. The kingdom of God advances. The kingdom is alive and dynamic and all of us are called to start new communities.

The more gathering of people in the name of Jesus the more the Kingdom advances. Ours is a more game. God wants us to go deep of course, but not at the expense of going wide.

Movement will achieve the Jesus Mission. We can see movement if we take our responsibility to plant more churches seriously.

The truth is, we can all do something to help start new churches. And when we do we get the privilege of joining Him in his mission to set everything right again.

Where is God growing new things around you? What are you doing to cultivate them? 

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Lent: a invitation to renewal, refreshing and refocus

Lent 2017

Today marks the beginning of Lent.

Christians throughout the world observe Lent. Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestants all have traditions and practices to observe Lent. 

I know Lent may seem odd to non-believers.

What is Lent?

Simply put, Lent is a 40 day period in anticipation of Easter when Christians voluntarily make sacrifices and strive to live simply so that our lives better reflect Jesus.

It’s an opportunity for Christians to grow in their relationship with God and deepen our commitment to Him. Jesus is our guide and we are simply imitating His teachings and practices.

I haven’t always participated in Lent.

I have a marginal Catholic background. When I was a kid Lent seemed all about ashes and fasting and avoiding sweets. I am not knocking my Catholic heritage. I am just saying I missed the point of the season. I missed the spirit of Lent.

For many years as an atheist/agnostic I didn’t want anything to do with Lent.

But since my conversion, I look forward to this season.

What I do during Lent

During Lent,  I will sacrifice and simplify so that my life better reflects and aligns with the life ofJesus. You see, I am making a real commitment to following Jesus and know that millions of my brothers and sisters all over the world are doing the same gives me a sense of solidarity and fellowship.

For me, Lent is all about renewal, refreshing and refocusing. It’s an opportunity to hit the pause button and reconsider how I am living my life, who I am living my life for, and how my priorities align with the life and teaching of Jesus.

There is no one ‘right way’ to do Lent. But there are practices that help draw me closer to God. I will NOT do them to ‘earn favor with God.’  I aim to practice these disciplines to ensure I am, what Dallas Willard says, enjoying:

Full  participation in the life of God’s Kingdom and in the vivid companionship of Christ comes to us only through appropriate exercise in the disciplines for life in the Spirit. (The Spirit of the Disciplines, )

Discipline is not a bad word. Through solitude, fasting, prayer and service (among others) I can draw closer to the ‘vivid companionship’ with Christ that Willard describes.

Questions to grow deeper with God

In addition to my disciplines,  I will ask questions about my relationship with God in the hope that they will help focus me once again on Him. I’ll journal and meditate over these questions during the 40 days trusting they will help me renew.

I share them with you in hopes they might also draw you closer to God.

  • Are the priorities of my life focused on Jesus?
  • Am I resting in Jesus?
  • Am I willing to live simply and sacrificially as Jesus lived? If not, why?
  • Have I repented of sin and idols that hold me back from a thriving relationship with God?
  • Do I love God with all my mind, heart, soul and strength? If not, what’s holding me back?
  • Who is God calling me to serve? What am I going to do about it?
  • Am I celebrating God?
  • Am I connecting with others in meaningful ways?
  • Am I advocating for peace and justice?
  • Am I aware of the widows, orphans and aliens in my community?
  • Am I being generous towards the Jesus mission with my time and talents?
  • Where is pride holding me back?
  • What is God calling me to give away?
  • What will it look like for me to open my otherwise clenched fists to God so he can bless me?
  • How is God calling me to participate more fully in His mission and in His church?

Lent will end with Good Friday and then the celebrations of celebrations: the resurrection of Jesus – Easter.

Every year I emerge from Lent refreshed, renewed and refocused.  I can’t imagine my life without it.

So I invite you to join me this Lenten season in discipline and reflection. I know God will draw closer to you as you do.

Ready for this journey? Then get involved with a local church. If you’re looking for a church to attend during this season, I invite you to join us at Community or any of our NewThing churches around the world.

what if in 2017?

I wrote some questions in my journal the other day that have been bugging me so I thought I’d share them with you.

What if you did things differently in 2017?

What if you did one thing that really helped one person? What would it look like to do ten things that helped 10 people?

What if you really put aside your agenda and really listened?

What if you were more generous this year to your local church with our time and treasures?

What if I really took care of my body?

What if I read the books that would expand my understanding of other people and the world?

What if I did something to address to root cause of poverty and injustice in my community?

What if I made new friends by reaching out to people to people who aren’t like me?

What if I really tried to consume less of everything?

What if I made decisions to live in ways that aren’t so harmful to the environment?

What if I  really tried to live out the teachings of Jesus in tangible ways by loving God and loving others more than myself?

What if I really devoted myself to prayer?

Asking what if questions is hard.  But asking them is one way I can change things. What if enough of us asked what if?

Maturity = Reproducing

Christian maturity isn’t marked by more information – it’s evidenced by reproducing.

We live in a time with great access to information. We have Bible apps and internet search engines. We have study Bibles and on-line theology courses. All of these are good and benefit the Kingdom.

But if we’re not careful we will focus on gaining more information about God and lose our ability to be obedient to his work in our lives. When this happens, we hazard a neglect of our primary call: to make disciples…to reproduce more for the Kingdom. You know…the important stuff.

I think the mark of maturity is our ability to reproduce the Jesus mission.

So what does reproducing look like? It varies, depending on your context.

There are big ways to reproduce

  • Starting a new service
  • Planting a new church or campus
  • Starting a new network

And there are small ways to reproduce

  • Making more disciples
  • Apprenticing a new leader
  • Starting a new small groups

Whatever the level of reproducing, know that these are the metrics that demonstrate Christian maturity.

Why?

Mission trumps everything. Jesus gave his followers a mission and therefore started a movement. You and I as believers have a role to play in that movement.

We must be careful that we hold ourselves accountable to that mission. Ours is a life of faith in action (see the Book of James). Knowledge is good and helpful. But mission supersedes it.

So let me ask you – as I ask myself – who have you reproduced lately? What have you reproduced?

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