Friday, October 30, 2015

Reaching Outside for Us

October 31 – Identifying Ministry Shifts in Order to Accomplish Our Work – Genesis 12:2-3; Matthew 5:13-16
How can we cultivate a culture of evangelism and disciple-making in our churches? In order for this to happen, the church needs to make three profound shifts in its thinking and behavior (adapted from Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church). The first shift is moving from an inward focus to an outward focus. Many churches assume that “if we just did church better, they would come.” As Reggie McNeal puts it, “The culture around us does not wake up each morning thinking they would go to church if only there were a good one to attend.” The church needs to intentionally engage its communities and culture. We need to see ourselves as missionaries to our communities. It’s important to understand that the church engages the community and the people outside of the church not in order to grow membership or to increase budgets so that it can continue to exist; it engages those outside of the church because loving outreach reflects the heart and mission of God. This is why
the church exists.

This understanding comes from Genesis 12:2–3, when God says to Abram,
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. . . ; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Matthew 5:13-16 records the same theme:
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

According to Reggie McNeal, the reality is that “loving God and loving our neighbors cannot be fulfilled at church. Being salt and light cannot be experienced in a faith huddle.” The mission of God is that Christians would be gathered in community for the purpose of being equipped and sent out into the world. One of the most evangelistic things the church can do is to simply be the church. Simply put: the role of the church is to bless the world!

The second shift that needs to take place is to move from a program development focus to a people development focus. Instead of focusing on programs, entertaining people, or maintaining the institution, churches need to focus on developing vibrant and transformed disciples of Jesus. If we are honest, many of our churches in North America are program-driven and have become vendors of religious goods and services that cater to our self-indulgent style of spirituality. We measure success by how many people are involved in church programs, or how much our budgets have grown to help sustain these programs. McNeal describes our current situation with these alarming words: “We bought and paid for the lie that Six Flags Over Jesus was what the world really needed.” After years of the program-driven church, the verdict is that church activity does not equal spiritual vitality. This is evidenced by recent Gallup polls that showed that the only way to distinguish between Christians and those outside of church was not by lifestyle or behavior, but by self-identification.

There is growing murmuring in our churches from people who are frustrated with their spiritual growth and who long for something more significant, real, and transformative in their lives. This is not to say that we don’t need excellent programming, but it means we need to shift from a program-driven church culture, which measures its value by the quality of its programs instead of the quality of its people. In terms of evangelism, the church not only needs to help people learn “how to talk” but also “how to walk.” Christians need to be an “embodied apologetic,” being a witness in word and deed to the transformative power of Jesus. Evangelism and outreach must come from an overflow of a vibrant, authentic, transformed relationship with Jesus. Unless the church is focusing on developing vibrant disciples, then the shift from being inwardly to outwardly focused will become another program of community service or outreach, instead of an
authentic expression of the culture and DNA of a church.

The third shift is moving from an institutional perspective to a spiritual perspective. Here is one example: Session meetings can become business meetings instead of times where spiritual growth is focused. Are church leaders chosen based on their management and administrative ability or are they chosen because they are the spiritual leaders in the church? Another question to ask is how decisions are being made. Are decisions made simply by looking at the Book of Order or because “we have always done it this way,” or is the leadership of the church spending significant time in prayer and discernment, trying to hear the prompting of the Holy Spirit? Are decisions made based primarily on how they help the church or institution, or on how they help our community or those outside the church?

Below are some ideas to help churches focus more on these shifts. (See Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance for more ideas.) Think of how LPC’s ministries reflect these shifts and ideas.

From inward to outward focus: spreading prayer boxes throughout the community; commissioning teams to be missionaries to a specific neighborhood or apartment complex; praying for community and community leaders in worship service; adopting a school and serving it in any way you can; allowing outside groups to use your church facilities; looking for off-site venues to serve as ministry venues to engage your community; establishing a 501(c) (3) to target ministry opportunities in your community; having testimonies at worship services (this can also help make ministry shift on the next point); avoiding taking people away from their relationships outside church (that is, don’t over-program people around church activity); using technology as a way to connect with community, not just as a way to give information to your congregation; and helping people to consume media in a way that encourages them to dialogue with those outside of church.

From program development to people development focus: doing intentional debriefing with congregation members during the week and during worship (you might have a question of the week, such as, “What worries you most this week?” or have people turn to each other during
worship and describe the best thing that happened to them this week); presenting ways people can apply information, rather than just giving them information when you teach; helping people find opportunities to grow through serving others; having a mentoring network in the church; using more time celebrating faith stories; having classes available to help people grow spiritually (as in disciplines) and in their biblical literacy (as in a Greek or Hebrew class).

From an institutional perspective to a spiritual perspective: spending less time on church business and more time on spiritual development for church leadership; shifting from “committees” to “ministry teams”; spending more time in prayer with and for each other; doing prayer walks in the community.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to direct the mission of the church so that you will make a difference in your community and share freely about the source of that difference: the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Circles of Influence

October 30 – Circles of Influence – Romans 8:22-30
Where do you need to spend more time to build relationships with people outside the church? Is it the PTA, a track club, a neighborhood association, a sports league, a coffee shop, or a place where you meet people through a hobby? Not only does the church need to connect with mission in the community, but growing disciples of Jesus are called to reach out to people in their lives.

Tracie adds, people are hurting and need to know the love and peace of Jesus and to have the assurance of eternal life with Him. In fact the whole world suffers from the effects of sin. But in Christ we are adopted children of the Father. Our bodies will be redeemed from pain, disease, death, and decay. We will be glorified with God.  We are called to help others know the incredible peace, hope, and joy of knowing that Jesus is working all things for our good. And we are comforted in knowing that God Himself through the Holy Spirit will be with us and will pray for us as we spread the Good News.

Paul writes about this in Romans 8:22-30.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right  up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Examine and pray about your circles of influence:
Family and friends
Social contacts (clubs, work, coffee shops)
Countries or international communities
People groups in your community
Pray about where you are in the thresholds with your friends.
Are you just beginning to build trust?
Are you becoming more aware of the spiritual connections in your lives and culture?
Are you becoming more vulnerable with your friends in sharing how you have experienced your life changing in positive ways?
 Are you looking for groups in which your friends may explore the faith more deeply?
Are you at the point in your relationship with a friend when you need to ask that person if he or she would like to join God’s mission of real and lasting life?
Does your friend want to enter into a relationship with God?

Record the names of people in your life with whom you need to spend more time, so that your relationship is one of trust and honesty. List those who are moving to become more curious and open to change. Also list those you need to invite to a group in which people are investigating God. Then list those you are being led to invite into a relationship with Jesus. Pray about these people.

Plan to bless three different people in your life.
Examples of blessing:
Spend time with a relative, sharing coffee or a meal.
Mow your neighbor’s yard.

Pay for the person behind you in a drive-through line.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Using Our Sphere

October 29 – Connecting and Going Deeper with People in Our Spheres of Influence  - Acts 1:1-8
Hopefully we have all been inspired to go deeper into and become more intentional in our relationships with people around us. Don Everts and Doug Schaupp, the authors of I Once Was Lost, help the reader understand the context of sharing faith with unchurched friends and family. They lift up five thresholds through which people must move to become seekers and then pilgrims along the journey of faith.

Friends move from distrust to trust. Everts and Schaupp help their readers engage evangelism in a new cultural context. In our postmodern world, people are interested in Jesus, but not in the church. Many people are very suspicious of institutions like the church. Therefore, people need to experience Jesus through Christians who are loving and authentic. The best thing that can happen to a person who does not know God’s love is to be in a relationship with a Christian who is both loving and accepting. God came into the world in the flesh and blood of Jesus to reveal God’s unconditional love for humanity. People must trust us before they will hear one word we have to offer about real and lasting life.

Friends move from complacent to curious. Even though there is a longing in the human heart for something more, people don’t always get the connections between their lives and the ways in which God is working to heal relationships and creation. As we are on the journey with another person, we are called to be aware of the life events and experiences that open people to spiritual things. For example, many movies have spiritual themes and can become ways through which we talk about our brokenness and God’s reconciling love.

Friends move from being closed to change to being open to change. When we are open and transparent about our lives, the door is open for our friends to see that things can change in their lives. How have you been open to change? It is helpful to others when we are able to share about
times in our lives when we had to let go of something that was hurting us. Maybe we had to let go of control or an unforgiving spirit. Sometimes people have the belief that things are just the way they are, and that nothing can change!

Friends move from meandering to seeking. When we are engaging these sorts of conversations, it is important to be able to invite our friends into a group that is studying Scripture and investigating spiritual themes. This group can be a safe place for a seeker to explore the faith and to experience the faith of growing Christ followers.

Friends move from the threshold to kingdom life and work. Through prayer and nudging from the Holy Spirit, the time comes when you talk with your friends about joining God in God’s mission of real and lasting life. In other words, there is an invitation into kingdom life.

Look at Acts 1:1–8 again.  Remember that we are called to bear witness to what we have seen and heard and experienced in Jesus. We are not called to condemn and judge others; we are called to bear witness to the saving Power of God in Christ.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Near and Far Witness

October 28 - What Do We Hear God Saying About Our Mission? – Acts 1:1-8
As we get a sense of what God is up to in our community and the ways God is calling us to reach out to people in our community, our eyes are opened to the people in our lives. We become more sensitive to people in our families, spheres of influence, and even the ones with whom we rarely or never spend time. In Acts 1:1–8, we discover that we are called to be witnesses to the life change we’ve experienced in Jesus.
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
As we read through this passage, we are greeted with four categories of people.
1.      We are called to be witnesses in Jerusalem—to the people closest to us.
2.      We are also called to bear witness in Judea—to the people who look, think, and act like us.
3.      We are also called to be witnesses in Samaria—to people we do not like. (Remember, Jews hated Samaritans! Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” who did not have the proper understanding of worship.)
4.      Also, we are called to be witnesses to the world.

Make a list of people in your family who do not know the love of God in Jesus Christ. Make a list of people in your neighborhood, work and community to whom you would like to talk about the fullness of life in Jesus. Make a list of people with whom you feel uncomfortable. How would you get to a point where you could share your life and faith with them? Make a list of people you have a heart for in other parts of the world.

How is God leading us to bear witness in our community?
• What if it really does start with your families?
• Who are the people like us?
• Who are the people not like us?
Who is our Jerusalem?
Who is our Judea?
Who is our Samaria?

What does it feel like to share faith with others?  Is there one outreach to which we are called? Where do we see ourselves serving in ways that can connect our outreach with faith-sharing?
Pray about ministry and mission opportunities. Pray for the courage to not only serve but to share faith.

Make a prayer list of the people in your lives for whom you’re being called to nurture a relationship. Pray about your sphere of influence (coffee shop, club, PTA). Think about why and how you can spend more time in this arena of your life.  How can we spend more time with people outside the church?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Observing in the Community

October 27 –In the Community – Mark 6:7
The following information is taken and adapted from the resource Starting New Churches by Brian Clark, et al.

Read Mark 6:7.
“ Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.”

He [Jesus] called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. Jesus sometimes sent disciples in twos to handle special
 Jesus sent two disciples to fetch the donkey on which he’d ride into Jerusalem—Matthew 21:1
 Jesus sent two disciples to prepare for Passover— Mark 14:13

What ministry have you done/do you do with a partner and why? What are the advantages of serving with another person? Think about people with whom you could partner in ministry. Pray about this.

Walk or drive around this area in which LMPC does ministry.
Who is there?
What are they doing?
Who are they in age? Gender? Race or ethnicity?
What are they talking about?
What language are they speaking?
How are they dressed?
Do they live in the area? Do they work in the area?
What sounds do you hear?
What levels of car/bus/foot traffic do you observe?
Are there sidewalks? Street lights? Signage?
What do the people you are observing already have?
What do they need?
What else do you notice?
Pray for the people you observed.  Ask God to reveal if this might be where you

are called to “do a new thing” in Jesus’ name. How can we see the people and space through God’s eyes?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Do our Hearts Break as God's Heart?

October 26– Do Our Hearts Break Over the Things That Break God’s Heart? – Acts 17:16-34                                                                                                                                 
 Instead of trying to figure out how the church can make a difference in the community, this is a time to pause and ask, “What is God already doing in our community that we can join God in doing?” In other words, “What breaks God’s heart?” When we begin to get a sense of the things that break God’s heart, we begin to have a heart for the people around us.

Read Acts 17:16-34:                                                                                                               16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
In Acts 17:16–34, we realize that Paul’s heart is breaking over the things that break the heart of God. As Paul walks around Athens, he becomes angry over all the idols he sees. In other words, his heart breaks over all the ways people are trying to find and experience meaning and purpose in life that do not include the God who gives real and lasting life. Do we understand Paul’s anger over all the idols that he sees in Athens?

In our culture, family, politics, money, possessions, time, and even religion can became our idols. If we put our ultimate worth in something, then that particular thing or person has taken the place of God in our lives. Paul spent time with people in the culture; he did not spend all his time at the synagogue! It’s because he spent time with people that he was invited to the Areopagus to speak about God. We must earn the right to be heard! When we share our faith, people will fall into three main groups: some will be turned off, others will want to know more, and some will want Jesus when they hear of his real and lasting life.

When we will go into such areas as coffee shops, offices, stores, gyms, pubs, parks, and schools how can we engage people? Wat if we dared to ask them questions? How would they answer the following questions?
What do you believe is the greatest need in this community?
 How do you see God at work in this community?
 How could our church help this community?
How can we pray for you?

What keeps us from talking about our faith? Pray for our community. Pray that God will lead us to the people with whom we need to talk. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The New Normal for churches

October 25 – The New Normal – John 14:6
Our denomination and churches are struggling to engage a radically changing culture. Statistics show that Americans are desperately searching spiritually, but the church is not connecting with the people we are seeking to reach. The culture around us has changed. How we can build bridges and engage with those searching and seeking for things that only God can satisfy and answer.

Look at this picture of a bridge in Honduras that is now on dry land.

The river has changed course and is flowing to the side of the bridge, making it irrelevant. This may be an image for the church (bridge) and culture.
The reality is that the church must engage a world that is emerging into a postmodern, post-Christian, and image-based (and some argue, preliterate) culture. The culture is flowing right by the church as we focus on dwindling numbers and loss of influence, and fight over how we can
return to the good old days. The truth is that we can’t go backward; we have to look at what God is doing right now and at a way in which we should respond and engage the “New Normal” in which we find ourselves.

In his book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity . . . and Why It Matters, author David Kinnaman interviews people outside the church, and he tells us honestly “what a new generation really thinks about the church.” The words and accompanying images that the unchurched use are: judgmental; hypocritical; homophobic; too involved in politics; out of touch with reality; confusing; not accepting of other faiths; insensitive to others; old-fashioned; boring; and irrelevant. We don’t just have an image problem; we have a problem connecting with and impacting those people God loves and wants us to reach with the gospel.

We don’t just need to do church better. Instead, we need to understand and listen to those we want to reach, and rethink the ways in which we can authentically, personally, and intentionally share the gospel of Jesus Christ in our words and actions. As author/speaker Reggie McNeal puts it, “The culture around us does not wake up each day thinking they would go to church if only there were a good one to attend” (Reggie McNeal, Present Future, p. 10). In fact, the truth is even harder to accept. Not only are we failing to reach those who don’t claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we are having difficulty keeping our own youth when they go to college, and even holding on to the members of our own churches!

Let’s think about this new world in which the church finds itself and the recent changes in our culture.

Post-Christian: Simply put, we have in a sense lost the home-court advantage in North America. Judeo-Christian background and belief are increasingly losing both influence and, in some arenas, relevance in the public sphere. For example, when formerly we used the word “God,” it would most likely take on the Judeo-Christian understanding. Now “God” could mean Yahweh, Allah, or a pantheon of many other gods. Many outside the church increasingly perceive the church as having no present effect in transforming the culture for good. In fact, many, including those being led by such New Atheists as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, see the church and religion in general as having a negative influence on society. Bono, the famous lead singer of the Irish band U2, has warned, “Faith and social action must go hand in hand; if the church doesn’t remember and reconnect with its roots, and its call to serve others, it will be
dismissed as another irrelevant social club” (Greg Garrett, We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2, pp. 108–109).

Postmodern: First, there is a deep-seated feeling of disillusionment among the generations following the Baby Boomers. Science, economics, education, politics, and religion have all failed to solve the problems of humanity. The result is a generation left with radical doubt, skepticism, and cynicism. A second feature of postmodernism is relativism. It is a belief in its most extreme form that asserts that there is no truth, just what one experiences and how
one interprets those experiences. It is the idea that there is no absolute truth. Therefore, what is true for one person might not be true for another; it is subjective to a person or a community. It is the embrace of the “both. . . and” instead of the “either . . . or.” This is an important hallmark of a generation that finds it difficult trusting others, that is suspicious of those claiming to have or know the truth, and that is repulsed by those they perceive as judgmental and exclusive. A third feature of postmodernism is, for our purposes, a culture of religious pluralism. It’s like when we were children and the first self-serve soda machines were installed in restaurants. We would fill our glasses with every variety of soft drink (and call that mixture a “kamikaze” because you had to be brave to drink that stuff)! In the postmodern world, people don’t commit to one religious belief system; they take a little Christianity, and mix it with Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age spirituality and paganism and create their own belief system. This endless number of options has led to the customizing of faith, which is different from having a personal faith. As Erwin MacManus writes in Soul Cravings: “What’s strange though, is that we seem more motivated to create our own truth rather than search for it . . . more is not always better . . . our souls are being spammed.”
Image-based Culture: Another feature of the changing culture and the influence of postmodernism is an increasing shift from a print-dominated culture to an image- and story-dominated culture. Some characteristics of a print-based and modernist view are individualistic, objective, abstract, linear, and rational. According to Shane Hipps in Flickering Pixels, “As image-based communication becomes dominant . . . it changes the way we think and determines what we think about. Images are not well-suited to articulate arguments, categories or abstractions. They are far better for presenting impressions and concrete realities.” This new generation responds far better to stories and personal illustration than to rational, linear argument/apologetic.

How does our perspective and even method of evangelism need to change in the “New Normal”? (adapted from Will H. McRaney, The Art of Personal Evangelism, p.166)

Look at John 14:6.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me

How is this passage important in responding to the questions and spiritual cravings of a new postmodern generation. Pray as you think through how to share Jesus’ own claims in John 14:6 with others. Think through how you might communicate the gospel in your life and with your words.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Deeper in Disciplemaking

October 24 – Deeper into Disciple-Making – Galatians 2:20
“20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

From Scripture we learn about the marks of a disciple-making community: prayer, Bible study, community, mentoring, giving, serving, tithing, and fasting. Spiritual disciplines increase our receptivity to grace. Grace is the experience of being loved as we are, yet loved way too much
to be left as we are. The marks of discipleship lead us more fully into God’s love and what God is doing to transform our lives. Dallas Willard writes, “The ‘Christ focus’ is sustained and developed by shaping our lives, with his help, around definite and time-proven practices that enable us to be kingdom people: to live in the presence and to obey his teachings from the inside out” (Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today, p. 159).

Discipleship is learning to live the rabbi’s life! When we live Christ’s life, our behaviors change and we are transformed daily by God into the likeness of Jesus. Transformation takes place through Scripture, prayer, and community.  Are we engaging and applying Scripture to our lives? Are we helping others do this? How does prayer become a way of connecting with God and
one another? How does the community hold us accountable to this new way of life?

The following questions are designed to help us think about disciple-making that leads to serving and faith-sharing.

Prayer has to be more than opening and closing meetings. Prayer is our connection with God.
How much time do we spend in personal prayer?
How would we describe our personal prayer life?
How often do we pray for people who do not know the love of God to experience the fullness of life in Jesus Christ?
How often do we pray with someone else for those in our community?

Bible Study
Bible study is critical.
What does it mean to you to set aside devotional time?
How many people among us are engaging others in the study of Scripture?
How can we design Bible study so that people look more like Jesus?
How do we or how could we engage those who are spiritually seeking in Bible study?

Mentoring is key.
Do you have a mentor? Who could be your mentor?
How could you mentor others?

Community holds us accountable to the new life in Christ.
Do you have a group in the church that you trust to hold you lovingly accountable to the life of Christ?
If you are not in a group like this in the church, have you ever experienced the support and accountability that come from small-group life?
How do we set up community so that we receive support and accountability?

Worship is essential.
How does our worship focus on God’s love?
How does our worship examine and deal with the human condition?
How does our worship help us grow into our baptismal vows as followers of Jesus?
How does our worship encourage us to join God’s mission of rescuing and reconciling a broken world?

Fasting draws us closer to God.
How does fasting draw us closer to God?
What other spiritual disciplines draw us closer to God and help us trust God?

Tithing is more than fund-raising.
How can tithing be experienced more as a discipline that draws people closer to God rather than as a church fund-raising ministry?

Most people grow the best through serving.
What are the serving opportunities we have through the ministry of the church?
Which ones do you connect with the most? Why?
How can you become more involved?

Examine your ministry. What is helping you to grow disciples of Jesus Christ? What do you need to change or add?  How in your ministry can you help people grow in their faith in each of the above categories? What disciplines can help you grow in your faith? What you need to

grow even deeper in God’s love?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Disciples and Faith Sharing

October 23 – Disciple-Making Leads to Justice and Faith-Sharing – Acts 2:42-47; Galatians 5:22
Outside of disciple-making, evangelism becomes an awkward ministry that we feel we must do to grow our churches. However, we never truly own and live into evangelism because faith-sharing is not a natural part of our spiritual DNA. The path of discipleship leads to organic and authentic evangelism. The result of evangelism is not new members, but more people living out of their real and lasting lives and joining God’s rescue mission through the church.

Read Acts 2:42–47.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 Read Galatians 5:22.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control

The Acts passage gives the reader a great description of the essentials needed to grow disciples of Jesus. The key essentials are worship, fellowship, learning, and serving. This community produces people who live together the life of Jesus.

Galatians gives us an account of what the life of a follower of Christ looks like. Read again the fruit of the Spirit. It’s interesting that a certain kind of community (Acts 2:42–47) produces a certain kind of people (Galatians 5:22).

Discipleship is so much more than simply learning about God. Discipleship is about a relationship with God. Earlier we talked about how the Jewish people in Jesus’ day had a way of knowing God. Their elementary-school experience involved memorizing the first five books of the Bible. That’s right—they memorized Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy! Middle school was about memorizing the rest of what we know as the Old Testament. Then, the best and the brightest would apply to learn from a rabbi. If the rabbi believed the student could live his life and take on his yoke, then the rabbi would invite the student to follow and learn from him. A student not yoked to a rabbi would learn the family business.

Where did Jesus find his disciples? They were already at work in the family business. They were not the best of the best! But Jesus invited them to take on his yoke because he believed they could live his life. Jesus believes that we can live his life! He believes that we can serve others and share our faith in ways that change our communities and world. God gives us a community in which we can grow up to live Jesus’ life.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Styles of Evangelism

October 22 – Styles of Evangelism – Acts 2:38-41; Acts 17:16-34; John 9:1-34; Luke 5:27-31; John 4:1-42; Acts 9:36-43
Every Christ follower has a story to tell. Each one of us has an authentic way in which we are wired to tell and share our story. The most important part of sharing faith is building relationships with people outside the church and praying for the people in our lives. But it is helpful to know that there are a variety of ways to share the faith.

These six styles of evangelism are from the book Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg, Try and discern your own style for sharing the faith. Depending on the situation, you may find yourself using any number of these styles.

Acts 2:38–41 is an example of this style. Peter tells people to repent and be baptized. He is in their face with the gospel. Billy Graham is an example of this style. He paints a clear picture of God’s plan for life in Christ and leaves a person with a decision to make.

Acts 17:16–34 is an example of this style. Paul is in the Areopagus, a place of debate and conversation, and he tells the people about God. He uses their desire for truth to introduce the nature of God revealed in Jesus. He uses a statue to an unknown God to tell them about the one true God. Lee Strobel is a modern example of this style. Lee was an atheist, and came to Christ through his wife’s change-of-life transformation through the Christian faith. He had many doubts about the faith, but once he claimed a relationship with God through faith in Christ, he started to see how the Christian worldview made sense. He now writes and speaks about how a relationship with Jesus has changed his life and is changing the course of creation.

John 9:1–34 is a biblical example of this style. The blind man is healed by Jesus, and his testimony is about how Jesus has changed his life. What he knows about Jesus is that before he met Jesus he could not see! In an encounter with Jesus, his sight is restored.

Luke 5:27–31 is an example of the interpersonal style. This style is conversational. Matthew, the tax collector, finds new life in following Jesus and invites his friends to a party where they can hang out with Jesus.

John 4:1–42 is an example of an invitational style. The woman encounters Jesus. She is a person who goes to the well in the heat of the day so that no one is around. She is the topic of conversation around the well because of her lifestyle. However, in Jesus she experiences the love of God. She experiences being loved as she is, but being loved way too much to be left as she is. Out of the change in her life, she bears witness to people in her village, both those who supported her and those who were against her.

Acts 9:36–43 is an example of the serving style of evangelism. People come to know the love of God because Dorcas cared about their human condition.

What is difficult for you in faith-sharing? Pray for help overcoming this. Pray that you will be more aware of the opportunities around you to share your faith. Pray that you will have the courage to share your faith. Pray about people in your life to be open to faith-sharing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sharing Your Story,

October 21 – Sharing Your Story – Galatians 1:11-24
Each of us has a story to tell. We have all been changed by the gospel. And people around us not only need to be served by us, but they also need to hear why we are serving our communities and living a different lifestyle. Each one of us has a unique story to tell. You are the only one who sharing your own story of faith (testimony).

One of the ways to learn to share our faith is to write out our story is to use the following template:
1)      My life before I committed my life to Jesus . . .
2)      My life when Jesus became real to me . . .
3)      My life following Jesus into meaning and purpose . . .

Use the following questions to guide your writing:
1)      How is my life different because I am a follower of Jesus Christ?
2)      Who were and are the people who have helped and are helping me grow in my commitment to God’s way of life in Jesus Christ?
3)      How has God worked in my life to help me grow as a disciple of Christ?
4)      What is God doing right now in my life that is good news?

Tracie notes that Paul, the first missionary of the church, shared his faith story. An example is Galatians 1:11-24.

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cepha and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.

Pray that the Holy Spirit will lead you into a disciple-making ministry that will lead to
faith-sharing and mission.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Putting together the stories

October 20- Putting Together the Stories  – John 3:16-17
Today we will put together the story line of the good news of Scripture in a way that is clear
and engaging to people outside the church. We will learn to engage the story of Scripture in a way that can be authentically shared with others. We have not only our story to share, but also the message of Scripture.

James Choung’s book, True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In, is very helpful in learning how to share the essentials of the faith with another person. His portrayal of the Big Story of Scripture is a very compelling and effective way of sharing God’s mission. By telling this story, you are able to help people identify where they are and where they want to be in the faith. The major parts of the story are the following:

1)      WE ARE DESIGNED FOR GOOD: Choung describes God’s good creation and emphasizes God’s purpose for human beings as loving God, one another, and caring for creation.
2)      WE ARE DAMAGED BY EVIL: Creation is broken because of our desire to be God instead of trusting God and living into our purpose. All of creation is broken! Relationships are broken. Our lives are broken. Communities are broken.
3)      WE ARE RESTORED FOR BETTER: The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ bring us forgiveness and hope and set us on a journey of healing the world.
4)      WE ARE SENT TO HEAL TOGETHER: This is the mission of the church! This, and only this purpose, is the reason the church exists.

Pray about what seems helpful and what seems difficult about this way of describing the
gospel. Pray about how to share the story in your own. Write out your own story of faith. Some helpful ideas to ponder are:
1)      The closest I have felt to God in my life was . . .
2)      If I could thank God for one person or circumstance in my life, it would be . . .
3)      If I could name a turning point in my relationship with God, it would be . . .
4)      How have you responded to a nudge from God?

Tracie notes that John 3:16 is often called “the gospel in a nutshell.”  Reflect on John 3:16 -17.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Church and Prayer

October 19 – Salvation Through the Church and Prayer– Mark 1:17-18 and Matthew 6:5-14
17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.”

The disciples dropped everything to follow Jesus. Following a rabbi was a huge deal in that time. Basically, elementary school was about memorizing the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), and middle school was about memorizing the rest of the Old Testament. Following middle
school, the best of the best went on to follow a rabbi. The rest went on to learn the family business.

When Jesus called the disciples, they were not the best of the best; they were learning the fishing business. Jesus called them to follow him. He believed they could live his life! He believed they could take on his yoke. They dropped everything to live the life of their rabbi. They were signing on with Jesus to reach people.

The mission has not changed. We are signing up with Jesus to reach people, too. The message the church has to offer the world is about God, who has come to offer life to the human spirit.

What does it means that the church is a “sending” community? We are not in this community for
ourselves; we are here for others. In the church, disciples receive nurture and training to live with others and invite them into a way of life that will satisfy their deepest longings. “The kingdom of God isn’t there for the sake of the church. The church is there for the sake of the kingdom. So, all the church’s own concerns and interests must be subordinated to Jesus’ concern for God’s kingdom” (Jurgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World, p. 147).

We are missionaries to our culture. How are we living as missionaries? Do we know the language of our culture? How are we building trusting, authentic relationships with people
outside the church? How are we relating the gospel to the needs of people in our culture?

Read Matthew 6:5–14.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.”

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Read Matthew 6:5–14. What if our Christian rhythm is the living out of this prayer? The will of God in heaven is realized on earth through the work of the church. We cannot live by the values of the earthly realm and expect to realize heaven on earth. As we explore what it means to be
missionaries in our community, reflect on these questions:

1) What are the values of this earthly realm?
2) In what ways has the church bought into these earthly values?
3) What are the values of God in heaven?
4) In what ways are we tempted into sin?
5)  What is the evil we see in the world?
6) How are we forgiving others and experiencing forgiveness?
7) How is the mission of LMPC advancing the will of God on earth as it is in heaven?

Friday, October 16, 2015

God's Rescue Plan- a Special People

October 17 - God’s Rescue Plan – A Special People – Genesis 12:1-9
We believe that God created a good and beautiful world. However, this beautiful creation is broken because the first humans decided that they would be better off being God than serving God. Humanity continues to choose this path of destruction. The good news is that God is not content to leave us in our brokenness. God takes on human flesh and blood to rescue us and show us the way into life’s purpose and meaning.

God does not leave us in our sin or abandon creation in its brokenness. In a broken world, God calls a broken, faithful man. Abraham is not perfect, but he has a longing for God. In a world that is terribly broken and makes little sense, Abraham knows there is a God reaching out to him. It is out of this experience of God that Abraham hears God’s call to leave all he knows for a land he does not know. And there is a promise tied to this call: that Abraham and the people of the world will be blessed. The point of the blessing is that they will know the love of God and life’s meaning and purpose, and have a community in which to grow up in a broken world. Today, God continues to call people to be a blessing.

The mission of God is revealed through the incarnational approach of God in Abraham, the people of Israel, and the prophets. God uses people like you and me to accomplish God’s work of redemption and transformation. Abraham has a heart for God. Because Abraham steps out in faith trusting God, there is a promise that he will be blessed: that he will know the fullness of life that comes in a relationship with God and that others will be blessed through him. In other words, through Abraham and his descendants, others will come to know the joy of living into God’s purposes.

This blessing becomes the call of Israel. However, when the people fail to live in response to God’s blessing, the prophets continually call the people back to their purpose to be a blessing.

Read aloud Genesis 12:1–9.
“12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.”
Think about how you have stepped out in faith in ways that caused you to know more clearly the purposes of God. Think about the ways LMPC is currently blessing this community and ways the church can be more of a blessing. What are the major areas of brokenness in our community? How is LMPC being used by God to heal our community? How can you participate?

Find three people you can be a blessing to this month. One person can be a person who is hard for you to love. Examples of ways to be a blessing:
1) Rake the leaves or sweep the driveway of your neighbor.
2) Be intentional in conversation, inviting people to talk about their lives. (Listening is a                            great gift.)
3) Pay for the person behind you in a drive-through line.
4) Intentionally go to a place of business in a part of town that is struggling economically.

5) Let others go ahead of you in the checkout line.