8/30/2010

The Trellis and The Vine

at --- Leave a Comment
I read a book on church ministry this weekend titled "The Trellis and The Vine".  The premise of the book, as reflected in the title, is that all church work can be divided into two categories: trellis work and vine work.  Trellis work refers to structures, events, programming, etc. in the church and vine work refers to the actual work of making disciples.  The idea is that in many churches, trellis work overtakes vine work and becomes the focus of much of the time and energy of the pastors and staff at our churches.

What really caught my attention and got me to thinking was the authors definition of vine work.  At the conclusion of chapter three, the following statements are presented:

However, despite the almost limitless number of contexts in which it might happen, what happens is the same: a Christian brings a truth from God's word to someone else, praying that God would make that word bear fruit though the inward working of his Spirit.

That's vine work.  Everything else is trellis.

 If this is true (and I believe it is) then we need to take a close look at the types of work we are involved in at our churches.  Are we spending too much time on trellis work?  Are we leaving enough time to actually tend the vine of the Gospel in our people and are we teaching and training them to be vine workers also?

I know I was challenged by this book and I am looking at how I spend my time.  I want to be doing vine work as much as I possible can.
Read More

8/26/2010

Discipleship

at --- Leave a Comment
I want to spend a few days writing about discipleship.  We talk about being disciples of Jesus and about making disciples for Jesus, but I sometimes wonder if we really have a good grasp on what the term "disciple" means.  It has become a word that is reserved for the most part for the religious community and I think because of that it has come to mean "anyone who claims allegiance to a religious system or figure".  We have lost the original meaning of a disciple because that idea is not a common one in our culture.

When Jesus talked about being and making disciples, very specific concepts came into the minds of His hearers because the discipleship concept was a very important part of Jewish culture of that day.  What I would like to do is look at what the concept of discipleship meant to Jesus' hearers and then apply that to our lives as disciples of Christ today.

In Jesus' day, to be chosen to be the disciple of a rabbi was a great honor, and was the culmination of a very grueling, intensive education process.  Just to give you some idea of the education expectations:  by the age of 10  Jewish boys memorized the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament), by the late teen years many boys had memorized the entire Old Testament.  We are impressed today when our children can recite the names of the books of the Old Testament.

To make it through the entire education process and to then be chosen to follow and be taught by a rabbi was a prestigious accomplishment.  If that happened, there were four expectations of the disciple.  Jesus' audiences would have been very familiar with these expectations and when he mentioned being disciples, these expectations would be understood by them.

1. Disciples were to memorize the words of the rabbi.
2. Disciples were to learn the traditions and interpretations of the rabbi.
3. Disciples were to imitate the actions of the rabbi
4. Disciples were to raise up more disciples.

These four expectations did not need to be spelled out by Jesus when He spoke of being and making disciples because His audience already knew they were wrapped up in the concept of discipleship.  We cannot speak of being disciples or making disciples without considering this context.  We cannot make discipleship into what we want it to be any more than we can make God into what ever we want Him to be.  We must understand what Jesus meant when He spoke of discipleship.  Only then can we begin to become a true disciple of Christ.

Discipleship is not a concept that we need to define before we begin to live it.  It is a concept that already had been defined by God.  We need to learn the definition He has given it, then begin to live out that definition.
Read More

8/23/2010

What Is the Bible Really About?

at --- Leave a Comment


(ht: Erik Raymond)


Here are the words to the video (thanks to Justin Taylor):


Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.
Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.
Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void not knowing wither he went to create a new people of God.
Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us.”
Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.
Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.
Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.
Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.
Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.
Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.
Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.
The Bible’s really not about you—it’s about him
Read More

8/20/2010

Three Dollars Worth of Gospel

at --- Leave a Comment

One of the blogs I read regularly and have as a part of my blog list to the left is The Irish Calvinist, Erik Raymond.  Erik posted a quote in this post from a book by D.A. Carson today that I wanted to share with you.  I have posted the quote below:



I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please. Not too much—just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust. I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation. I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races—especially if they smell. I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged. I would like about three dollars worth of gospel please.” (D.A. Carson, Basics for Believers, an exposition of Philippians), pp.12-13.

Here in the heart of the bible belt, I believe this is the most common approach to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Give me enough so that I don't have to worry about God being mad at me, enough that I don't have to worry about hell, enough so that I can pray when I need help from God......but I don't want to actually conform myself to the gospel.

In the end, there may be a great number of "Christians" who discover, too late, that $3.00 worth of gospel isn't enough to save them.
Read More

8/19/2010

The Paradox of Discipleship

at --- Leave a Comment
One of the things God has really been reminding me of lately is the paradoxical nature of discipleship.  On the one hand, we are all commanded (not suggested or asked to try to fit it into our busy schedules) to make disciples.  This is the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19-20.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
This would seem to imply that we are able to make disciples.  After all, why would Jesus command us to go and do something that we cannot do.  That wouldn't make sense, would it?

Would it?

Let's look at some of the other commands scripture lays out for us and see what we find.

Here is the scripture commanding husband how to relate to their wives in Ephesians 5:25.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

I don't know about you, but I cannot do that.  I do not have the ability to love my wife like Jesus has loved me.  I just can't do it.

What about scripture's command to me about my relationship with God and other people?  Here is what Matthew 22:37-40 says:

And he said to him,"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

I can't do those things either.  No matter how hard I try, I always find myself holding back parts of myself from God and I certainly do not love others the way I love myself.

What can we conclude from these commands?  I think there are a few take aways here.
1.  Jesus has no problem commanding us to do things that we have no power in ourselves to accomplish.
2.  Jesus absolute expects us to be obedient to these same commands. Therefore,
3. Jesus provides us with a power outside of ourselves to enable us to be obedient to these commands.

That power is the power of His grace through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  I cannot possible muster up the ability to love God, love my wife, or love others like He has called me too.  His grace working through me, however, can accomplish those things.  All of our walk with Christ looks like this.  He has told us what a follower of His looks like, but we have no power in ourselves to accomplish any of it.  We are totally dependent on Him to empower us with His grace to accomplish anything.

So, how does this apply to making disciples?  It means that we must be intentional in creating opportunites, structures, and systems that disciple making can flourish in.  Because we are commanded to make disciples we cannot just sit back and hope that people turn to His word, that they will somehow make Him the object of their supreme adoration all on their own.  We must be proactive in teaching and modeling those things to those we are discipling.

It also means that if that is all we do, we will fail.  Just as I do not have the ability to love like God commands, I also do not have the ability to do the heart work necessary in another person to make them love God the way He commands us too.

In order for me to fulfill the Great Commission personally and in order for our churches to fulfill the Great Commission corporately we must be intentional and create structures and then we must saturate them with prayer.  We must persistently ask God to move in the hearts of His people and we must constantly ask Him to guide our structure making so that we do not create a structure that we believe negates our need for Christ.

God has commanded us to make disciples, but we cannot do so without a supernatural work of His spirit in us and in those we seek to make disciples of.  Create, dream, plan, and implement what needs to exist to make disciples but never, never stop praying that God will be moving.  Discipleship is just like everything else that God has told us our faith is: required and impossible.

We are commanded by God to make disciples and we are dependent on God to make disciples.

That is the paradox of discipleship.
Read More

8/17/2010

Making Idols

at --- Leave a Comment
Read a great post at the Thirsty Theologian blog last night.  You should go and read the entire post.  Go ahead...I will wait here for you to get back.

Welcome back.  I want to direct your attention to a section that David wrote in his post:



The point, which you’ve likely already ascertained, is this: Are any so sacrosanct that you are unwilling to hold them up for examination under the light of truth? If so, please abandon any pretense of intellectual integrity or spiritual fidelity. You’ve made idols of men. Repent.


Anyone worthy of your admiration can withstand scrutiny. Investigation will vindicate them. Discussion of their flaws will yield fruit as well, helping you to grow away from idols and toward objectivity. You’ll learn to appreciate the individuals in question as flawed conduits, rather than sources, of grace. Some of your heroes may be mythical. They may not be what you’ve thought them to be. You may find that their characters are eminently reproachable, or that their doctrines and methods are unbiblical. Discovery can be painful, but don’t you love the truth and its author more than these?

 Incredibly relevant truth for our times.  We are, when left unchecked by the Holy Spirit, idol factories.  We just churn them out left and right.  We not only do this with men and women of the faith, but also with the things they write, produce, etc.  Sometimes we get so excited about the concepts and imagery that a book or video presents that we fail to really examine it with discernment.  Of course, that is one of the reasons we are to live in community with other believers.  When we fail to do what we should, our brothers and sisters in Christ are there to lovingly and firmly help us to get back on the right track.

The assumptions made in the previous paragraph are that:

1. We are living in community with other believers
2. We actually listen when they try to tell us that the latest Christian book or our favorite TV preacher have wandered from biblical truth.

Too often those assumptions prove false.

What about you?  Do you have any of these "untouchables" in your life?  If so, as the Thirsty Theologian so aptly put it, repent.

No one and nothing is above scrutiny (including you and me) and if we value God's word, our own spiritual well being, and the advancement of the Gospel, then we will examine everything and everyone in light of God's perfect Word.
Read More

8/16/2010

Some Things You Just Can't Teach

at --- Leave a Comment
All of us are passionate about certain things.  Sometimes we get the privilege of sharing with other people about the things we are passionate about.  After pouring our heart out about our thing, we come to realize that not everyone is passionate about the same things that we are and no amount of our sharing or teaching is going to change that.  Now this is not a problem normally.  After all, not everyone needs to be passionate about the latest fashion choices for chihuahuas or the complete history of the storm trooper in the Star Wars universe.

But what if your passion is for Christ and His gospel and you find other Christians who don't share that passion. After all, that is a passion that we all should have.  How do we get people to be passionate about Jesus?

Ultimately, I don't think we can.

Don't misunderstand me.  We can and should create environments in our churches that exalt Christ, teach the gospel, and model passionate discipleship.  We make it as easy and as normal as we can for people to be passionate about the gospel.  At the end of the day, however, I don't think you can teach or preach someone into long-term passion.  No amount of persuasive words or well crafted environments will cause someone to be radically in love with God.

So what do we do?

Pray.

Only God can create passion in the heart of a person.  Only God can take a cold, dead heart and transform it into a heart that longs for His word, longs for intimacy with Christ, and longs to see the Kingdom advanced through teaching and living the Gospel.

We probably need to spend a little less time crafting weekend services/gatherings/events/experiences and more time on our knees before our God begging Him to move in the hearts of His people.
Read More

8/10/2010

Discipleship and the Home

at --- Leave a Comment
Discipleship.

That is a word that brings with it a great deal of imagery, emotions, and, sometimes, baggage.  From the very specifically focused man to man, life on life mindset of groups like the Navigators to the more traditional model of "Discipleship Training" on Sunday nights at your local Southern Baptist Church, chances are you have run across the term and the concept of discipleship.  If you are a man in the church, then chances are probably a little greater that this idea has been brought to your attention, and rightfully so.

Jesus Himself commanded His disciples, and us, before ascending into heaven to "make disciples of all nations".  It is an inescapable fact of the life of the Christ follower that as we live our life to His glory, we are to be about the business of disciple making.  There about as many methods and theories as to the best way to accomplish this task as their are churches and organizations involved in disciple making.  Some emphasize personal one to one teaching and training.  Some place great importance on church programs and educational opportunities.  Some tout small groups as the place to make disciples.  I think there are some benefits to each of those ideas, but today I want to speak to something different than the methods we should or shouldn't be using.

I want to speak to you about who you should be making disciples of.  Specifically to the husbands and fathers out there.  It is really easy to get caught up in trying to disciple other men (and there is no doubt that men need this) and forget that God has already given you the most important disciple making ministry you will ever have:

Your family.

It is our job as husbands and fathers to first and foremost, humbly and prayerfully make disciples of our families. Nothing is more important than teaching and training our own household what it means to live a life that glorifies the King of Kings.  If we fail at this task, we fail at the most important task God has set before us.

Ephesians 5 tells husband to love our wives as Christ loves the church.  Part of that love is helping them grow into Christ.  Our job is to cultivate our wives affections for Christ and to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to give them every opportunity to mature and grow spiritually.

As fathers, we are told to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

Maybe you haven't been doing this or don't know how to do this.  The great news is that it is not too late.  Go before the throne of grace and ask God for the wisdom, strength, and humility to begin.  Find men in your church or small group who do this and ask them to teach you.  If you are here in Rome, contact me at The Church at Northside. (I certainly am no expert and still have a long way to go but I would love to help you in any way I can.)

Just find someone and get started.

It isn't too late.

It is too important to wait any longer.
Read More

8/05/2010

Pursuing the Great Commision

at --- Leave a Comment
One of the areas of life and ministry that God is teaching me about currently is the area of purpose and vision.  Lately He has really been hammering me with the reminder that in order to make fully formed disciples of Christ, we must impart to them a vision that goes beyond themselves and beyond even our local churches.  Me must start with ourselves and with our local body, but we must continue on from there.  As we grow and mature, part of that maturation process must include expanding our influence for Christ so that we can make disciples of all nations.  This is nothing other than what we church folk call The Great Commission.

Of course, in order to do this, those of us who God has placed in leadership positions within local churches must have this larger than ourselves vision personally.  We cannot hope to reproduce in others what we ourselves do not possess.  Having been convicted personally in this area, and seeing God develop in me a passion for His church universal, I wanted to find other men and pastors with the same passion.  My plan was, and is, to contact them and arrange a time that we could get together and pray for our community together.  The image of pastors from different churches coming together and crying out to God on behalf or our community is a powerful one for me.

Interestingly enough, I have already faced resistance in this pursuit.  I have already been informed that there is at least one pastor in my community who has declared his church will not partner in any way with ours.  While I find this incredibly sad, I am not entirely surprised.  The enemy will battle against God's people joining together in any way he can.  He would like nothing more than for each individual church in Rome to remain just that: an individual church cut off from the rest of the body here.

Rome, GA
I am not that easily put off, however.  My goal is still to find pastors, men, and women who will join me in prayer for our town.  I don't care what denomination you are or who your pastor is.  The only qualification I am looking for is an overwhelming passion to see God move in the people in Rome and Floyd county Georgia.  I am going to meet with some of you soon and we are going to get on our knees together and go before the throne of grace begging God to change this town with His gospel for His glory.

Are you one of those people?

Will you join me?
Read More

8/03/2010

We Need Help

at --- Leave a Comment
I love my church.  My wife and I have been members here since 1999, we have met our closest friends here, been served and supported through the births of all 4 of our children here, and have experienced the majority of our spiritual growth here.  I have been on staff here for 4 years and I wouldn't trade any of our staff pastors for anyone.  They have hearts for God and a desire to see the kingdom advanced in our city through our church.  My church isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination and there are a great number of things that we can and are trying to do better.

Having said all that, here is something that I know to be as true or more true as everything above:

We need help.  We cannot reach everyone in Rome, GA alone.  There are too many people and too many needs for my church to meet them all.  We need help.

I live in a city of approximately 35,000 people.  Rome is not a huge city by any means.  However, to think that one church body can possibly effectively reach all 35,000 people in Rome is, I believe, foolish.  Once you look outside the city limits to all of Floyd county, that 35,000 number swells to 90,000.  The bottom line is that in order for all of Rome and Floyd county to be reached with the gospel, we need help.

Now, I don't know what churches in your neck of the woods are like, but around here it sometimes seems that building your church is much more important than building the kingdom of God.  Churches are afraid to partner with other churches in fear that their members might discover they like some other church better and jump ship.  People like to move from church to church anyway around here (we call this sheep swapping) so it is better to not partner with neighbor churches for the advancement of the gospel because they might steal our members if we do.  

The other obstacle I see to churches really becoming partners in ministry is that some churches actually think they will reach all of the city, county, world for Christ.  If you believe you don't need any help, then you don't look for help and you are less apt to take help when it is offered.

At the root of the obstacles mentioned above are fear and pride.  Fear that our personal kingdoms may decrease if we partner with others and pride in our ability to make a difference for God.  I can't think of too many qualities as counter productive to kingdom building as these two.


One of the things we are trying to change as we develop a more complete, intentional leadership develop system is the culture of territorial-ism within  our own church.  I want our leaders to know that we don't expect them to reach everyone in a 10 block radius of their home or everyone who works in the same office building as them.  What we do expect them to do is to live out the gospel everyday in a way that glorifies God and to take advantage of every opportunity He affords them but there is no quota or minimum they must reach to be considered successful.  We believe they do this by using the gifts God has given them and pursuing whole heartedly the areas of ministry that God has burdened them for.  

What we want to do is to equip them to be the part of the body, both locally and universally, that God intends for them to be.  Look at what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts,  yet one body.



Our goal is to help our people discover what part of the body of Christ they are and equip them to be that body part through the power of the Spirit working through them.  Part of that process is realizing that as a congregation, we are a part of the universal body of Christ and have a part to play as well.  Just as Christ has made each individual believer different and unique, so also are our churches unique.  What my church does not do well, another church may excel at.  What sense does it make to try to do something we are not equipped to do when the church right down the road excels at it?  Why not let them do that while we do the things God has equipped us, as a body, to do?

The bottom line is we need help.  We want to do our part to reach our community but we cannot do it all and we cannot do it alone.


Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.  --  Ecclesiastes 4:9

I long for Northside to be a church that puts the kingdom of God above our own kingdom, a church that partners with other churches in the spread of the Gospel, a church not motivated by fear or pride but by an all consuming desire to bring glory to the Creator of all things by teaching and living a life devoted to Him, and to reach as many people in our community as we can for the kingdom.

The only thing is.....

We need help.

Read More