Saturday, May 30, 2015

Making disciples not converts

A great piece over at Relevant Magazine with an excerpt below.


Our mission isn’t to win converts; it’s to make disciples. So what is the difference?
  1. Converts are believers who live like the world. Disciples are believers who live like Jesus.
  2. Converts are focused on their values, interests, worries, fears, priorities, and lifestyles. Disciples are focused on Jesus.
  3. Converts go to church. Disciples are the church.
  4. Converts are involved in the mission of Jesus. Disciples are committed to it.
  5. Converts cheer from the sidelines. Disciples are in the game.
  6. Converts hear the word of God. Disciples live it.
  7. Converts follow the rules. Disciples follow Jesus.
  8. Converts are all about believing. Disciples are all about being.
  9. Converts are comfortable. Disciples make sacrifices.
  10. Converts talk. Disciples make more disciples.
A disciple is someone who whole-heartedly follows the life and example of Jesus, who makes His mission their mission, His values their values, and His heart their heart.
A disciple is someone who desperately seeks to be like Jesus. A disciple is someone so committed to the cause of Christ that they would follow Him through the gates of hell and back.
A disciple is someone who finds their entire identity, purpose and meaning in Jesus. Jesus is the center of their lives. They are all in, fully committed.
Not only is a disciple willing to die for Jesus, but they are dedicated to living every day of their life for Him.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Spiritual Disciplines Matter in Church Revitalization

Great read from Chuck Lawless on the important role our own personal walk with Christ plays in the revitalization of our churches.


10 Reasons Why Spiritual Disciplines Matter 

in Church Revitalization

By Chuck Lawless
Thom Rainer and I have talked often about the process of church revitalization. Both of us recognize, though, that knowledge of revitalization is hardly enough to turn around a church; the process cannot be separated from the personal walk of the leader who longs for church renewal. Below are ten reasons why spiritual disciplines matter in church revitalization.
  1. The call to disciplines reveals our heart. If we don’t spend time with God daily, that choice tells us something about ourselves. Perhaps we are more self-dependent than God-dependent (see #6 below). Maybe we are “fixers” who try to address problems first, and then pray if necessary. We may evaluate our walk on the basis of public results more than a personal relationship with God. Any of these realities will hinder revitalization.
  2. Our personal walk with God affects the corporate walk of the local church. Leaders who spend little time with God tend to spend less time challenging their members to be with God. Their stories of personal victory are often more past tense than present tense. Those who do not follow God intimately seldom see genuine revitalization in their church; in fact, they sometimes produce congregations that unknowingly need revitalization
  3. The Bible is a book about hope and life. We know this truth – perhaps so well that we have forgotten its power. We preach about the promise of resurrection and new creation, all the while wondering if even God can revitalize dying congregations. To have hope for revitalization, we need to be reminded regularly through the Word that God brings life out of death.
  4. Disciplines strengthen our faith. Reading the Word and praying are more than just disciplines; they are lifelines to the Father. Knowing that God divides seas, collapses walls, slays giants, and empties tombs strengthens our trust in Him. Talking to Him and recognizing He listens to our prayers magnify our wonder of Him. No task of revitalization is too big for this God.
  5. Prayer is an expression of relationship with, and dependence on, God. When we pray, we express the truth that we cannot do in our power what God has called us to do. The reverse is also true: our prayerlessness is an expression of idolatry of the self. God does not bless the leadership of idolaters, even those who have great skills for revitalization.
  6. Daily obedience undergirds our praying. Simply stated, revitalization requires the power of God. The kind of praying that results in God’s power demands obedience (Isa. 59:1-2), including reading the Word, praying continually, and rejecting temptation. Perfunctory prayer from disobedient hearts hardly produces new life in a congregation.
  7. Disciplines focus our attention on God, not on our circumstances. It’s the apathetic, dying church that needs God’s renewed touch, but it’s that same church that can most frustrate its leaders. Unless we are regularly focusing on God via study and prayer, the obstacles to revitalization can quickly become overwhelming.
  8. Disciplines help to turn our heart outward. It’s hard to read the Bible consistently without seeing God’s heart for our neighbors and the nations. The resounding message of the scripture is that the God who desires a prayerful, intimate relationship with us loves the world. Leaders who live in that truth daily are best prepared to lead inwardly focused churches toward turnaround.
  9. Apart from being with God, we can produce deceptive revitalization. This reason may seem to contradict #2 above, but here’s the tricky part: if revitalization is limited to increased numbers, even the leader who is not faithful in his walk with God can lead a church to “revitalization.” What might seem to be a move of God, however, could be nothing more than popularity and attraction.
  10. Faithfulness to spiritual disciplines gives us humble confidence to lead. Revitalization requires helping churches see their current situation and then change as needed to reach this generation. Leaders who live in a state of ongoing dependence on God are most prepared to lead in this direction.
Let’s help one another: what steps have you taken to help you be more faithful in spiritual disciplines?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tim Keller on preaching to the heart

Gavin Ortlund has a great peice on Tim Keller's thought on preaching over at The Gospel Coalition.  Below is a excerpt.

Tim Keller argues that there are six characteristics of preaching that effectively engages the heart. I list them here, with my top personal takeaway from each.
1. Preach culturally.
If our preaching does not engage with the competing narratives of our surrounding culture, Keller argued, it will simply bounce off the surface of many listeners, rather than engaging their hearts. For instance, take the view that if two people really love each other, it is fine for them to have sex. To deflate this myth, preachers cannot simply expound a biblical view of sexuality and then expect listeners to connect the dots on their own. The preacher must show how biblical truth intersects with these cultural beliefs, and how it is far more fulfilling and meaningful. How many of my sermons have failed to do this! And what a difference it can make!
2. Preach from the heart.
People need to sense the preacher has been wounded and repaired by the text. Many preachers try too hard to be good at preaching, or to be passionate in their preaching. In order to do this, preachers must (1) know their material cold and (2) have a rich prayer life.
3. Preach imaginatively.
One of the great misconceptions about sermon illustrations is that they must always be stories. Images and word pictures can also powerful. For instance, in his famous sermon “Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God,” Jonathan Edwards said, “All your righteousness would have no influence to uphold you or keep you out of hell, any more than a spider’s web could stop a falling rock.” Connecting the abstract truth to a concrete, sensory experience can position it for stronger appeal to the heart.
4. Preach practically.
One of the most helpful ways to do application is the dialogical approach: ask questions. The more specific the questions, the better. Keller put it vividly: “You almost need to turn some parts of the sermon into counseling.” Imagine you are sitting in a counseling scenario and talking directly to someone, and then do exactly that in the sermon.
5. Preach wondrously.
J. R. R. Tolkien said that fairy tales continue to be popular because they give you stories in which characters escape time, escape death, hold communion with non-human beings, find perfect love, and triumph over evil. The gospel fulfills all these deep human longings. So do we preach this way? Is there a sense of wonder in our preaching?
6. Preach Christocentrically.
Preachers cannot appeal to the heart unless they preach Christ from each text. Keller referenced a comment from his wife, Kathy, to him early on in his preaching that until it gets to Jesus, it’s just a lecture, not a sermon. But when the sermon gets to Jesus, everyone puts their pens down, and instead of feeling like they are walking, people feel like they are flying. Worship happens.

 Watch Tim Keller speak at our 2105 National Conference in Orlando, Florida.

For more resources visit

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Seven things for church members to say to guests at our church

From Thom Rainer.

  1. “Thank you for being here.” It’s just that basic. I have heard from numerous church guests who returned because they were simply told “thank you.”
  2. “Let me help you with that.” If you see someone struggling with umbrellas, young children, diaper bags, purses, and other items, a gesture to hold something for them is a huge positive. Of course, this comment is appropriate for member to member as well.
  3. “Please take my seat.” I actually heard that comment twice in a church where I was speaking in the Nashville area. The first comment came from a member to a young family of five who were trying to find a place to sit together.
  4. “Here is my email address. Please let me know if I can help in any way.” Of course, this comment must be used with discretion, but it can be a hugely positive message to a guest.
  5. “Can I show you where you need to go?” Even in smaller churches, guests will not know where to find the nursery, restrooms, and small group meeting areas. You can usually tell when a guest does not know where he or she is to go.
  6. “Let me introduce you to ___________.” The return rate of guests is always higher if they meet other people. A church member may have the opportunity to introduce the guest to the pastor, other church staff, and other members of the church.
  7. “Would you join us for lunch?” I saved this question for last for two reasons. First, the situation must obviously be appropriate before you offer the invitation. Second, I have seen this approach have the highest guest return rate of any one factor. What if your church members sought to invite different guests 6 to 12 times a year? The burden would not be great; but the impact would be huge.
Let’s look at one example of breaking attendance barriers by saying the right things to guests. Presume your church has two first-time guests a week. Over the course of a year, the church would have 100 first-time guests. With most of the members being genuinely guest friendly, you could see half of those guests become active members. Attendance could thus increase by as much as 50 persons every year.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Understanding Introverts

Book Review - Motivate Your Child Action Plan

A couple of weeks ago I was given a copy of the book Motivate Your Child Action Plan.  Below is the beginning of my ongoing review of this book.

For now, I'm giving it 5 stars, and I'll continue to assess this as we fully implement it with our son.  And I'll explain why.

I've now read the book, and did really enjoy it overall.  No quibbles with it.  But as with any book of this sort, where the rubber meets the road is the key.  It's the application.

I've already seen some improvement with our 5 year old.  He's terrible about interrupting adults as they/we talk. As an only child, I suspect this is worse than normal, and is worse than I've observed in most other children.  Through implementing just one portion of this book, in a matter of 2 hours we have already begun to see transformation in his behavior.  He recognizes that we know he wants to speak, but he is now (mostly) waiting his turn with his hand upon my hand (or my wife's hand) reminding us that he is there patiently waiting his turn to speak.  We celebrate each time he does this (positive feedback cycle!) and he's thriving on the reinforcement.  How this will work in the larger world remains to be seen, but it made a difference at the restaurant on Mother's Day, and that alone makes the book worth whatever it might cost.

Generally I'd shy away from this type of book, but having read up about it online and seen some first hand testimonials I decided to give it a go.  As it continues to be rolled out I'll try to stop back and update this review to keep it current over the next few months.  But so far, I'm really liking what we are seeing.  It is written from a Christian parenting worldview which I greatly value.  Give it a look and see if it might be of help to you!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Is Christianity growing in China?

Below is a portion of a FANTASTIC article covering Christianity in modern day China.  Click through and read it all if you are interested.

Christianity in China

Author: Eleanor Albert, Online Writer/Editor Updated: May 7, 2015
Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters
China has witnessed a religious revival over the past four decades, in particular with the significant increase in Christian believers, accounting for 5 percent of the population, according to Pew Research Center data. The number of Chinese Protestants has grown by an average of 10 percent annually since 1979. By some estimates, China is on track to have the world’s largest population of Christians by 2030. Though the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is officially atheist, the rise of Christianity presents Beijing with challenges as well as new options for contributing to services, such as health care and education, to an increasingly demanding public. The government recently launched a series of initiatives to further regulate, and at times restrict, Christian adherents. 
What is the history of Christianity in China?
Early waves of Christianity began with the arrival of Italian Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci in China in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. China’s first Protestant missionary, Robert Morrison, traveled to China in 1807 on behalf of the London Missionary Society and translated (PDF) the Bible into Mandarin. In the mid-nineteenth century, Christianity became a mobilizing political force: Hong Xiuquan developed a Christian-influenced ideology to mount the Taiping Rebellion (1850–1864) against the Qing Dyansty, attracting missionaries and revolutionaries alike. The rebels amassed control over more than one-third of Chinese territory and established a rival political order, known as the “heavenly kingdom.” The ensuing civil war killed an estimated twenty million people.
The establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 resulted in wide-scale religious repression in mainland China. In keeping with its Marxist roots, the Chinese Communist Party declared itself atheist. “Maoist Thought,” a sinification of Marxism-Leninism that placed the future of the Chinese revolution in the hands of the rural peasants, was the dominant ideology. This was especially true at the height of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) when places of worship were closed and religious practices were banned.
Mao Zedong’s death and his successor Deng Xiaoping’s subsequent reforms reopened China to the outside world, in turn granting greater freedoms to Chinese citizens. A surge in Christian adherents can be traced from the period beginning in the early 1980s. Today, China’s Christian population encompasses (PDF) a range of citizens, from all ages, from the countryside and urban centers, including students and professionals. China is also the world’s largest producer of Bibles: By the end of 2014, the Amity Printing Company, a joint venture between the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO, and the United Bible Societies, printed more than 140 million bibles in many languages for both domestic and international markets. However, while the government exercises a certain tolerance of religious practices, religious freedom is still constrained and regulated.
What is China's policy on religious practice?
The PRC officially recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism. The activities of state-sanctioned religious organizations are regulated by the State Administration for Religious Affairs(SARA), which manages all aspects of religious life including religious leadership appointments, selection of clergy, and interpretation of doctrine. Christianity in China is overseen by three major entities: the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the China Christian Council, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. To register as a state-sanctioned Christian organization, religious leaders must receive training in order to “adapt” doctrine to Chinese thinking and culture. China does not differentiate among Christian denominations beyond Catholicism and Protestantism.
“No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the education system of the state.” – China’s constitution
Spirituality and religious practice have long been embedded in traditional Chinese culture, says Freedom House’s senior research analyst for East Asia, Sarah Cook. Article thirty-six of the Chinese constitution protects freedom of religion, however that protection is limited to so-called “normal religious activities,” explicitly stating that “no one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the education system of the state.” These provisions provide authorities with flexibility when determining which religious practices are consistent with party policy and which fall outside the state’s guidelines. The constitutional provision goes on to specify that religious bodies cannot be subject to foreign control. The Holy See and Beijing do not have formal diplomatic ties, but Pope Francis signaled in August 2014 that he hoped to thaw China-Vatican relations.
Underground house churches exist parallel to state-sanctioned Christian churches. These organizations operate outside of the guidelines of the government, and their regulation by party authorities is largely determined by local leaders. Much like official Christian organizations, their membership is also growing across regions and demographics, according to surveys by independent polling groups. A 2010 Pew Research Center report charted that thirty-five million (PDF) of China’s fifty-eight million Protestants belonged to independent house churches. Other Christian organizations estimate a much higher number.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Who gets "Left Behind"?

I'm inclined to agree with the article below.  Thoughts?  As I say in my statement of faith -
Millennial and Tribulational Views
I am not completely convinced and convicted to fall into one category concerning the order of events of the Second Coming, and for several reasons. Partially because I am not as well informed as to the pros and cons of the various positions as I hope to eventually be (and yes, I regularly study this BTW). Additionally, the biblical passages which speak of events surrounding the Second Coming appear highly metaphorical and are notoriously difficult to interpret. Third, Jesus himself says that no one knows when it is that he will return (Mk 14:31-35; Mt 24:36-44). What matters most about the Second Coming is that it is the time of God’s Final Judgment, a time for which every person should prepare him or herself (Mt 16:27; Rev 20:12-15).  If forced to pick a position I would call myself a historic premillennialist (Rev 20:1-6).

Sorry, 'Left Behind' Fans, the Rapture Is Not in the Bible

Tuesday, 05 May 2015 05:12 PM
By John Martignoni,
In Fact, If Anyone's Getting Beamed Up, It's Not the Good Guys

Question: A friend of mine has been reading the "Left Behind" series of books [by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins] that have all of this stuff about the Rapture in them. Is there really going to be a Rapture like these books talk about?

Answer: No.The Rapture refers to a passage in First Thessalonians 4, where Christians are "caught up" in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." Many Christians believe, and the "Left Behind" books promote, that this being "caught up" to meet the Lord will occur before the Great Tribulation sometime in the near future. Christians will simply vanish, meet Jesus somewhere in the air, and then return with Him to Heaven to await the end of time.

But notice, in verse 15, Paul says that "...we who are alive, who are left," shall be caught up. This is a very important point to stress to rapture enthusiasts. Those who are "left" get caught up to meet the Lord. Keep that in mind as we look at these next couple of Scripture passages.

The "Left Behind" books get their name from a passage in Luke 17, and a similar passage in Matthew 24, which compares the coming of the Lord to the days of Noah and the days of Lot. Matthew 24 puts it this way: "As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man ... [they ate, they drank, they married] and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Then two men will be in the field, one is taken and one is left. Two women grinding at the mill, one is taken one is left."

"One is taken, one is left" — the Rapture right? Jesus takes the Christians and leaves behind non-Christians!

That's how rapture enthusiasts interpret these passages. Well, you need to say to them: "Not so fast, folks."

There are two problems with the Protestant "Left Behind" interpretation: First, in the passages from Luke 17 and Matthew 24, Jesus' coming is compared to the days of Noah and the days of Lot. Let's think about that for a moment. After the flood, who was left? Noah and his family — the good guys. The bad guys were taken and the good guys were left behind! After Sodom and Gomorrah went up in smoke, who was left? Lot and his daughters — the good guys. The bad guys were taken and the good guys were left behind!

The second problem with the "Left Behind" interpretation has to do with what I mentioned above: 1 Thessalonians 4 says that those who are "left" get to meet Jesus in the air. You want to be left behind. Why? Because those who are left behind get to meet Jesus on His return to earth. Again, when you put 1 Thessalonians 4 together with Matthew 24 and Luke 17, it becomes quite apparent that the good guys are the ones left behind to meet Jesus.

And, if you need further proof of that, there's a passage in Matthew 13 that pretty much seals the deal. Matthew 13:39-43, "... and the enemy who sowed them [the bad seed] is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send His angels and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father."

So when Scripture says that "one is taken and one is left," as it does in Luke 17 and Matthew 24, it is not talking about the Rapture, it is talking about the harvest at the close of the age. The ones who are taken, as it says in Matthew 13, are the evildoers. The angels have taken them and tossed them into the furnace of fire.

So, the "Left Behind" books got it exactly 180 degrees wrong. The ones taken are not the good guys, they are the evildoers. The ones who are left behind are the ones who get to be caught up in the clouds to meet Jesus in the air at His Second Coming, when He will bring all of the angels and saints with Him and there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth.

In other words, there will be no Rapture like the one the "Left Behind" books talk about. The "Left Behind" books teach the opposite of what Scripture actually says.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Why we don't evangelize

Some good thoughts from Thom Rainer on why we don't evangelize:

The main reasons Christians do not evangelize are:
  1. Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people.
  2. Many Christians and church members do not befriend and spend time with lost persons.
  3. Many Christians and church members are lazy and apathetic.
  4. We are more known for what we are against than what we are for.
  5. Our churches have an ineffective evangelistic strategy of “you come” rather than “we go.”
  6. Many church members think that evangelism is the role of the pastor and paid staff.
  7. Church membership today is more about getting my needs met rather than reaching the lost.
  8. Church members are in a retreat mode as culture becomes more worldly and unbiblical.
  9. Many church members don’t really believe that Christ is the only way of salvation.
  10. Our churches are no longer houses of prayer equipped to reach the lost.
  11. Churches have lost their focus on making disciples who will thus be equipped and motivated to reach the lost.
  12. Christians do not want to share the truth of the gospel for fear they will offend others. Political correctness is too commonplace even among Christians.
  13. Most churches have unregenerate members who have not received Christ themselves.
  14. Our churches have too many activities; they are too busy to do the things that really matter.