Saturday, July 11, 2009

Intentional Friendship

My life is becoming more and more focused as I learn to walk in God's purposes for me. I believe with increasing confidence that the major purpose for my life is to be a disciple of Christ and help others learn to be disciples, also... learning to love God, hear his voice and obey him. In our postmodern, post-Christian, highly relational culture, I am certain that we will fail to reproduce as disciples unless we learn to have authentic, intentional friendships. That's what true Christian community is about - friends learning to together to live like Jesus.

On that note, here are some principles that are developing in me as I learn to lead my friends to follow Christ more closely:

1) Maximize this season. We all know that friendships wax and wane with the seasons of life. Several friendships remain precious throughout the years, few are maintained and many are lost altogether. Be friends with people for the sake of being friends, not for the sake of spiritual conquest. However, develop the discipline of submitting your friendships to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Ask God, "What friend have you given me for this season with whom I'm supposed to take a disciple's journey?" There should be urgency in this prayer because God opens doors for influence that will eventually close. Make the most of the season you have because it will not last forever... and you do not want to find yourself on the other side of it holding regrets.

2) Be an authentic friend. This goes back to my previous statement, "Be friends with people for the sake of being friends, not for the sake of spiritual conquest." No one wants to feel like a spiritual project. There is a certain level of boldness, accountability and power that come from authentic friendship... you earn the right to be heard and you work hard to develop a safe space within which you can deal with tough issues. Ask yourself this question: "If this person refused to let me lead him in discipleship, would I still want a friendship with him?" If the answer is negative, don't pursue discipleship.

3) Establish an end date. We've all had friendships that explode for weeks or months but somehow fade. Upon discovery of this new kinship, you do lunch several times a week, go on double dates with your spouses, call one another just to catch up, etc. This kind of intimacy is not perpetual and we shouldn't expect it to be so. It is a sad fact of friendships, however, that when this season of close comradeship passes, we sometimes feel as if we've suffered a romantic break-up! The same will be true of the discipling season in your friendship. If you're going to meet together once a week for Bible study, set an end date... three months out, six months, maybe a year. Acknowledge that it's not realistic in life for a weekly meeting to last perpetually. Say it up front so that when the end comes, it doesn't feel like rejection. Also, because seasons and relationships change, there is an urgent need to meet consistently and make the most of each meeting. Say so up front. For me, it usually sounds something like, "I really want to give myself to our disciple's journey but I only have so much time. Can we make it a priority to meet together once a week at such & such day and time for six months and miss very, very little? We don't have much time so we need to make the most of it..."

4) Choose a few and invest well. Having a short end date allows you to prioritize the way you invest in your friends. For instance, you may hear God tell you to walk closely with Jon for a season. Because you know it will only be for six months and you have invited him to take the disciple's journey for that season, you can feel good about making him a priority in that time frame. In fact, you may only want to walk with him and one or two other guys during that season because you know you cannot invest well in more than two or three men. Set your goals - mine are to help my friends become spiritually active, personally responsible and intentionally multiplying disciples who hear God's voice and obey. Because these are the goals that I believe God has given me, I choose to work with only a few at a time so I can see this happen. I want to pray for them consistently, meet often and really share life for a little while. I would rather give myself away to a few for a season and see them develop well than meet with many, barely get them on the right track and drag the process out longer than it should take.

I am definitely still in process as a disciple and may look back years from now and disagree with some of these principles. However, at this point I feel strongly about them. I hope they help you as you seek to follow Christ and live in such a way that others can follow you.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

We Need More Children!

Before you report me to the government and reserve a room for me at the mental hospital, let me clarify... Vanessa and I most DEFINITELY do not need more biological children! I'm talking about children in a spiritual sense. I read a passage from Matthew this morning, and 11:25-27 caught my attention. These verses tend to be overshadowed by the following two, which begin, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden..." You can probably finish that passage by memory (or at least get close).

In v25-27, Jesus says, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by the Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

In the preceding paragraphs, Jesus chides the religious establishment for being so pompous and full of themselves that they totally missed their own Messiah. I imagine he then steps back, looks in the faces of his friends (disciples) and, with all their hard-knock stories in mind, praises his Father for the divine genius, full of irony and grace, that chose to reveal the Kingdom of Heaven to the world's rejected. This reminds me of another passage I read this morning from Isaiah 55, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (v8f)

Here's the punchline... we are surrounded by people who think they know God but are not experiencing any sort of real, life-changing relationship with him. If we took a poll on a typical Sunday morning and asked the question, "When was the last time you heard God speak to you?", what do you think the response would be? God reveals himself on a daily basis to those who are willing to look and listen for him. Another word from Isaiah 55 - "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near."

I want to be a child to which God reveals himself. I pray that God would raise up more men and women who are humble, teachable and childlike so he can show himself to the world through them. Who are the unlikely, rejected or timid people around us that God has chosen to give divine boldness as he reveals himself to them... all because they "naively" believe that he will do so?

May God also raise up spiritual parents who will take personal responsibility for nurturing the faith of these children, helping them become spiritually active, personally responsible and intentionally multiplying disciples of Christ.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Psalm and a Prayer for President-Elect Obama

Psalm 12

1Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone;
for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
2Everyone utters lies to his neighbor;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3May the LORD cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
4those who say, "With our tongue we will prevail,
our lips are with us; who is master over us?"

5"Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan,
I will now arise," says the LORD;
"I will place him in the safety for which he longs."
6 The words of the LORD are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.

7You, O LORD, will keep them;
you will guard us from this generation forever.
8On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among the children of man.

Let me make clear what I do and don't mean by posting this Psalm. I am not saying that President Bush is "the godly one" in v1. Bush is a professing Christian but so is Obama. I had great hopes in 2000 about the administration of a bold "born-again" Christian but my disappointment began just after 9/11 when he shifted the focus on the War on Terror from bin Laden to Hussein. What I do see in this Psalm that is very pertinent is the cry of a people who are surrounded by leaders who are deceitful and do not hold to their word. This is infectious on both sides of the aisle. I also see the need for our leaders to be concerned with the poor and needy. May Obama seek the LORD and find true integrity with his words. I personally pray that he can't do everything he has promised in his campaign; regardless, may the LORD develop in him the discipline to let his "yes" be "yes" and his "no" be "no" in the midst of a wishy-washy Washington culture. May Obama lead the charge to find truly long-term successful ways to help enable to the poor and needy to find firm footing in this life. May the LORD give him wisdom to be faithful to the Christian call to the less fortunate in a way that gives help that will last while also being financially responsible on a federal level. May God mold and form Obama to be a man of integrity and vision who is able to unite a country and uphold morality. God, I am not asking for a leader who will legislate Christianity... I am asking for one who will do what is right.

Monday, November 10, 2008

An Open Ear

Psalm 40:6-8

I have been thinking a lot recently about the correlation between hearing God and obeying him. In John 10:3-5, Jesus says that those who belong to him are able to hear his voice and follow him. In Greek, the word for "I hear" is akouw and the word for "I obey" is hupakouw; I plan on doing a study on these two words, but without any research it's apparent from the surface that to obey has a dependency on or at least a relation to being able to hear. When my daughter doesn't obey something I told her to do, it's not unusual for her to say, "I didn't hear you."

In Psalm 40, the psalmist emphasizes that God ultimately doesn't seek religious sacrifices from his followers but obedience. God has given the writer "an open ear," meaning that he is able to hear God's commandments, and in v8 he describes the condition of his heart before God by saying, "I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."

The disciple's life isn't easy, but it doesn't have to be complicated. That's why I describe it as "the simple life." It's not easy to follow God in obedience - there are times that it may cost us greatly. However, the tools that are necessary to follow Christ in obedience and power are not complicated. One of the most important things a disciple needs is an open ear, the ability to hear God's voice - in his Word, through prayer, in daily circumstances, etc - and then obey. The open ear is part of the "intimacy" side of the discipleship coin (one side is intimacy, the other is influence). When a disciple is unable to hear God's voice, his attempts at obedience revolve around what other people have told him/her that God desires and it all degenerates into lifeless religion. However, as the disciples cultivates the ability to listen to God and obey him, his journey with Christ comes alive and immediately supersedes religious obligations.

Do you have an open ear to hear God? Why are you doing the "Christian" things you do? Has God told you to do them? Is there something God has directed you to do - even a long time ago - that has been left undone? Obey him. How do you cultivate an open ear? It's not easy, but it's not complicated! For beginners, understand the truth (with boldness!) that if you have said "Yes!" to Christ, his Spirit lives in you and, by his direction, you CAN hear his voice. Here's the real question: are you listening? Like my daughter, we often have selective hearing because we're afraid that Christ may ask us to do something we don't want to do. The more we try to ignore the Spirit's voice, the more closed our ear becomes. The more we attempt to hear God, the more open it will be. Amazingly simple!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Practical Ways Intimacy can Lead to Influence

These are the practical steps that I outlined in my message on how our intimacy with God can begin to intersect our daily lives and lead to influence. This is the Great Commandment leading to the Great Commission!

1) Cell Phone Intercession. Use the contact list in your cell phone as a digital prayer list. When you're in line at Wal-Mart or waiting for your ticket after lunch, find someone in your address book to pray for! If you're technically minded, you can create a quick text that simply says, "I prayed for you today" (or "I prayed 4 U 2day" :) and send it to whomever you prayed for!

2) Say the Blessing! No, not "God is great, God is good..." When you are at a family or social gathering and it's time for someone to pray over the food, volunteer to do the honors and use the time to pray a blessing over those who are present. If you're at lunch with a friend, ask him/her what you can pray for on his/her behalf and then spend some time in prayer for them during the blessing. You can even do it if you're eating alone - think of someone who could use a prayer and lift him/her up as you ask God to bless the food. Most of us pray every time we eat... let's make the "blessing" a real blessing for someone else!

3) Leverage Existing Influence. You probably already have someone in your life over whom you hold some amount of influence already. Use that influence to pray for them. Not sure what I mean? For instance, I teach nine music students. As their teacher, I have a weekly time where I can pray for them at the beginning of the lesson. I use my influence as teacher as an opportunity to intercede for them. Maybe you're an employer, a supervisor, a parent, a carpool driver, or a friend. God wants to use your existing influence to impact others for the Kingdom.

4) nineFifteen Prayer & other Prayer Meetings at the Prayer Chapel. If you attend Heritage Church, I encourage you to attend some of the prayer meetings that are already happening all around us. You can meet with me and about 6-10 other folks every Sunday morning at 9:15AM in the Cry Room in the corner of the sanctuary for our nineFifteen Prayer. We pray for the speaker for that Sunday and then go and pray over every chair in the sanctuary. We're always done in time for LifeTouch at 9:30AM. If you can't make it on Sunday mornings, call the front office of the church (891-321) and ask Mrs. Patti to tell you what prayer meetings are scheduled in the Prayer Chapel (there are at least two every week). These are great opportunities to get away in a great atmosphere for prayer and reflection and simply talk with God. If you would rather pray privately, Mrs. Patti can schedule a time for you to pray alone or with a few friends. She'll give you all the instructions you need to use the Prayer Chapel.