The View From 35,000 Feet

Rambling Thoughts

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. (photo used by permission from Ben Elliott)

From a plane window looking at the sunrise 35,000 feet above the earth one gets a sense (maybe even a glimpse) into the infinite nature of God. The scene goes on forever reminding us of the reality that God exists outside of and is not limited by time or space. God is “without limits.”
God is all-knowing. He has unlimited knowledge. His infinite knowledge is what qualifies Him as sovereign ruler and judge over all things. He knows everything that will happen, and He also knows everything that could have possibly happened. Nothing takes God by surprise.

1 John 3:20: “…God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.”God is also all-powerful. He has unlimited power. Having all power is significant because it establishes God’s ability to carry out His sovereign will. Because God is omnipotent and has infinite power, nothing can stop His decreed will from happening, and nothing can thwart or stop His divine purposes from being fulfilled.

Psalm 115:3: “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

And, God is always present. There is no place that you could go to escape God’s presence. God is not limited by time or space. He is present at every point of time and space. God’s infinite presence is significant because it establishes that God is eternal. God has always existed and will always exist. Before time began, God was. Before the world or even matter itself was created, God was. He has no beginning or end, and there was never a time He did not exist, nor will there be a time when He ceases to exist.

Psalm 139:7-10: “Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Thy hand will lead me, And Thy right hand will lay hold of me.”Because God is infinite, He is also said to be transcendent, which simply means that God is exceedingly far above creation and is both greater than creation and independent of it. God is so infinitely above and beyond us and our ability to fully comprehend that, had He not revealed Himself, we would not know or understand what He is like. But, thankfully, God has not left us ignorant about Himself. He wants us to know Him! So, He has revealed Himself to us through creation and our conscience; through the written Word of God, the Bible; and, through the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.

It is amazingly true when we look out the window of a plane at a sunrise 35,000 feet above the earth that we can know God and that we can know how to be reconciled to Him and how to live according to His will. Despite the fact that we are finite and God is infinite, we can know and understand God as He has revealed Himself to us. Even more amazing is that God loves us and wants to know us!

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Do We Really Have to Know Everything?

Rambling Thoughts

Why do we feel entitled to know everything? Why do we feel compelled to find a solution to everything? Can we not find contentment in the brilliant design of mystery? In our pursuit of discovery can we be civil in our dialogue?

In introducing his PBS series, “Faith and Reason”, Bill Moyers made this figurative leap: “Throughout the double helix of our DNA, it seems, the molecules of faith and reason chatter away, and it’s in our interest, and the world’s, that they stay on good speaking terms.” As I considered his metaphor the more I appreciated his skill in loading into one rather humorous sentence the private as well as the public aspects of dialogue, both nationally and globally, especially in light of the significant role faith has played in our dialogue regarding the approaching national election.

Mark Edwards wrote in “Private Belief, Public Scholarship,” his article on how mainstream American academia is handling the presence of personal religious belief amid teaching and collegial relationships: “The best way to come to grips with the appropriateness of, and limits on, the expression of belief in scholarship and teaching is to take time to talk. . . . I recommend conversation, because a proper conversation aims at communicating and understanding, not (or at least not necessarily) at agreement or resolution.” Healthy dialogue is not about solutions; it is about mutual respect and pondering the wonder of the unknown.

The scholarly King Hezekiah penned a similar philosophy when he wrote, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter. As the heavens for height and the earth for depth, so the heart of kings is unsearchable” (Proverbs 25:2).

That which is the chief glory of God is his mysteriousness, the unfathomable character of his nature and attributes and doings. The more we search into these matters, the more complete we find our ignorance to be. When we spend more time in open discussion, listening to each other and praying for understanding, we will discover peace in the Divine’s brilliant design of the unknown.

The great prophet Isaiah, favored with Divine revelations, could only confess, “Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself” (Isaiah 45:15).

“Secret things belong unto the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Shalom!

Are You Discouraged?

Church Planting, Rambling Thoughts

Are you discouraged today? We often defeat ourselves by being occupied with the difficulties of life along the way. However, God has made known to us the triumphant outcome of good over evil; and, instead of being harassed by the fiery darts which the Evil One now hurls against us, we ought to rest on the assuring promise that “the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20).

To strengthen the heart of Moses through his apparent failures in trying to lead the Hebrew people out of bondage under Egypt, the Lord pointed Moses forward to the goal: “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh” (Exodus 6:1). There was a lot that was to happen in between, but the Lord glanced over all that would intervene and went to the last act in the great drama which was just opening. He directed Moses to consider the successful outcome, when the great enemy of His people would be vanquished.

Discouragement can be debilitating if we let it. But, it can be defeated by hope. “And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).

Let’s look at the end:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'”

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”

“He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death'” (Revelation 21:1-8).

We need not defeat ourselves. We only need to look to the end, and to the One who will overcome!

The Juice of an Orange

Rambling Thoughts

Napoleon Hill once said, “Lack of loyalty is one of the major causes of failure in every walk of life.”. General Guan Yunchang is the Chinese mythological god of loyalty, fortune and war. Westerners will likely see the connection between war and fortune, for a powerful country can loot a weaker country during times of war. In actuality, General Guan Yuchang was a peaceful deity who used his skills to avoid the confrontations of war; thus, by avoiding war, his country was able to prosper. This period of prosperity created loyalty among the countrymen. However, not all battles could be avoided. During one battle General Guan Yunchang was captured and forced to decide between switching alliances or facing death. Holding steadfast to his virtue of loyalty, the General chose death.

Webster’s definition of loyalty states that loyalty means being constant and faithful, bearing true allegiance to something or someone. The truth is, every human being has loyalties, but the real question is, “To what or whom are we loyal?” Our highest loyalties are revealed when we are squeezed into a decision that favors one loyalty and harms another. It is hard to say where our highest loyalties really lie until we are “squeezed” by different choices.

Someone once said that loyalty is like the juice of an orange – the flavor cannot be determined until the orange is squeezed to the breaking point. The Bible testifies to the truthfulness of this statement. Loyalty is one of the most powerful forces within the human heart. Circumstances can squeeze us to a point that we reveal our highest loyalties. Loyalty can produce good results as well as evil results. Many examples in the Bible demonstrate both results: Judas Iscariot was loyal to his dreams of self-importance, power and wealth, instead of humility, poverty and service. When he realized that following Jesus would not fulfill his dreams, he betrayed Jesus for $12.60 (30 pieces of silver). For a while, King David was loyal to his passions for Bathsheba. He killed her husband, Uriah, who was one of his most loyal soldiers, so he could hide his illicit affair with Bathsheba and cover her subsequent pregnancy with the cloak of marriage. Peter swore his loyalty to Jesus was 100%, but when he learned that he might have to share a martyr’s death with Jesus, he denied three times that he even knew Jesus. The Philippian jailer was loyal to his job until an earthquake destroyed his jail, which suddenly changed his heart. Saul was loyal to his religion – faithfully persecuting apostate Jews (a.k.a. Christians) – until Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus. Subsequently, Paul proved to have unwavering loyalty to Jesus. He suffered extreme persecution from both Jews and Romans as he preached salvation through Jesus Christ. Eventually he had to choose between Jesus and government authorities. Nero sentenced him to death because of his decision to remain loyal to Jesus.

Loyalty means being constant and faithful, bearing true allegiance to something or someone. Are you loyal?

Parents Can Be Heroes Too!

Rambling Thoughts

“Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage.” (Psalm 27:14)

A great way to start a conversation with a Christian parent is to ask, “What is the single most courageous thing you have ever done in your lifetime?”

When most people think of courage, they think of heroic deeds – like those done on battlefields distant in time and geography; but, we need heroic courage if we are going to raise families according to the God’s principles and precepts.

Courage is demanded if we are to:

  • Establish godly standards and boundaries for how our sons and daughters are to relate to the opposite sex.
  • Impart God’s perspective of sexual identity for men and women in contrast to a culture that is promoting perverted distortions of what God created.
  • “Intrude” into the lives of our children when they sense something isn’t right.
  • Avoid conforming to the values of other Christian parents in terms of curfews, acceptable dress, movies, language, Internet use, etc.

Parental courage is needed if we want to raise a generation of young people who know how to withstand sexual temptation. It takes a battlefield mentality if we are going to give our children the kinds of standards they need to maintain sexual purity.

It takes courage to look our sons in the eye when they’re 13, 18 or 24 and ask them if they have been looking at pornography on the Internet; but, our sons need us to ask them. Dad, you need to be able to ask them with your own conscience clean.

It takes courage to talk to our sons straight about keeping their hands off the girls. And it takes courage to meet with a young man who wants to take one of our daughters out for the evening – asking him to keep his hands and lips off our daughter!

It takes courage to enforce dress codes for our daughters so that they present themselves as lovely and holy before the Lord – and guys; and, in order to not send an unintended message to boys at their school or church, or whoever she is dating.

It takes courage to look our daughters in the eye when they are 13, 18 or 24 and ask them if they have been looking at pornography on the internet; but, our daughters need us to ask them.  Mom, you need to be able to ask them with your own conscience clean.

The easiest thing to do is nothing. But that’s how battles are lost.

-Edited from thoughts by Dennis and Barbara Rainey

Peace

Rambling Thoughts

The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their separation from God, and recognize that he loves them in spite of all their failures; and, then accepts the one way he provides for a peaceful reconciliation – belief that Jesus paid it all, and that the only thing they have to do is believe.

The second peace, which is the fruit of the first, is truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…”. If Jesus is truth, and he is; and if the only way to God is through Jesus, and it is; then peaceful life starts with truth and is sustained by a loving commitment to truthfulness.

Someone once said, “This is the way of peace: overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”

Peace . . .

May we all discover the way – the Lord Jesus Christ – and may he give us peace!

 

The Lord is Good

Scripture

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Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Serve the Lord with gladness!

Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

and his courts with praise!

Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;

his steadfast love endures forever,

and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:1-5 ESV)

Someone Cares for You

Rambling Thoughts

Know that someone cares for you and your soul. No matter what country you come from, or what you look like, or even your lifestyle. God loves you. He wants to help you, and most importantly, to help you know His Son, Jesus Christ. This requires that you face some eternal truths about yourself and about God; about your present condition and eternity; and, about new life in Jesus. So, I urge you, please take some time and read the most important message ever written for your life!

It is found in the New Testament of the Bible. If you don’t have one, please let me know and I will send one to you at absolutely no cost to you. It will be my personal gift to you!  Why?  Because I am blessed to be a blessing!

Blessings!

4 Essentials for Creating a Disciple-Making Culture

Church Planting, Other Authors

4 Essentials for Creating a Disciple-Making Culture Lindy Lowry — October 4, 2012

When Winfield Bevins planted Church of the Outer Banks in Nags Head, N.C., a creative beach community on the North Carolina coast, discipleship quickly became one of the biggest challenges facing the new, rapidly growing church. Out of his efforts to address the problem came what Bevins calls an “organic discipleship process for the 21st century–the focus of his free eBook, “Grow: Reproducing Through Organic Discipleship”, Bevins says that organic discipleship rests on four essentials. In this interview, he breaks down these four areas, sharing practical ways his church carries them out and ultimately has implemented a discipleship process that has the 7-year-old church growing both deeper and wider, spiritually and numerically.

When did you realize you had a discipleship problem?

We parachuted into the community, didn’t know anyone, literally started with five people meeting in a home. Within a short time, we grew to several hundred people. Discipleship quickly became one of the biggest challenges facing our new church because we were growing so fast and needed to raise up leaders, which we weren’t doing very well. I began to see that numbers don’t necessarily equate to good spiritual health. So we made the decision to focus on growing from the inside by developing disciples instead of just growing our church numerically. We realized that for us to be healthy and survive, we would need to develop a discipleship process that would 1) encourage new believers and 2) develop them into fully devoted disciples of Jesus. Out of that beginning and some of the books I was reading, these nuggets began to come out of the trial and error and the grit we were experiencing as we planted and built the church. That’s how the organic discipleship process originated.

How would you define organic discipleship? How do you distinguish it from other discipleship processes?

Organic discipleship is about learning the natural rhythms of discipleship within your church context and developing a discipleship process unique to your own setting. It’s not a program or curriculum. When I started to study what Scripture says about discipling others, I realized just how much the Bible uses organic metaphors to describe spiritual growth: sowing and reaping, planting and watering, growing, bearing fruit. That resonated with me, and I began to think about the differences in “programming” discipleship vs. natural, organic growth that happens over time. We’re on an island and what might work in New York city or a larger city was not going to work for us. So we really tried to get back to the basic essentials of the Christian faith and focus on getting people to grow in their faith by getting them in the Scriptures. The simpler the process, the easier it was to make disciples. I’m not against programs per se. But programs end up kind of replacing the natural development of essential disciplines like reading Scripture and prayer. Programs are our manmade efforts to do what. The Holy Spirit does what only God can do. That’s actually kind of one of the exciting things about discipleship. You never know what God’s doing in someone’s life in that time. When we first moved to the Outer Banks, I took a busload of people to a baseball game. I was the designated driver, and 10 of the people out of the 15-passenger bus eventually became Christians. One of them became our youth pastor. I led him to Christ about six months after that trip. The Lord, if we’re sensitive to His leading, will actually lead us to people whom he’s already working on. And so it becomes not us trying to save people and make something happen. Instead, it’s really us partnering with God in what He’s already doing in people’s lives, which if you think about it, is really exciting because God’s already at work around us. So the organic approach is getting people back to just the simplicity of the Gospel, getting them back to the simplicity of just getting in the Bible and growing through the Word of God and fellowship.

Take us through the four essentials you say are integral to developing an organic discipleship process:

1) Gospel-centered. Being “Gospel-centered” means we are “grace-centered.” It means loving the people Jesus loves and reaching out to those rejected. A Gospel-centered church not only preaches the Gospel, but the Gospel must saturate every part of our church’s life. Each stage of our discipleship process should also be Gospel-centered. From assimilation to preaching and teaching, to counseling, to leadership development, the Gospel must be central. Even our worship should be Gospel-centered. Being Gospel-centered means that we focus on the simplicity of the message of Christ, keeping Him the center of all we do. Without the Gospel, discipleship will become works-based and will eventually dry up and die. Church leaders can use church growth principles to add people to the church, but only the Gospel can grow people into disciples of Jesus Christ.

2) Mission. Mission is the outreach impulse of making disciples in community. Without it, discipleship would be inward-focused. Our mission begins with understanding that God is a sending God, with a desire to see humankind and creation reconciled, redeemed and healed. Many Christians and churches teach and preach that missions are something we support or do, such as sending or supporting missionaries in other countries. This was the case 30 years ago. However in the 21st century, the mission field has come to us. We live in a post-Christian world where people simply don’t know the Gospel anymore. We are all called to be missional and share in the mission of God. How does your church carry out the value of mission? Our church has taught me the powerful meaning of being a missional community. In seven years, our church still doesn’t own a building. We are very much a community-oriented church. Keeping our members on mission is just a vital way to keep people growing and moving forward and sharing their faith.We’re currently involved in several community outreaches to reach unchurched people. We’ve adopted beach accesses that we clean once a month to show the community we care about the beaches. We began an art mentoring program that has reached hundreds of at-risk youth in our community and in South America. We’ve also hosted quarterly art shows that infuse art, music and coffee, and we opened an art gallery that hosts art shows and concerts to build bridges between the church and community.

3) Connectivity. The third element of the organic discipleship process is to develop pathways for people to build authentic Christ-centered community. The church community is the organic context in which disciples grow. Our role as leaders is to help facilitate connectivity and make sure it happens. As the church grows, it needs to shift from one to two leaders doing the ministry, but rather ministry should happen in community groups as people gather where they’re able to pray for each other and care for one another. If we’re going to make disciples for Christ in the 21st century, we have to discover, or rediscover, the power of biblical community.

4) Reproduction. There is no happier time than when a family is getting ready to have a baby. Likewise, churches are full of excitement and energy whenever they’re reproducing because they’re fulfilling their God-given purpose for existence. Reproduction is the ultimate goal of discipleship. We are called to select, train, and send missional disciples of Christ out in the world who will be able to repeat the process of discipleship. Experts say that church planting is the No. 1 way to reach unchurched people and make new disciples for Jesus Christ. Church planters are modern-day missionaries to North America.

Are there other ways churches can get involved with planting aside from daughtering a church?

One of the ways we’ve been able to reproduce as a church is to encourage and sponsor and help coach other church planters as they’re planting churches. Planting a church can be a lonely business. Nearly 80 percent of all church plants fail within their first year. One of the primary reasons is a lack of emotional support. Meet with a church planter, pray with him and take him to lunch or coffee. You also can help financially support a church plant. You can help pay a church planter’s salary for a year or partner with other churches in your region or community to plant a new church. You can also join a church planting network and get involved there. If you’re really brave, you can encourage people in your church to be part of a new planter’s launch team or part of the core group when the church launches—basically releasing people on mission. Finally, you can get involved through replanting or church revitalization. Very few churches have the honesty and humility to admit that it’s over and even less have the courage to do what it takes to replant. I tell leaders to pray and ask God if He may be leading you and your church to help a church replant.

You say that one of the contributing factors to the lack of authentic, Gospel-centered discipleship in North America is evangelism at the expense of discipleship. What do you mean by that?

With the rise of the North American modern evangelical movement in the 20th century came an over-emphasis on evangelism at the expense of discipleship. The goal of evangelism is disciple making. When Jesus said, “Make disciples,” the disciples understood it to mean more than simply getting someone to believe in Jesus and they interpreted it to mean that they should make out of others what Jesus made out of them. We need to bring evangelism and discipleship together. They’re really two sides of the same coin. We absolutely have to share our fatih with people but as we do, we’re discipling the people we’re winning to Christ. Christians have viewed discipleship as something they do on one hand and evangelism on the other.

I think that’s another helpful discussion: When does discipleship actually take place?

The discipleship process actually begins even before someone comes to Christ because you’re establishing and building relationships with people–many times, long before they even come to church. We need to rediscover the integration of evangelism and discipleship to fulfill the Great Commission and make 21st century disciples of Christ.

Lindy Lowry serves as Exponential’s editor and communications director. To submit ideas for articles and news coverage in Exponential’s weekly enewsletter, Church Planter Weekly, contact her at editorlindy@gmail.com.