Monday, December 31, 2012

"Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership" by Ruth Haley Barton (Top 20)

I was actually supposed to read this book over a year ago as part of my learning community in Chicago. Ironically, the busyness of summer ministry pulled me away from it, and it ended up on the shelf. This past summer (2012) I carved out time in the mornings to read through this book, and I am grateful that I did. This is a leadership book that I will often refer back to because of its emphasis on "life giving rhythms" for leaders, primarily seeking God's presence in the crucible of leadership. This was a timely and relevant book for me (a doer/achiever type). I would recommend it to all ministry leaders. Here are some "power quotes" from the book...

“Behind my heroic image of myself I saw my tiresome perfectionism, my resentment of those who did not try as hard as I did, and my huge appetite for approval…Drawn to care for hurt things I had ended up with compassion fatigue. Drawn to a life of servanthood, I had ended up a service provider.” (pg. 23)

“What would it look like for me to lead more consistently from my soul – the place of my own encounter with God – rather than leading primarily from my head, my unbridled activism, or my performance-oriented drivenness? What would it look like to find God in the context of my leadership rather than miss God in the context of my leadership?” (pg. 25)

“(Leadership tensions) There is the tension of being and doing, community and cause, truth-telling and putting the right spin on things. There is the tension between the time it takes to love people and the need for expediency. There is the tension between the need for measurable goals and the difficulty of measuring that which is ultimately immeasurable by anyone but God himself….There is the tension between the need for an easy discipleship process through which we can efficiently herd lots of people and the patient, plodding, and ultimately mysterious nature of the spiritual transformation process…The temptation to compromise basic Christian values – love, community, truth-telling, confession, and reconciliation, silent listening and waiting on God for discernment – for the sake of expedience is very great.” (pg. 27)

“But one of the things I know for sure is that those who are looking to us for spiritual sustenance need us first and foremost to be spiritual seekers ourselves. They need us to keep searching for the bread of life that feeds our own souls so that we can guide them to places of sustenance for their own souls. Then, rather than offering the cold stone of past devotionals, regurgitated apologetics or someone else’s musings about the spiritual life, we will have bread to offer that is warm from the oven of our intimacy with God.” (pg. 29)

“…he allowed his leadership challenges to catalyze and draw him into a level of reliance on God that he might not have pursued had it not been for his great need for God which he experienced most profoundly in the crucible of leadership…The discipline of solitude is a key discipline for all those who seek after God. It is the primary place where the leader’s soul is nourished.” (pg. 30-31)

“But at the heart of spiritual leadership is the capacity to notice the activity of God so we can join him in it. Amid the welter of possible distractions, an essential discipline for leaders to craft times of quiet in which we allow God to show us those things that we might otherwise miss. We need time for the chaos in our soul to settle so that we can turn aside to look at the great sights in our own life and seek understanding about what they mean.” (pg. 68)
“(On God’s calling on our life) It is to say yes to his summons to serve him in a particular way at a particular point in history. To say yes to our calling is one more step in the journey of faith which involves a glad, joyful self-surrender. It is living in the awareness that the most wonderful thing in the world is to be completely given over to a loving God.” (pg.79)

“What is God saying to me these days about my calling? …Is there any place where I am resisting who I am or have lost touch with who I am? Where am I still wrestling with God and needing assurance of His presence with me? Am I willing to say yes again?” (pg. 85)

“…the place of waiting is a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing…In solitude we learn to wait on God for our own life.” (pg. 98)

“God help us live within the limits of what you have called us to do. Help us live within the limits of who we are – both as individuals and as an organization. Help us give our very best in the field that we have been given to work and to trust you to enlarge our sphere of action if and when you know we are ready. Help us to know the difference between being driven by grandiose visions and responding faithfully to the expansion of your work in and through us.” (pg. 110)

“It is impossible to overstate how dangerous we can become as leaders if we are not routinely inviting God to search us and know us and lead us in a new way. It is impossible to overstate how needy we ourselves can become if we do not have times for allowing the healing love of God to touch our brokenness in ways that can restore us to health and wholeness.” (pg. 127)

“(when faced with decisions such as adding services, building a new building, and adding new ministry initiatives) When making decisions spiritual leaders ask, “How will this decision affect our quality of life, the quality of our relationships in community, our families, our attention to prayer and spiritual journeying, our ability to maintain sane rhythms of work and rest?” Spiritual leaders think these thoughts, ask these questions, and initiate conversations and forums for addressing these issues in a proactive way, rather than assuming that people can figure such things out by themselves.” (pg. 130)

“(leadership as intercession)Who would we be if the practice of intercessory prayer shaped our leadership? How might it change the dynamic between us and those we are leading if they knew that we are regularly and routinely entering into God’s presence with the intent to speak and lead from what transpires there?” (pg. 151)

“(your greatest freedom) freedom from being so driven by visions of future possibilities that you are distracted from seeking God in the here and now…the nearness of God is your ultimate good and you are not willing to go on without it.” (pg. 166)

“We affirm tat we are in our very essence a spiritual community gathered around the presence of Christ. What we do flows out of who we are in Christ. Learning to come together and stay together in unity is our first and most enduring task as we pattern our relationships after Christ’s relationships with his disciples. ‘He loved his own to the end (John 13:1; John 15 and 17).’ To compromise community would be to compromise our essence and then we would not have much that is of value to offer to others.” (pg. 176)

“(Rather than’s) I am leading from a self that is being transformed by my encounters with God in solitude and silence…I am discovering rhythms of work and rest, silence and word, stillness and action that God built into the universe for our well-being…I am operating out of a deep sense of God’s call upon my life…I am regularly and routinely carrying the people that I am leading into God’s presence and interceding on their behalf.” (pg. 211)

“Is it possible for a leader to have encountered God so richly that no matter what we are working toward here on this earth, we know we already have what we most deeply want – the presence of God, that which can never be taken way from us? Is it possible to get to a place where we are so given over to God that physical death is just one more step towards the intimacy and union we seek? - …”For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” – He was willing to stay faithful as long as that was needed, but he had come to a place of such union with Christ that everything else paled in significance.” (pg. 215)

If you are interested in buying this book, you can get it here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"The Disciple-Making Pastor" by Hull (Top 20)

I first got introduced to Bill Hull through his book "The Complete Book Of Discipleship" (which I also highly recommend!). That book is a comprehensive look at disciple making: a Biblical theology & philosophy, historical models of disciple making, and practically what it looks like today. "The Disciple Making Pastor," as its title indicates, focuses more on the role and responsibility of pastors in disciple making. I believe this is an important read in our given cultural church context in which pulpit ministry is celebrated/elevated. This book challenges pastors to open their homes and their lives to both non-believers and believers alike in order to give their (our) lives to making disciples. I especially appreciated the later chapters on the decentralization of the pastor's ministry, the pastor as coach, and how this looks in local bodies. If you want to check this book out you can get it here. Here are my top 20 quotes:

“The Great Commission has been worshiped but not obeyed. The church has tried to get world evangelization without disciple making.” (pg. 27)

“Eugene Peterson puts it this way: ‘Forming people in Christ is a slow work, so it can’t be hurried; it is an urgent work, so it can’t be delayed.” (pg. 33)

“The disciple making pastor is dedicated to placing disciple making at the very heart of the church. This requires three things: 1) Declare it from the pulpit, 2) publish it in church literature, and 3) model disciple making at the leadership level.” (pg. 44)

“Taking the Great Commission seriously means the church leaders themselves are evangelists. They share their faith; they make disciples. - …They have placed it at the heart of the church and do the most important thing in communicating its value; they model it.” (pg. 46)

“The culture (American) is individualistic; the church is to be strongly communal. The culture is impatient; the church is to be persevering. The culture is celebrity-ridden; the church is to be a culture of humility. The culture celebrates competence; the church’s first priority is dependence.” (pg. 63)

“The Great Commission without multiplication is evangelism paralyzed from the neck down.” (pg 69)

“(to) ‘make disciples’ includes the entire disciple-making process, from conversion to trained disciple maker.” (pg. 77)

“The church best glorifies God by making disciples, simply because fruit bearing believers glorify God (Matthew 28:28-20 → John 15:8).” (pg. 90)

“The work of pastors/teachers is to ‘prepare God’s people for works of service.’ (Eph 4:12) Simply stated, the preparation is designed to ‘build up’ (v. 12-14) the body so it may grow up (v. 15-16).” (pg. 113)

“It is a sad fact that the continuing crisis of Christians is that they don’t read their Bibles or pray very much. Therefore, they have a religious scrapbook understanding of their faith. This heightens the need for pastors to have a comprehensive understanding of the gospel. They need the ability to hold it in their own minds and also get the core of it into the minds (and hearts) of their congregation.” (pg 147)

“Scriptural convictions concerning disciple making must be proclaimed again and again. The effective disciple making pastor never allows the vision to slip from the people’s minds.” (pg. 153)

“One of the deepest rooted church pathologies is exhortation to action without a means to action. The ugly results are frustrated, guilty, angry Christians who give up on making their lives count for Christ.” (pg. 159)

“Not to train and unleash all willing members is the greatest pastoral sin.” (pg. 164)

“Only healthy disciples reproduce. If the church fails to make disciples it fails to multiply. If the church fails to multiply, it fails.” (pg. 168)

“Jesus advocates a two-fold choice: First, make yourself available for work in the harvest field; second, pray for God to send others into the harvest. Pray because it’s God’s harvest field. Pray because only God can convince someone to work in his field. Pray, because no one can recruit enough personnel from his sphere of influence alone. Pray for workers to enter the harvest field from all over the world.” (pg. 179)

“If Christians don’t become comfortable with outreach, Bible study is academic, prayer is boring, and fellowship is superficial. Without outreach, the church has failed, and Christians fail.” (pg. 218)

“People grow in the mundane, sometimes tough trenches of life. Spiritual growth comes an inch at a time; it consists of little daily battles over Scripture memory, prayer time, Bible reading, faithfulness to attend a group, or to share their faith. Without help, normal people cannot sustain protracted spiritual growth. Therefore, they are left to haphazard, sporadic growth that is generated by crisis or special events (on the need for small discipleship groups).” (pg. 219)

“The disciple-making pastor’s belief in and practice of the decentralization of pastoral care grows out of the NT’s most comprehensive pastoral job description, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. The text’s main thesis is that leadership has the role of preparing God’s people to do ministry. Pastoral care, one part of that ministry, is a work given to the entire body of Christ, not the clergy alone.” (pg. 223)

“There are several ways to express Jesus teaching method, and the one I have chosen contains six steps:
‘Come & See’ - 1) Tell them what & 2) Tell them why
‘Come and follow me’ - 3) Show them how & 4) Do it with them
‘Come and be with me’ - 5) Let them do it, & 6) Deploy them.” (pg. 245)

“Jesus has told them what must be done (make disciples), but in order to sustain commitment, he must give them a passion for why. - …Why disciple making, why dedication to multiplication? Because people need forgiveness, new life, to be rescued from the penalty for sin and eternal separation from their Creator.” (pg. 249)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Emotionally Healthy Church by Scazzero (Top 20)

My brother, Curtis Zackery, recommended this book to me and even bought me a copy. I was sold after the first chapter. I believe this is an important read for anyone serving on staff at a ministry (church or parachurch). This book caused healthy personal reflection for me, and is helping me dig deeper into how people who I serve in ministry truly grow in Christ. You can get a copy of the book here. Here are my top 20 quotes...

“The overall health of any church or ministry depends primarily on the emotional and spiritual health of its leadership. In fact, the key to successful spiritual leadership has much more to do with the leader’s internal life than with the leader’s expertise, gifts, or experience.” (pg. 20)

“(When resolving conflicts in community in a healthy way) This includes an awareness of how one’s family historically resolved conflict; one’s dominant conflict style – for example: avoidance, attacking, distraction, shutting down – a healthy awareness of one’s brokenness; and the ability to enter into other people’s perspective in a Christlike way.” (pg. 47)

“It is not possible for a Christian to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” (pg. 52)

7 Principles of An Emotionally Healthy Church
1) Look Beneath The Service (chapter 5)
2) Break the Power of the Past (chapter 6)
3) Live in Brokenness and Vulnerability (chapter 7)
4) Receive the Gift of Limits (chapter 8)
5) Embrace Grieving and Loss (chapter 9)
6) Make Incarnational Your Model For Loving Well (chapter 10)
7) Slow Down To Lead With Integrity (chapter 11)

“In emotionally healthy churches, people take a deep, hard look inside their hearts asking, ‘What is going on that Jesus Christ is trying to change?’” (pg. 71)

“The gospel says you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet you are more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope because Jesus lived and died in your place.” (pg. 83)

“(Because of the gospel) I don’t have to prove myself to anyone – which is how I was unconsciously living my life. I am perfectly loved and accepted by God because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for me.” (pg. 84)

“The knowledge that I stand before God as His beloved, because of Christ, has freed me to explore some of the disturbing and dark aspects of who I am.” (pg. 85)

“It is impossible to help people break free from their past apart from understanding the families in which they grew up. Unless we grasp the power of the past on who we are in the present, we will inevitably replicate those patterns in relationships inside and outside the church.” (pg. 96)

“We call come into the family of Jesus with broken bones, wounds, and legs shot up in the war of life. God’s intention is to heal our brokenness and patch up our wounds. He allows the scars and weaknesses to remain. We are then to go out and heal others as wounded healers. Discipleship then must include honest reflection on the positive and negative impact of our family of origin as well as other major influences in our lives. - …God’s invitation is to welcome Him into those areas so we might break free to live life as joyfully and freely as he intends.” (pg. 103)

“In emotionally healthy churches, people live and lead out of brokenness and vulnerability.” (pg. 114)

“Finally, two years before his death and perhaps after walking with Christ for thirty years, he is able to see clearly, ‘I am the worst (of all sinners) 1 Timothy 1:15.’ What happened? Paul had grown in his understanding of the love of God in the gospel.” (pg. 122)

“I learned that leadership is not always being the strong one; instead, it is being the weak one who is made strong by God alone.” (pg. 127)

“Emotionally healthy people understand the limits God has given them. They joyfully receive the one, two, seven, or ten talents God has so graciously distributed. As a result, they are not frenzied and covetous, trying to live a life God never intended. They are marked by contentment and joy (in Him).” (pg. 137)

“Understanding and respecting our boundaries and limits in one of the most important character qualities and skills leaders need in order to be long-term lovers of God and others.” (pg. 141)

“The process of forgiveness always involves grieving before letting go – whether you are the person giving forgiveness or asking for it. - …I understand now why people in grief commit reckless sins. They don’t know what else they can do to escape the pain of their present situation. They haven’t learned to grieve.” (pg. 165)

“To reject God’s seasons for grief and sadness as they come to us is to live only half of our lives. What makes this particularly tragic is that Jesus Christ came to set us free to engage life fully, not escape from its reality.” (pg. 169)

“The model and teaching (in Scripture) is for us to deal honestly and prayerfully with our losses and disappointments (big and small) and all their accompanying confusing emotions.” (pg. 170)

“In emotionally healthy churches, people intentionally follow the model of Jesus. They focus on loving well, recognizing that the indispensable mark of spiritual maturity is not about recognition, numbers, spiritual gifts, or biblical knowledge. The essence of a genuine spiritual life is to love – God, ourselves, and other people.” (pg. 180)

“It (incarnational presence) costs time, energy, and almost always, a disruption to our risk-free world.” (pg. 196)

“Cultivating an intentional life with our Lord Jesus requires intentionally focused time – for silence, prayer, meditation on Scripture, and reading. - …But work for God that is not nourished by a deep interior life with God will eventually be contaminated.” (pg. 206) - …”From this place of rest, our work is to flow.” (pg. 209)

Monday, December 17, 2012

"A Cross-Shaped Gospel" by Loritts (Top 20)

I have decided to review the books I have read this year, by blogging "20 key quotes" from each one. A good friend of mine recommended that I check out the sermon podcasts for Fellowship Memphis. It is a multi-ethnic church located in Memphis, TN. "A Cross-Shaped Gospel" is written by the lead pastor there, Bryan Loritts. I think this book is both inspiring and challenging as he lays out what a cross-centered, gospel saturated life looks like practically. Specifically, he looks at how the message of the Cross compels us to courageously and graciously cross lines of race, class, and political tribes. Here are the top 20 quotes that impacted me from this book (a highly recommended read):

“Jesus drew a parallel between the cross and life – a life that doesn’t just begin when I’m buried, but a life that begins in the present, the moment I give my life to Jesus and cling to the ‘old rugged cross.’” (Introduction)

“The good news, however, is that because of what Christ has accomplished on the Cross, when He died in our place for our sins, the dividing wall of hostility has been removed. - … Paul sees the gospel as providing both our reconciliation to God and our reconciliation to one another!” (pg. 25)

“You can’t reach out without first reaching up. But once you reach up to the Savior – or He reaches out to you – the response to His grace is to reach our to your neighbor.” (pg. 31)

“Loving God must be first, and our obligation to love our neighbor must be seen through the lens of our love for God.” (pg. 32)

“Diversity is a beautiful thing, but when we pursue it apart from the Cross of Christ, we are guilty of idolatry.” (pg. 60)

“Biblical community has always celebrated diversity, but because of the centrality of the gospel, diversity does not become a rallying cry; Jesus does.” (pg. 63)

“By far the most powerful racial diversity strategy a church can ever hope to have is the clear preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. - … Genuinely redeemed people engage the poor (Matthew 25), cross racial lines (Acts 10), and any other sinful barriers because they understand that the gospel is for all people.” (pg. 65)

In Revelation 5:9-10 there are 3 keys to diversity:
(1) Celebration of God
(2) Intentionality
(3) Sacrifice (being willing to give up our preferences
(pg. 67-71)

“What leaving margin (the gleaning system) really comes down to is the question of enough. Every follower of Jesus Christ must learn to ask the questions, “How much is enough?” Specifically, How much house is enough? How much is enough income? How much is enough clothes? How much is enough purses, shoes – savings even? These questions run counter to the society in which we live.” (pg. 81)

“The simple truth is, we will never build economically diverse lives or churches until we come to esteem all people as neighbors.” (pg. 90)

“Gospel living is done ultimately for the glory of God.” (pg. 95)
“When we see the glory of God as the apex of the gospel, and not our happiness or holiness, that changes everything…everything!” (pg. 98)

“True life, a life rich with meaning, can only come when we die to the idols of this world, embrace the gospel, and follow Jesus.” (pg. 99)

“Forgiveness is irrational. What makes the most sense is to settle the score, to get even, or to put up walls and ignore, all the while refusing to release the debtor of the offense. But when your infected with the gospel, your relationships are affected radically…The gospel becomes the only operating system that will propel us to generously forgive again and again.” (pg. 107)

“Majority culture leader: steward white privilege for the sake of all.” (pg. 120)

“The sacrifice of Jesus reminds us that the call to be Christ-followers is a call to a life of sacrifice, being misunderstood, and on occasion, times of great discomfort. A cross-shaped gospel involves a total revisioning of not only how we see the world, but also how we navigate relationships. The gospel is hardly just another tweet.” (pg. 121)

“The gospel nudges us to embrace a life of dis-ease.” (pg. 121)

“In the pantheon of American gods, comfort is right near the top, even in the church.” (pg. 123)
“We cannot worship comfort and cling to the old rugged cross at the same time. It’s only when we turn our backs on comfort and go the way of the gospel that we will be able to serve others and bring ultimate honor to God.” (pg. 129)

“If you’re like me (when hard times hit), your temptation may be to turn inward to look to yourself and your own network and resources to ‘figure it out.’ I want to encourage you, don’t turn inward: focus on the cross. Let Christ be your focus point.” (pg. 139)

“Paul’s preaching – and living – the gospel shook the economic, cultural, and religious foundations of Ephesus. I want this for my neighborhood. I want this for your workplace, athletic league, schools, and community. I want to so preach and live Jesus Christ that I leave huge gospel footprints wherever I go, being an agent of change. - … “(to often) we settle for our comfortable and normal lives and miss out on the impossible movements of God. We will never seen our own Ephesus changed until we believe.” (pg. 159-160)

“Do our neighbors know that we love them? …do they feel compassion from us? The people we long to see transformed must know that we care deeply for them. The people of Ephesus knew Paul loved them, and that opened their hearts to the truth of the gospel that he shared with them, setting the stage for citywide transformation. May the same be true of us.” (pg. 164)

If you are interested in buying "A Cross-Shaped Gospel" you can purchase it here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Soma Communities (a call to Be the Church)

Soma Communities - Tacoma, WA from Verge Network on Vimeo.

(This video is about 15 minutes long, and is WORTH your time. What I have shared below is from the video.)

There is so much in this video that resonates with my heart. I have probably watched it five times now since my good friend Allan sent it to me. I took notes as I watched it today, and here are some of the key thoughts/points from the video that really stuck with me and that I am still chewing on (I am mostly paraphrasing for the video below)...

Recovering our sense of "sentness"
We are to live like missionaries HERE (wherever 'here' is) rather than thinking that missionaries always go somewhere else.

To live life on mission in the every day NOT just for 2 hours on Sunday
To BE God's people wherever we are
To Be Jesus' body filling the city...filling every place with His presence
To be the people of God all week

Regularly asking God: Who have you sent us to? or What place have you sent us to? And then responding by asking, "How are we going to radically reorient our lives for the sake of reaching those people?"

This isn't an event (this is a lifestyle). This missional lifestyle is a Reorientation of our lives in response to the Gospel.

The Importance of Multiplication
If you don't have mission, you are an unhealthy family with no reproduction taking place. Healthy disciples make more disciples. Healthy leaders make more leaders.
Healthy churches multiply themselves. Multiplication is at the very heart of who we are.

Most churches are orphanages. They know how to have babies and they have a couple of dads and moms for all the babies, but not enough to care for them well. They don't send them off to start new families. They become a perpetual orphanage.

A Broken Heart
"When I think about my city...and the cities of this breaks my heart (to think of so many people who don't know the love of the Father)."
We must ask God to give us a bigger heart for our city, a bigger heart for the lost.
It's about God's glory and lost people who don't know the love of the Father.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

“Prayer Walks, Football, & the Kingdom”

Last fall as a pastoral team we began praying for open doors of ministry at Richmond High School. One morning we visited the school and introduced ourselves to the principals. They shared some of the volunteer needs at the school and gave us a walking tour. During that initial walking tour we were introduced to a teacher, whom we later learned is another local pastor. He then invited us to begin prayer walking at the school with him one morning each week. We began meeting him on Wednesday mornings at 7am to walk the hallways – praying for the administrators, teachers, and students. Around that same time I learned that one of my former co-worker’s (in Chicago) brother is the head coach of the Richmond High School football team. I set up a meeting with him, and we discussed ways in which our church could serve the football team – ie tutoring, mentoring, team meals, etc. Although nothing materialized last school year after our meetings, we re-visited the conversation this past summer. He asked if we were still interested in hosting team meals each week for the football team. He also asked if we (the pastors) would give short chapel talks after the meal each week. We responded enthusiastically. It almost seemed too good of an opportunity to be true.

Each week this past football season (10 weeks all together) a small team of people from our church gathered in our kitchen to prepare and serve the team of 30 players and 6-7 coaches. It was encouraging to see how this “team ministry” mobilized a group of folks from our church. There was a lot of love put into preparing and serving each meal. Both the players and the coaches were very appreciative for the hospitality they received each time they entered the doors of our fellowship hall.

Our chapel messages focused on themes such as unity, hope, endurance, sacrifice, etc. By God’s grace we attempted to communicate Biblical principles and encouragement in a way that connected to their lives on and off the field. Pastor Aaron even had the opportunity to share his personal testimony of life transformation through his encounter with Christ. We often times ended messages with thought provoking questions about their purpose and identity as young men, with the hopes of ongoing dialogue and personal reflection. We believe that seeds were planted through this time together, and we continue to pray for both the young men and the coaching staff.

In the next couple of weeks I will be meeting with the head coach to evaluate our collaboration this season and to plan and dream about future partnership between our church and the football program. Please pray with us that relationships with the players and coaches would continue to grow, and that God might use this partnership for Kingdom impact here in Richmond.

Monday, October 22, 2012

October Praise & Prayer

(A sister from our church gave us free tickets to a Cal Berkeley football game. We had a great day with Aaron & Isaiah Roy!)

(Family time outside of Chinatown in Vancouver)

Praises (Praise God with us for…)

A great start to our AWANA Club. We have been averaging 20 clubbers our first few weeks, and our volunteer turnout from our church has been very encouraging. (Please continue to pray for our club that meets on Thursday nights.)

A restful fall getaway with my parents to Vancouver, British Columbia. It was a perfectly timed get away, and it was very refreshing for Josie and I.

The opportunity to take Bible classes together through the Downline Institute. We are so grateful to have the chance to get this training together!

The “Red Letter Series” and how God’s Word has been challenging us, and showing us our need for Jesus. You can listen to the sermons here.

(Josie enthusiastically "sets the tone" for this AWANA night!)

(Some of our TNT boys at the end of Bible time at AWANA)

Prayer requests (Please pray with us for…)

Balance for Josie and I (time with the LORD, ministry, work, classes, exercise, intentional time together, community)

Our Halloween Outreach on Wednesday October 31st. We are going to stand on the street corners surrounding our church to pass out candy, and also organize games for the kids. We are praying that this intentional relationship presence on this high traffic night would be a great opportunity to serve our community, and build new relationships.

A Christ-centered unity amongst the leadership of our church that would be contagious in the body.

For unity in our Nation and in the American church as we head into this election season. Pray with us that we would all love democrats, republicans, and independents well!

The final two team meals and chapel talks with the Richmond High School Oilers. Please pray that seeds would continue to be planted, and that relationships would be built. Coach Merriweather and I will also be talking about other ways in the future that we can collaborate to build into the lives of the young men.

(Here are some of the Richmond Oilers after their first victory of the season this past Friday!)

(These are some of the teens that I spend time with and speak to every Tuesday night at the Bay Area Rescue Mission's Youth Outreach program.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Justified - That's Good News!

I need to hear this every day! I need to share this with others every day!

Monday, October 08, 2012

God's Restoration Work

Every Saturday (for the last 6 years or so) our church has hosted a short, simple worship service and served a free breakfast to the community. This service, which initially began as an act of mercy and compassion to one homeless man, has literally been the engine of our church. It kept the church alive when it was close to closing its doors (in 2007), it helped ignite the relaunch (in 2008-2009), and it continues to be our "first point of contact" with many of our brothers and sisters who are now active in our church. (I love that care and concern for the under-resourced has been and continues to be a part of the DNA of our church.)

In the last year I have built relationships with men in their 40s, 50s, & 60s who live on the street. Each of them have a unique story. Each of them have infinite worth in the eyes of God even though society might think otherwise. My ongoing relationship with these men reminded me of a short chapter in Bob Lupton's book "Theirs Is The Kingdom" entitled 'The Image of God.' You can read it below:

Behold an infant. A normal man-child in most respects. A kind-natured child. A child with promise and potential. Watch him as he enters a rancid, smoke-filled world that resounds with the shouts and crashes of parents in conflict. Listen to him as he begins to compete for affection and food, and find both forms of nourishment in short supply. His cries and soon his words become demanding. He pushes and grasps for strong boundaries that will assure him he is safe and loved, but finds only weak indulgence. No clear limits. No consistent discipline. Just impulsive beatings and permissive disinterest from parents preoccupied with their own survival. He begins to question his own worth. School confirms his suspicions. He drops out. He roams the streets at will, disguising his own fear as nonchalance.

Behold, a young man. A kind-natured, strong, undisciplined young man. Watch him as he falls in love, marries, and starts a family of his own. See his dreams begin to crumble as he loses one job, then another. He is evicted from a string of dingy apartments. His neighbors and "friends" spread rumors of child abuse and deprivation. The county takes four of his children. His wife loses respect for him. He is falsely accused of beastiality, arrested, and throw in jail. Watch now as inmates and officials violate him. Watch as the last glimpse of dignity is choked out.

Behold a man. A broken man, scarcely forty. Parents dead. Rejected by his family. He walks the streets alone, head bent, shoulders stooped, hair matted, teeth rotting, drool running down his unshaven chin. A kind-natured man now babbling foolishly a salad of loosely connected thoughts and phrases.

"Worthless, but good hearted," people say. Except when the volcano of hurt inside him erupts in rage. Then his eyes become wild. He claws and bats at his wife and remaining children. In time the wildness and heavy breathing subside, and he returns to his subhuman existence. He is prideless, worth less to his wife and children than the social worker that issues their food stamps.

Watch now as a miracle unfolds. A metamorphosis! The wind of the Spirit of God blows through and about Lester's life. A man made in the image of God and reduced to nearly animal form is slowly being restored. God begins to convince Lester that he has worth, that he is loved.

The message comes from many sources. A family who invites Lester and his family for a picnic. A business man who continues to hire, fire, and rehire Lester on a job, insisting on a standard of responsible work yet holding on to Lester with firm love. People who notice and praise Lester when he is bathed, shaved, or wearing clean clothes. A person who accepts a gift from Lester without chiding him for "taking food out of his children's mouths." A minister who prays with Lester. A counselor who intervenes to cool flaring family tempers and help Lester expose his festering hurt and anger to the sunlight of God's acceptance. The people of God, the Church, become actors in the unfolding drama of re-creation while the wind of the Spirit breaths in new life.

What potential is confined within the unattractive shell we know as Lester? Who knows save the Creator himself? But of this we are certain: when Lester prays or weeps with joy, when he caresses his baby boy, we see the image of God.

I see God slowly at work in some "Lester's" here. I pray that we as a church continue to rally around men like him with extended family, unconditional love, prayer support, true friendship, encouragement, job & employment networks, advocacy, Biblical truth & encouragement, family assistance, etc (Gospel in word & deed). I just know that God loves "Lester's."

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Praying for Brian

(This is Brian after a recent surgery on his lungs.)

Over two years ago my brother-in-law's brother (my sister's husband's brother if that's easier to follow) was diagnosed with ALS aka Lou Gehrig's disease. I will quote from my brother John's recent email that states,

"When I first heard the news of this diagnosis, I had no idea the severity of this disease. Literally, all I knew was that Lou Gehirg, the famous baseball player of the past, died from the disease that is now named after him. After finding out more on the disease and hearing from my sister, we all came to know that this diagnosis was very bleak. In fact, the average life of an ALS patient after being diagnosed is 3 to 5 years. Brian just turned 32 years old and has a beautiful wife and daughter.

He made a very profound video on his life and new circumstance which you can watch below:

IMAGINE (a film about ALS) from Brian Schnurstein on Vimeo.

Putting that into perspective is a very humbling thing. There is no cure for ALS, and at this time there is no known medicine to slow the disease process.

My brother-in-law, Ray Schnurstein, asked me this past winter if I'd be interested in running the Chicago marathon with him and his other brother Steve. This would allow us to show support for Brian, while at the same time, help raise awareness that this disease requires further research into finding a cure. I ran the Kalamazoo marathon a few years ago, but this is a chance to run and make a difference during an awesome event. If there is any way you could donate to this effort I would really appreciate it, and so would every ALS patient, like Brian Schnurstein, who are disheartened by the lack of progress that research has shown.

You can donate directly on my ALS page, by clicking on this link."

I recently donated towards my brother's run, and the money will go towards ALS research. I would encourage you to do the same.

I also ask that you continue to pray with me for Brian (and his wife Lindsey and their daughter Kylie)! I continue to ask the Lord (who is more than able) to heal Brian! Would you join me in prayer?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September Praise & Prayer

(Josie & I with our neighborhood crossing guard on our "first day of school" - first day of online class:))

(1) We began our online Biblical training course (Downline Institute). It has been SO good thus far. God has really been "messin us up" in each class, and we finish each one feeling challenged and encouraged.

(2) We closed on the condo in Chicago (short sale)! Thank you for praying for this over the course of the last year!

(3) We have hosted four team meals and given four chapel talks, thus far for Richmond High School's football team. We are beginning to build relationships with both coaches and players.

(4) We had a great eye glass pick-up/AWANA carnival on Saturday August 25th. It was a great opportunity to love on our city and continue to build new relationships.

(5) September is our birthday month! My birthday was on the 7th, and Josie's is on the 27th. We both turn 35. We are praising God for another year, and for His faithfulness to us.

(Josie and I went out to the Boilerhouse restaurant here in Richmond for my birthday dinner.)

Prayer Requests
Please pray with us...
(1) Our AWANA Club kicks off on Thursday September 27th! Please pray with us that we would have the right amount of committed volunteers. Please pray in advance for the children and families we will serve this year through our club.

(2) That seeds would be planted as we give the chapel talks to the football team each week. Also, please pray that relationships will continue to be strengthened with the players and coaches.

(3) Please pray for both of our discipleship groups (Josie's is on Tuesday evening & mine on Sunday evening). Pray that the men and women we disciple would continue to grow in their pursuit of Christ, and that disciple makers would be raised up.

(4) That we would continue to be impacted by the Downline Institute class, and that we would be intentional to pass on what we learn in class each week.

(5) That Jesus would be our first love, and that marriage would be our first ministry.

(Mr. AWANA visited our church in late August to challenge us to "be heroes" to the youth in our community by volunteering at AWANA.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

August Praise & Prayer

(Atop Mt. Sacajawea with Jordan, Aryianna, & Eddie Longs)

Praises (We praise God for...)
(1) A refreshing time of ministry and vacation in Montana! I shared some reflections here and here.
(2) We have a renter for our condo in Branson! Also, we have a closing scheduled for our condo in Chicago on Thursday morning!
(3) An amazing eye screening ministry during mid July (you can see the write-up here)!
(4) The completion of the first phase of our gym rehab at the church! We put a new gym floor in and painted all of the walls!
(5) Josie just accepted a part time physical therapy position with a Bay area company!
(6) A new partnership developing with the Richmond HS football team! We will be hosting team meals and doing chapel talks for the varsity team.

Prayer Requests (Please pray with us...)
(1) That we would enjoy, delight in, and rest in God.
(2) For our condo closing in Chicago on Thursday morning.
(3) For wisdom as Josie balances 2 part time jobs, online class, and ministry involvement.
(4) For our upcoming eye glass pick up day and AWANA carnival on Saturday August 25th. We are praying that we would be able to build new relationships with families on this day!
(5) For Josie and I as we begin an online Biblical training program called the Downline Institute (you can see the write up here).
(6) For the upcoming team meals/chapel talks, and that our church would be an encouragement to the coaching staff and players.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Back To School

This coming school year Josie and I are going back to school! Beginning the first week of September, we will be students in the Downline Ministries online institute. It is a 9 month program with four hours of class time each week. Here is a brief description of the program from their web site:
"Downline is a ministry that exists to equip and unleash Christians in the area of disciple-making. One of the great tragedies in our day is that tens of thousands of Christians sit in churches week after week without Christ’s vision and strategy for impacting the globe. Downline seeks to come alongside churches and aid them in the training and equipping of that army to march. ONE of the avenues through which DL accomplishes its mission is a nine month intensive training program for clergy and lay leadership called the Downline Institute. The Downline Institute's purpose is to equip these lay leaders for multiplicative, multi-generational impact through disciple-making."

We are both very excited to have this learning/growing experience together. Over the course of the year we will cover 3 main units: an overview of the Bible, disciple making, and Biblical manhood/womanhood. Our homework assignment each week will be to teach someone else what we have learned in class that week. Our prayer is that God will grow us both as disciple makers as we dig into His Word together this coming school year, and as we continue to invest in the lives of others. Please pray for us as we begin this journey.

Below is a video that further explains the Downline Institute...

Downline Ministries from Downline Ministries on Vimeo.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Mission Cultivates Community: Montana Gleaning #2

Another thing that I have observed through my ongoing relationship with brothers and sisters at Springhill Pres is that "mission cultivates community." I have seen this happen at their church over the years through our interaction with them. Each year a group of families from their church are mobilized to participate in our week together. They open their homes and they open their lives to us (and to youth from Chicago and next year youth from Richmond). This mission each summer has energized the congregation. In addition, it has brought the congregation closer together. They plan the week together. They pray for the week together. They serve together over the course of the week. Afterwards, they debrief and celebrate what God has done together. Mission pulls us together.

This has been the testimony of Christian Layman Church as well (the church who collaborated with us on the eye screening). One of their key leaders shared with us that prior to engaging in the eye screening ministry together there was very little genuine community at their church. Most of them simply "did church" together without "doing life" together. Then 3-4 summers ago they began doing the eye screening in collaboration with World Impact. The eye screening ministry energized and mobilized their church. Nearly the whole congregation rallied around it. This mission cultivated community amongst their church. Mission bonded them together. They had served "in the trenches" together, and in the process had become a tight knit family.

There is a danger in our churches (and small groups) today of simply becoming Biblical consumers. We come together to receive great messages and great lessons. We may even take intentional steps towards building community towards one another. However, if we do not go on mission together (and consistently do ministry together), our efforts towards community will often fall short and remain shallow. I think we see this clearly in the early church in the book of Acts. They experienced counter-cultural community in the midst of life-giving, risk taking mission. I pray that we would see this happen more and more in our churches.

I would love to have some interaction on this. Any thoughts?

Discipleship, Music, & Crossing Bridges

Today I received an email from Moody Bible Institute (where I attended graduate school) that highlighted one of their students who is actively serving in ministry in Chicago. The student highlighted happens to be my former roommate, co-worker, and brother CW. I just wanted to share the write up that is included on Moody's web site as well. Check out the write up below...

Reaching Urban Teens through Music and God’s Love

Anyone who meets CW Allen, senior Communications major, will hear about his heart for God and for the youth of Chicago. During his years at Moody, he has invested time and energy with Sunshine Gospel Ministries, located in the Woodlawn community of Chicago, showing the love of Christ to urban teens.

Besides working with the youth at Sunshine Gospel Ministries, CW is helping to start a recording studio as a part of the ministry. He believes that this new outreach will draw more kids into the center to hear about Jesus. This studio is a perfect ministry for CW because it combines his love of God with his passion for music. It also allows him a way to reach teens who might never otherwise learn about God's love.

He knows from personal experience that in addition to the obvious needs of these urban teens for safe entertainment and caring adults, their primary need is to know God and His eternal plan for their lives.

CW Allen grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Raised by parents who were addicted to drugs, CW did not know God or expect to have a future in ministry. It was only when an older cousin began spending time with him that the subject of his eternal future came up. CW is grateful to his cousin for sharing the gospel with him.

As CW grew in his love for God and developed his talent in music, he began to express his faith through writing and recording music. At Moody, CW realized that God had blessed him with a creative visual imagination, which led him to major in Communications.

He says he has found his courses practical and hands-on and says they have helped fill in many gaps in his skills. In addition, CW says his theology and Bible classes have deepened his grasp of doctrine. But he’s most grateful for the closeness he feels with his professors who care about him in a personal way.

"Once a professor pulled me aside and asked if everything was okay. I had been working 30 hours per week and was falling behind. I appreciated it a lot," he says. "It makes it so much easier to go to class with teachers like that."

Outside the classroom, CW focuses on bridging gaps between students from different ethnicities. As a leader of the student group Embrace, he shares with the Moody community about African-American culture and the issues students of color face.

"I have the ability to cross bridges," he says, "so I appreciate having time to spend with brothers and sisters who aren’t like me, because I’m not always going to be in an urban context. Moody has allowed me to meet different people and get to know them."

On Aug. 27, CW will begin the fall semester of his senior year at Moody. Will you join us in praying for CW, as well as the 3,000 other Christian ministry leaders who are preparing to start classes at Moody’s campuses in Chicago, Ill.; Spokane, Wash.; and Plymouth, Mich.? Praise God for these men and women who are committed to serving Christ and His Church around the world.

I am really proud of CW, and I am excited to see how God is going to continue to work in and through he and his new wife (teammate) Jacqui!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Retire Into Ministry - Montana Gleaning #1

In the above picture: one of my "retired role models" (he may be semi-retired) Joe Nelson

This was my 11th summer making the trip to Bozeman, MT and connecting with our family at Springhill Presbyterian Church. Each experience with our brothers and sisters at Springhill has been unique, and each trip has been uplifting in different ways. What I'm about to share is something that I have noticed each of the 11 years, but for some reason spoke to me louder this year then it has in others. The concept of "retiring into ministry" is something that I am seeing at Springhill Pres that I hope becomes normative in churches across the states. Every year I spend time with and get to know others who are in their late 50's, 60's, and 70's. They have retired vocationally, but they are now more engaged than ever in ministry. In other words they are no longer engaged vocationally or professionally, but they are very much engaged missionally.

Too often in our culture people reach retirement age and then "coast" for the last 15-20 years of their life. This is both expected and encouraged. The message/mindset seems to be "you worked hard all of your life, therefore you have earned the right to just chill." Sadly, this cultural norm has also become normative in the church. I don't blame this completely on cultural expectations however. I also believe our churches have minimized the involvement of more "seasoned" saints, in favor of more of a youth movement (we need both).

What I see at Springhill is retired men and women fully engaged in the mission and vision of the church. The main overseer of the "Urban Kid Ministry" that we participate in every summer is 72 years old and has been actively involved since its inception. I see retired brothers and sisters teaching classes, seeking to be an encouragement to college students, ministering at local nursing homes, serving on key missional activities of the church, mentoring young mothers and fathers (and encouraging younger married couples), and lending their business expertise to young "start-ups."

How does seeing this impact me?
1) I don't ever want to retire in the American Dream type of way. Lord willing, as long as the Lord gives me a strong body and a sound mind I want to run hard for Him. My older brothers in Montana have given me a model to look at and follow.

2) At the church I co-pastor I want to be intentional in pursuing multi-generational discipleship, mission, and community. A healthy church and community needs this.

(In this short video John Piper talks about abandoning retirement as the reward of your life.)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

God Sightings At The Eye Screening

(The above video is a picture slideshow that one of the men from Christian Laymen Church put together!)

This past week was such a good week!! Monday through Thursday we hosted a free eye screening at our church in collaboration with Christian Laymen Church (CLC). CLC had put on a similar eye screening the last three summers in Oakland. Late last summer one of our pastors, Aaron Roy, asked the leadership team if they would consider doing it in Richmond. We are so thankful that the Lord allowed our two churches to partner in this ministry! It was one of the best ministries I have ever participated in. In 4 days, 466 people had their eyes examined and had the opportunity to receive free glasses!! Let me just share some short snippets of how God was at work this week.

One Body
The volunteer team this week consisted of people from our church (LHNC), CLC, and a few other bay area churches. The diversity of the body of Christ was on full display. One of the men we served was from a different faith background. He shared how he was growing weary of seeing so much racial discrimination and prejudice within his religious system. He commented on how he had never seen such a diverse group of people serve another diverse group of people in such a unified and loving way!

Drive-by Gospel
On one of the afternoons there were approximately 30 people already in line, 1.5 hours early. We had provided chairs for the first 40 or so people in line, so they were all seated at this time. All of the sudden a car pulled up, and a young guy (probably in his 20s) got out and stood in front of the people. He got everyone's attention and then proceeded to share his testimony of how he came to know Christ. He shared for about 5 minutes, and then encouraged everyone to look to Jesus for salvation. When he finished he went back to his car and was ready to drive off. (I flagged him down to introduce myself and ask him what church he was from).

Building Bridges
Since moving in here we have been trying to build relationships with several of our neighbors. One family in particular (of another faith background), we have been praying for and trying to establish trust. On Sunday evening my discipleship group and I went door to door passing out flyers in the neighborhood. I intentionally went by myself to this family, explaining what our church was doing and inviting them to come. The second day of the eye screening several of them came! Both adults and kids received vouchers for glasses. On the final day of the screening, they made Josie and I dinner and invited us to come over and pick it up! This was a huge answered prayer!

A Huge Provision
I met a couple with a young child who shared that they were struggling financially. The woman had recently lost her job, and they had been struggling to make ends meet. They shared that this free eye care was a huge provision for them! I also learned that she was a preacher's daughter, but that they had been disconnected from a church family for several years. I invited them to come and check our church out, and I really believe they will come. (Several other people also shared: 1) what a huge blessing this was and 2)that they had been praying/looking for a church home).

Church Family
Before the eye screening we (the pastors and I) had two meetings with the program staff at the Bay Area Rescue Mission, inviting them to bring men and women to the eye screening. They were very enthusiastic about this opportunity, and were thankful that we reached out to them. The first three days of the eye screening they made several trips to us, dropping off men and women from the shelter. I really believe that this communicated to both the mission staff and the shelter residents that we are a church that desires to be a church family for men and women who are either homeless or in transition.

Our church was both energized and mobilized by the opportunity to both host and serve at this event! So many of our church family volunteered their time in both sacrificial and meaningful ways. One sister commented to me that after volunteering this week she felt more at "home" at our church. One brother, who is normally very quiet around people he doesn't know, really came out of his shell and was very intentional about making people feel welcome at our church. Another brother faithfully arrived each day at 7:30am and served all day long as both a translator (into Spanish) and greeter. It was so exciting to see everyone serving together, and with such enthusiasm.

Today was our first church service after the eye screening. We had one of the biggest Saturday morning crowds that I have ever seen (in my almost year here). Several of the people whom I met at the screening were there this morning. I anticipate that we might have some additional visitors tomorrow as well. In addition, was asked people to fill out contact cards so that we could follow up with them this coming week. Approximately 90% of the people who attended the screening filled out a contact card. So we have our work cut out for us in the coming weeks! We are so grateful for this partnership with CLC, and for the opportunity we had this past week to serve together and to bless the city of Richmond! I believe God was glorified, and by God's grace we were an answer to Jesus' prayer(John 17 - that they would be one so that the world might know!).

Friday, July 20, 2012

"But God"

We recently completed an 8 week "But God" series at our church! I would really encourage all of you to check out the messages here. This series really highlighted the story of redemption that flows through all of Scripture!

I preached the final message in the series from Ephesians 2:4-5 on how God brought death out of life. Here is the outline below...

"But God"
Ephesians 2:4-5

I. Dead (Ephesians 2:1-3)
1. Dead (in our trespasses and sins)

2. Disobedient
a) Following the world

b) Following the devil

c) Following the flesh

3. Deserving wrath

“Just when things look the most desolate, Paul utters the greatest short phrase in the history of human speech: “But God!”

II. But God
1. Mercy
2. Love
3. Grace

III. Life
-John 11:25, John 5:24, John 10:10, John 14:6, 1 John 5:12

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Best Friends"

Here is a little encouragement/inspiration to "be there" for your friends! :) Please enjoy "Best Friends" by Krispy Kreme. You're welcome!

Sunday, July 01, 2012

July Praise & Prayer

(Video: The transformation of our gym has begun!)

Praises (We praise God for...)

1) The Lord's faithful and timely provision of our needs!

2) The opportunity I had this past week to work with the youth at the Bay Area Rescue Mission's "King's Club." I loved getting to know both the kids and the staff there, and hope to continue to serve them in different capacities.

3) Our gym rehab has begun! We have made great progress thus far, and Lord willing we will be putting in the new floor this week!

4) Our discipleship groups, and the work that God is doing in and through us. We are being stretched as leaders, and we are seeing people's passion for the Lord, His word, and making disciples grow!

Prayer Requests (Pray with us for...)

1) That we would depend fully on the Lord (John 15:5) in our marriage and in our ministry.

2) For our upcoming eye screening (July 16th through 19th). Over the course of 4 days, we hope to serve 400 Richmond residents! Please pray that the Lord would provide adequate staff (optometrists), volunteers, and people to be served. Pray with us that this would impact lives for Christ! (See eye screening video below...)

3) That we would continue to grow as disciple makers.

4) That I would be able to sell my condo (in Chicago), and that Josie would be able to rent her condo (in Branson).

5) I will be preaching the weekends of July 7-8, 21-22, & 28-29. Please pray for my time of preparation - that the Lord would challenge me with what He would lead me to share. Also, pray that Christ would be exalted every time I preach. You can listen to our messages here if you are interested.

6) For continued planning, preparation, and leader recruitment for AWANA (It will launch this fall!).

(Video: This helps explain the mission & vision of the eye screening. This is the first time, this ministry has come to Richmond.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Gospel All (Gospel Shaped Prayer)

Here is my outline from the message I shared at Lawton Evangelical Mennonite Church on Sunday June 10th. You can listen to the message here. I hope it is an encouragement to you.

1 Timothy 2:1-7
First of all, then I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for ALL people, for kings and ALL who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires ALL people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for ALL, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this (testimony to the Gospel) I was appointed a preacher and an apostle, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

I. He gave Himself for ALL - v.5-7

(1)Jesus is our Intervention (mediator)!
Mediator = one who intervenes between two, either in order to make or restore peace and friendship, or form a compact, or for ratifying a covenant

(2) Jesus is our ransom!
Ransom = refers to purchasing someone’s release

II. His heart is for ALL - v.4

1 Timothy 1:15 = The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Romans 9:1-3 = …that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ, for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

III. (Therefore) Pray for ALL! - v.1-3

“'All men' makes it clear that no person on earth is outside the influence of believing prayer. This means we should pray for the unsaved and the saved, for people near us and people far away, for enemies as well as friends." - Weirsbe

"Prayer not only changes people, situations and even the course of history, but also those who pray! It is dangerous for the enemy and also 'dangerous' for you." Patrick Johnstone

Disciple Making For Life

Below is my outline from the message I preached at New Hope Fellowship on Sunday June 3rd. I hope you are encouraged by it!

2 Timothy 2:1-2

I. Gospel Endurance
v.1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus

His exhortation to endure is rooted in the saving work of Christ!

His grace saves us (2 Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 2:8-9)
His grace strengthens us (2 Timothy 2:1; 2 Cor. 12:9)
His grace sends us (2 Timothy 2:2)

II. Gospel Multiplication

1) Evangelism (implied)
Matthew 28:19 “make disciples”
Matthew 4:19 “fishers of men”

2) Equipping
2 Timothy 2:2a and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses

Paul spent intentional time with Timothy!

(a) The content of the message (Gospel Content)
-2 Timothy 1:13; 2 Timothy 2:2, 2 Timothy 3:10

(b) The character of the man (Gospel Character)
-2 Timothy 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:8

3) Empowering (sending)
2 Timothy 2:2b entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Paul sent Timothy out (1 Cor. 16:10-11; Acts 19:22)!

Paul had the vision of a disciple maker! In these verses, we see 4 generations of disciples (Paul→ Timothy → faithful men → others)

Making Disciples involves 3 components:
Evangelism → Equipping → Empowering
Deliverance → Development → Deployment

Closing Challenge: Are we making disciples?
There are 2 types of people:
(those who hear this message and think) I could never do that!
*Who are the "Pauls" you could link up with?

(those who hear this message and think) I should be doing that!
*Who are the "Timothys" you could intentionally spend time with?
*Who are the nonbelievers in your life you could intentionally spend time

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June Praise & Prayer

(the family at Carson's baseball game)

Yesterday, we returned from our roughly 10 day "tour" of the Midwest!:) We had an amazing time visiting with family, friends, and supporters! This morning, we are both very thankful for the opportunity God gave us to make this trip. As we get our bearings this morning, and head into the rest of June here in Richmond, here are our June Praises & Prayer Requests:

Praises (We praise God for...)
(1) Such a great visit to the midwest. Although it is difficult to connect with everyone we would like to within a short period of time, we are grateful to have connected with so many (and if we missed you, let's shoot for Christmas time:)). We praise God for New Hope Fellowship (Paw Paw), Roseland Bible Church (Chicago), and Lawton Evangelical Mennonite Church (Lawton)! These are three (out of 4) of our supporting churches. We are thankful for the opportunity we had to give ministry updates and share the Word with each of you!

(2) We launched our discipleship groups (small groups) this past month! The initial feedback from both the group leaders and the participants has been so encouraging! God is growing us as disciples and disciple makers.

(3) This past Sunday I had the opportunity to perform my first baby dedication at Lawton EMC. It was especially meaningful in that I got to dedicate my nephew Bryson (who is 2 years old)!

(4) We received a very good offer on my condo in Chicago! We are waiting to hear back from the bank, but it looks very promising. It could potentially be sold by the end of this month. Please pray that the sale would go through!

Prayer Requests (Please pray with us for...)
(1) This month we will begin the rehab work on our gym. This will consist of tearing up the old floor, painting all of the walls, and laying a new floor. We have a completion deadline of Monday July 16th. Please pray for this work project, and for continued provision for it, as we have discovered some additional unexpected costs.

(2) Josie will begin her new "youth camp consultant" role this month. Please pray for wisdom for her in her new expanded role at the Y. Also, she is also exploring part time physical therapy work options and is waiting to hear back about potential opportunities. We would appreciate your prayers for wisdom in this as well.

(3) Monday June 25th through Friday June 29th I will be serving at a sports camp with the Bay Area Rescue Mission's Youth Outreach Department. Please pray for Gospel impact this week, and for meaningful opportunities to connect with youth! I will also be serving with them the following week (July 2nd - July 6th).

(4) Please continue to pray that we would be able to either rent or sell our condo in Branson, Missouri as well.

Thank you so much for your prayer support! We need it! As always, let us know how to be lifting you up as well!

(Josie & I with the newly married CW & Jacqui Allen!)

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Good Warning

This is a good word!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rwanda Reflections Still Flowing

A month ago today we were wrapping up the Unity Conference in Kigali, Rwanda. I am still thinking about our time in Rwanda...all we saw, learned, experienced, etc. One of the things that made the trip special for me was being able to travel with one of my mentors, Dr. John Fuder (aka Doc). Doc was my urban ministry professor at Moody Grad School. I took more classes with him than with any other prof there. However, Doc's influence on my life exceeded well beyond the classroom. I travelled with Doc (and other students) to several CCDA conferences, enjoyed BBQ's at his house, and even occasional breakfasts with him after my Moody days were done.

Doc is a guy I truly look up to, and definitely want to emulate his commitment to the Lord, to his wife and family, and to ministry. So it was pretty crazy to teach at a conference with him! I really felt honored by that. Not only that, but it was good to just hang out together again with him and two of my former classmates. It felt like CCDA Africa!:)

I thought I would share some of Doc's reflections from our time in Rwanda...

Doc's May newsletter was also dedicated to the Rwanda trip. During the first part of this newsletter, he shared about our visits to the genocide memorials in Kigali. It was a sobering experience for all of us. It definitely set the tone for the remainder of our trip. Doc shared this, "Because I think we need to at least briefly feel the incredible weight of grief and guilt, carried even by Rwanda’s spiritual leaders, many of whom we had come to “teach” that week. These precious men and women, some coming from many hours away, gifted us with their gentleness, humility and vulnerability. For days we poured into them, from morning until night, and they gave right back to us. We shared exuberant and joyful worship and many hugs and tears as we taught hour after hour on unity, forgiveness and reconciliation."

A month later I am still so grateful for the opportunity we had to serve in Rwanda! Our experiences there "marked" me in good way.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

May Praise & Prayer

This was supposed to go out last week, but we were feeling a bit out of it after our long flight home and significant time zone readjustment!:) We have so much to praise God for! Thanks for praying for us!

Praises (Praise God with us for...)
(1) We are so thankful for the Rwanda trip, and all God did in and through us during our time there! You can read more about our trip in our previous blog entries (and there will probably be more coming).

(2) Today was our final training session with the missionary from the Crescent Project. Curtis, Aaron, and I are so grateful for this answered prayer and needed training for us!

(3) On Easter Sunday, we celebrated with 8 baptisms immediately following our service! Each person represents a story of God's transforming grace. It was especially moving to have Aaron baptize his son Isaiah. Check out the video!

Prayer Requests (Please pray with us for...)
(1) Josie has been offered an 8 week day camp director position at the YMCA. She has a meeting tomorrow to discuss the details of this position and program tomorrow. Please pray for wisdom about potentially moving forward in this.

(2) Please continue to pray that we would be able to rent our condo in Branson and sell our condo in Chicago!

(3) We are having our first church membership class (we are calling it "ministry partnership" rather than membership) this coming Saturday, and then launching discipleship groups (small groups) the following week. Please pray for us as we begin to go deeper relationally and mobilize as a church!

(4) I am praying about serving in a sports ministry role (as a volunteer) at two youth organizations (Bay Area Rescue Mission & Richmond Police Activities League). This would be a great opportunity to build relationships with teens in Richmond. Please pray for direction for me, and that I would not overcommit myself (I tend to do this sometimes:)).

(5) We will be traveling to the midwest the first week of June. We will be at New Hope Fellowship in Paw Paw on Sunday June 3rd, Roseland Bible Church in Chicago on Wednesday June 6th, and Lawton EMC on Sunday June 10th. Please pray for me as I begin to prepare for this visit.

Thanks for your partnership in ministry! Let us know how we can be praying for you!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Do We Weep?

(Blessed & Doc Fuder with Josie and I)

During our time in Rwanda I was moved by the heart of my good brother, Blessed. Blessed is the director of Hallomai, and he is the one who worked to coordinate our trip there. After our second very full day at the Unity Conference in Kigali, he began to debrief the day with our group and encourage us by how God was using the conference to encourage pastors. He shared that several pastors had commented on how they had been blessed and encouraged by the sessions. He then went on to share and reiterate how great the need is for theological training for pastors in Rwanda and in many other African nations. He shared that he has been getting emails from other pastors in other places asking for training. He said, "the need is great," and then he began to weep. He was so burdened by the need to come alongside pastors and church leaders with training and encouragement that he was moved do deep tears. It is a moment from our trip that I will never forget. As he paused to cry, Doc Fuder placed his hand on Blessed's shoulder and said, "God bless you brother" (as only Doc Fuder can) and then led us in prayer for Blessed, for the efforts of Hallomai, and for the need to equip and empower church leaders in Africa.

It reminded me of the quote, "may our hearts break for the things that break the heart of God." Are we burdened by the great commission? Do we weep for the nations?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Answered Prayer In Rwanda

(Josie and I with our host, Pastor Dennis)

Josie and I made it back to Richmond yesterday (Monday). We are still "getting our bearings" as we fight jet lag and readjust to the Pacific time zone. We are still reflecting on our time in Rwanda and all that God did during our time there. We are so thankful for the opportunity we had to be a part of a team from Hallomai and to connect with our Rwandan family!

Before we left, we prayed for a few things in particular. We prayed:
1) That God would use us to be an encouragement to the Church in Rwanda through both our teaching of the Word and our interaction with believers there.
2) That we would be able to build authentic relationships with believers there that would last beyond our 2 weeks there.
3) That we would go as learners - learning all that God would want to teach us there and learning from believers there.

(Josie and I with one of the pastors from the Pastors Family Fellowship, Pastor Dennis)

God answered all three of these prayer requests in abundance! By God's grace I believe He used both our teaching of the Word and our lives to encourage believers in Kigali (Rwanda's capital city) and the surrounding area. God also gave us meaningful relationships with our brothers and sisters in Rwanda, who we hope to continue to correspond with and Lord willing spend time with again. Finally, God taught us so much during our time there. He used our Rwandan family to encourage, challenge, and inspire us.

Thank you for your prayer support while we were gone. We definitely felt your prayers!

There will be more Rwanda reflections in the coming days. You can also check out my two previous posts, "For The Love Of The Game" and "Cross Out The I."

(Blessed, Louisa, Doc Fuder, Mike, and Cheryl)

For The Love Of The Game

During one of our breaks in between sessions at the Unity Conference I got this footage of some boys playing soccer (futbol) just outside of the church we were at. I tried to play a little bit, but my dress shoes and slacks really slowed me down:)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cross Out The "I"

During the Unity Conference here in Kigali, Dr. Fuder spoke three times on the importance of unity within the body. During one of the sessions he spoke about the importance of selflessness in pursuing unity. He stated that selfishness can thwart and diminish efforts towards unity. He went on to tell a story about a missionary (several years ago) in the Congo. She had been serving there for a number of years, and was having a hard time adjusting to the culture and navigating the culture. Her pastor, who was Congolese, encouraged her to come on a weekend retreat with he and his wife and to only bring her Bible. He encouraged her to get alone over the course of this weekend, to truly seek the Lord, and to see how He would speak to her about "breaking through" in this area of struggle she was having. After a day or two the missionary woman came to her pastor discouraged and said, "I still don't have any answers." The pastor graciously looked at her and said, "Helen you must cross out the 'I'...there is too much Helen in your ministry and not enough Jesus. Cross out the I."

Doc shared that he has never forgotten that story. It has marked his life and ministry. He and his wife Nell try to pray that prayer each morning - "Lord help us to cross out the I today. Give us the grace and the strength to live selflessly in our service to You and of others." It is an expression of Luke 9:23, "And He said to them all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

During our time here in Kigali I have observed our host, Pastor Dennis, serve selflessly. He has selflessly served our team. He has selflessly served the Pastors Family Fellowship (a network of pastors). I watched him selflessly serve the group of widows who are genocide survivors. I really believe that he is "pastoring the city." He has a Kingdom mindset that is so attractive. He loves his local flock (the church he pastors), and he serves them. However, he also ministers throughout the city in order to build up "the Church." I have seen in him what Doc was talking about. By God's grace He is crossing out the I.

I don't think I will ever forget that simple phrase, "cross out the I." As we have served together as a team this week I have been reminded of it. Our team has been amazing. I have been humbled by my brothers and sisters selflessness and humility. I have been convicted of the selfishness in my heart. It's my desire to serve selflessly, but at the same time I love to be recognized for it. I have also felt pride and self righteousness well up in my heart when I think I "know better" than one of my teammates. I have even learned how to cloak my pride in humble sounding words and posturing. These examples have made me realize afresh that there's too much Dave in me and not enough Jesus (cross out the I).

This all pushes me to Jesus, the One who "though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself bye becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8)." I am grateful for the cross.