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What if…?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus

I live aboard a thirty-foot Catalina sailboat on the Southwest coast of Florida. There is little room to store things. It is tiny-house living. There is no room for clutter. To make the move onto the boat, I eliminated all but the essential items from my life. I donated trunk-loads of goods to my local Salvation Army. I cleaned out my closets. I picked my nine favorite shirts, three pairs of shorts, one pair of jeans, two pairs of shoes, a pair of flip-flops and a jacket. I saved two pair of dress slacks and five long-sleeve shirts for ministry events. I got rid of the rest.

The tiny-house model of living focuses on the essentials and eliminates the rest of the clutter. I enjoy it immensely. It is freeing.

I think the Church in North America can learn a lot from the tiny-house movement. Lately I’ve thought a lot about discipleship. What if we eliminated the clutter and focused on the essentials?

In North America, the primary way we make disciples is through a church setting. It begins by inviting people to a meeting at a church building. At church we sit and listen to a paid staff member teach the Word. Usually the teaching time lasts about thirty minutes. Hopefully the individual gets enough information in those thirty minutes to help him or her grow in their relationship with God and to carry them Monday through Saturday. This, of course, depends on the quality and depth of the teaching.

This model relies on addition for growth. Hopefully the church grows by adding new converts through the year. Individuals are encouraged to invite new people to church where the paid staff presents the way of salvation. As individuals respond to the gospel, they are discipled through the ongoing teaching during the service each week. Individuals are encouraged to give financially to support the facility and the paid staff. Staff is also hired to take this model to other countries. In this way, we fulfill the command of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples.

This is a simplification of the basic church model, but I wonder if there is a better way. What if we thought smaller? Is there a way we can look at following Jesus where we focus on the essentials and eliminate the rest of the clutter? Is there a tiny-church model that produces disciples? What if we eliminated all but the essentials needed to follow Jesus? What would that look like?

My concern is that it seems like we have missed what Jesus instructed us to do. His command was to make disciples. We tend to focus on the big things – build a church building, hire staff, develop programs for children, youth, and adults. None of these things is bad, but are we actually making disciples? It doesn’t seem like it to me. Are we seeing the fulfillment of what Jesus called us to do? And at what cost? A church of five hundred seems successful until you look at the numbers. A church this size will have a budget around a million dollars a year and produce about thirty new followers of Christ a year. This means we invest about $33,000 per new follower of Christ. How can five hundred people follow Jesus and see only thirty new disciples birthed out of the congregation? Surely there is a better way.

I believe the time has come to think smaller.

What if groups of followers of Jesus met regularly together in homes or other public spaces? What if they lived in community with one another and encouraged one another in their relationship with God? What if every member of the group were expected to share their faith with others and taught to do so? What if every member of the group were expected to disciple someone else? What if the group were led by volunteers? What if the giving from the group supported needs within the group instead of supporting a facility and paid staff? What if the giving from the group ministered to the poor in their communities? What if every member of the group were expected to use their gifts for the sake of the group? What if the group intentionally planted and supported new groups of followers of Jesus and then mentored those groups to plant new groups? What if by doing these things the group multiplied its membership each year?

As a result of my asking these questions, I am exploring different models of making disciples. I believe God is leading me to participate in some way in some sort of multiplying small group discipleship model. At this time I am merely learning about what God is doing in this area, and I am intrigued by it. I continue to pray for wisdom and welcome your prayer as well.

I value your prayers. I believe my best days of ministry are still ahead. In our last board meeting, I shared with the ministry board of directors how I believe the first thirty years of ministry have been preparing me for what God has planned to do through my life and ministry in the days ahead. I am more confident of this than anything else in my life. I believe God is going to do great things. There is no logical reason to believe this. If you look at the schedule you might think I am nearing retirement. Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind setting my sails for the Caribbean and literally sailing off into the sunset! But I doubt God is done with me just yet. I believe God is going to do exciting things in the days ahead.

Perhaps you read this today and wonder how this applies to your life. My encouragement for you is to ask these types of questions yourself. All the questions I’ve shared flow out of my own relationship with God, so I encourage you to explore where you are personally in your relationship with him. This is why relationship matters. This is why loving God with abandon matters. It changes us. It changes the way we think and act.

Almost a year ago I posted this comment on social media: “It is one thing to say, ‘Why isn’t the church doing discipleship?’ It’s another thing to say, ‘Whom am I discipling?’”

I’ve asked a lot of questions in this blog. My final question for you today is this: Whom are you discipling?

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

God Is Completely In Control

In July, I wrote we are freed from anxiety when we understand God owns everything, and we are merely the stewards of what he gives us to manage. As you know, the day after posting the article, my sailboat went aground in Lake Okeechobee. The rudder was severely damaged, and the vessel currently sits in long-term storage at a marina waiting for the repair. I am excited to see how God is at work in the situation. A few weeks ago I was asked to do a kitchen remodel for friends of mine. Another friend asked if I would help with their guest house remodel. Yet another friend asked if I would remodel their guest bathroom. Suddenly I had weeks of work lined up! God moved quickly to provide the work. This is the type of work I have done in the past to supplement my ministry income. Through the years, I’ve gutted two different personal properties and rebuilt them, so I have a lot of experience from which to draw. I am grateful God seems to be providing for the rudder by providing this work for me.

Understanding God’s ownership is the first step to overcoming anxiety. The next step is to understand God is fully in control. Not only does he own everything, he also controls everything. Nothing takes him by surprise. He is always in control of our circumstances. In theological terms, we call this the sovereignty of God. This one thought has saturated my mind in the past two months. God is sovereign. He is in control. I am not. And this is fine with me.

Let’s let God speak for himself in regards to this important truth. This is what he says through the prophet Isaiah:

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,” calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (Isaiah 46:8-11, ESV)

Pause for a moment, and let those words saturate your soul. God declares of himself, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” He is above all and over all. There is no one like him. He is supreme above all.

When we understand his sovereignty, we get a better picture of ourselves. We are not God. Our ways are not like his. We are created in the image of God, but we are not at all like him. We do not think like God, but we like to think we can understand him and his ways. Herein is where we struggle. We want to understand why trials fall upon us. We want to understand God’s purposes. We want to understand God. But is this even possible? I think not.

It is better to love God than to try to understand him. Perhaps this is where we fall short. We spend our days trying to understand him instead of just crawling up on his lap and enjoying him, loving him, pressing into him. Far better to enjoy his presence than to weary ourselves trying to understand what cannot be understood. In the end, he is God and there is no other. His ways are higher than ours.

God also declares his ways and purposes cannot be thwarted. He will do what he has set out to do. Nothing and no one can change this. He proclaims, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose… I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:10-11, ESV).

Ultimately, God’s purpose for my life is for me to love him with all my heart. This is his greatest desire for me. How God brings this about in my life may vary from one moment to the next. Sometimes there are seasons of favor when all is well. We celebrate these moments of the excess of God’s kindness in our lives. In the blessings, we are drawn closer to him. Other times he brings great trials, and in our brokenness we turn to him for comfort. God can use both seasons to draw us closer to himself. Whether he chooses to bless or to burden is not for us to know. It is only for us to know he waits with open arms to draw us to himself in either circumstance.

When God provided the sailboat for me, many remarked that it was the favor of God. What happened to God’s favor when the sailboat went aground? Was not this a moment of his favor as well? We recognize God’s favor when times are good, but when trials come, we are quick to forget he is always in control. What if God shows us the highest favor by allowing great trials into our lives, knowing they may draw us closer to himself?

Our trials bring great pause, because they contain the greatest choice we have to make. Will we choose to let the trial push us away from God and our relationship with him, or will we choose to crawl unto his lap instead?

I choose his lap. I am a child of the sovereign God. When I’ve skinned my knees, I just want to be held by him. And so I run to him. He pulls me up onto his lap, and holds me close to himself. This is enough for me. In that moment, I am loved, and I love him for it. I don’t even care if he tells me the greater purpose he is working out. I rest in the knowledge that he is sovereign. He is fully in control. I do not have to understand him and his ways in order to love him and feel loved by him.

My friend, are you in a season of favor, and all is well? Draw closer to God. Are you in a season of trial, and struggling to get through the day? Draw closer to God. Stop trying to understand what cannot be understood. Just love him. Let this be enough. God is sovereign, and he is also good. His purposes will not be thwarted, and neither will his love for you.

God is completely in control.

As I sit at my desk and write this, I am aware there is a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean grinding its way toward my home. It will be interesting to see where God directs it. After all, he is sovereign.

I enjoy reading your thoughts. Please write your comments below.

That Sinking Feeling

A few weeks ago I shared my experience when I grounded my sailboat while navigating Lake Okeechobee. It is currently in long-term storage at a marina while I wait for God to provide the resources needed to repair the rudder. It excites me to see God at work in my life and relationship with him through this experience. I shared on social media the work God has done in my life in my understanding of stewardship versus ownership. It is truly a place of rest when I keep my focus where it should stay.

If you read only those blogs, you might think I always respond the way I should. Nothing is further from the truth. In the following days I found myself struggling to keep my focus on God and not on my circumstances. Most of the time I kept my focus on him. But there were quiet moments when I was alone, far from the spotlight of ministry, and I wrestled with my lack of faith.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 103:14, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” This deeply ministers to me in the moments when I feel all too human. God created me from dust, and to dust someday I will return. In the moments between, I am dusty. I am of this world. I am human. My heart does not always respond the way my head knows it should. It is okay. God knows how he made me. He remembers I am dust.

Throughout Scripture we meet many interesting characters who carried the dust of the world on their journey. Peter is one of my favorites. He is bold, outspoken, quick to action, and undeniably human.

Following the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Jesus sent the disciples on ahead of him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus stayed behind to dismiss the crowds, and when all had departed, he found a place where he could pray in solitude. In the coolness of the evening he was alone. By this time the disciples were far from shore. A storm had risen, and they labored against the wind and the waves.

After many hours, the disciples had only managed to traverse two-thirds of the way across the lake. Darkness consumed the vessel. The tempest beat upon them. They were weary. Their arms ached from rowing. In the waning darkness, the disciples saw the figure of a man walking on the sea. Terror gripped their hearts. “It is a ghost!” they cried.

But it was Jesus! He came to them in the midst of their trial, walking on the water. “Take heart,” he shouted above the wind, “it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Here is where my brash friend Peter makes me smile. He blurted out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Be careful what you ask!  For Jesus says to him, “Come.” And, in one of the most understated moments in Scripture, it says, “So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus” (Matthew 14:28, ESV).

Now we could stop our story right here, and Peter’s actions would impress all of us. Just as you might think more highly of me than you ought after reading the blog of my response to the grounding of the vessel. But let us continue our tale, for this is where it gets interesting.

Peter leapt from the vessel and strutted across the water. He was almost to Jesus. For a second, a flash of lighting illuminated the boiling sea. He glanced to his left and saw the frothy waves kicked up by the fierce wind. In a terrifying moment, he realized he was in the middle of the lake, and the boat was far behind. Fear pierced his heart. He was no longer walking on water. His feet sank beneath the surface, and he felt the cold water engulfing his legs. In a panic he cried, “Lord, save me!”

Jesus reached for him, lifting him above the waves, and with compassion said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter and Jesus walked back to the boat and joined the other disciples. The wind and waves ceased their roiling. The trial was ended. (Read Matthew 14:22-33 for the full account of this story.)

I relate to Peter. I want to step out of the boat in the midst of the storm to walk closer to Jesus. I want to focus on him so deeply that logic dissolves, and I find the water firm beneath my feet as I step toward him. But I also know what it means to take my eyes off of Jesus and to focus instead on the wind and the waves. I know that sinking feeling. I know the sensation of cold water engulfing my feet. I know the moments of fear in the midst of trying to trust him fully. I know how the hands of Jesus feel when he reaches down to lift me up. I know his voice when he says to me, “Tim, oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Yet his voice is not condemning. In my mind, I see his eyes looking down at my dusty clothes. Then he looks back to my eyes, smiles and with a wink says, “Yep, you’re dusty. You’re still human. And I’m still God.”

My friend, we are all human. We are dusty. We do not always respond the way we know we should. Sometimes the wind and waves overwhelm us. In those moments, even though we fail to trust him fully, God understands. He still rescues. He still leads us to a place of rest. He still loves.

When Peter and Jesus return to the other disciples in the boat, the seas stopped churning. The wind died down. Rest settled upon the weary. And everyone in the boat, including Peter, worshiped Jesus saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Their focus returned to Jesus. They worshiped. They understood a little more who he was. Our trials illuminate our need of Jesus. In the process we find he truly is the Son of God.

Our God is a God of grace. May we use each trial to trust him more fully. May God increase our faith. May we grow in our relationship with him. May the moments of doubt and confusion decrease, and our moments of trust increase.

Sometimes we walk on water. Sometimes we sink beneath it. May each moment draw us closer to him.

I enjoy reading your thoughts. Please write your comments below.