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Intentionally Following Jesus

Last month I asked a lot of questions regarding how we think about church. You can read the full blog here. I continue to process these questions. I’m seeking God’s guidance in all of it. Here’s where my thoughts are currently.

Right now I am praying daily for God to give me opportunities to share Jesus with people who do not know him. God is always at work drawing people to himself through the work of the Holy Spirit. I want to look intentionally for those whom God is drawing into a personal relationship with himself. I want God to use me to reach them. I am also praying daily for God to give me opportunities to disciple those who already know him. I am intentionally looking for those one-on-one opportunities to help others grow in their relationship with God.

The key word in both scenarios is “intentionally.” This idea is new to me, and it fills me with a sense of anticipation as I begin my day in this way. I am learning to slow down and readjust my schedule to take time for others.

My laptop is not working well. At times, the processor will grind to a halt. Sometimes it shuts down unexpectedly. It is frustrating. One day a particular program I was using was conflicting with my calendar program. I called the Customer Care line and learned they were aware of the conflict and were working on a fix. I was on the phone with the agent for over an hour while we tried to fix the issue. During a slow reboot, we had time to talk. I learned the agent had been a youth pastor. I asked him to tell me about his relationship with God. He shared with me the various ways he was serving in his home church. I listened for a few minutes.

Then I said to him, “So far you have told me what you are doing for God, but you still have not told me about your relationship with him.” There was a pause on the line. After a moment he replied, “That is very insightful.” As we continued to share, it occurred to me that this was a moment I had prayed for that morning. This moment was an opportunity to disciple someone, even though I did not personally know him. I shared with him about learning that ministry can become an idol. I shared my own story with him about learning to enjoy sitting on God’s lap and focusing on my relationship with him instead of the pressures of ministry.

Because that morning I had prayed for the opportunity, I was aware of the moment when God showed up. It occurred to me that when I pray this way, by default I give God full control of my calendar. If he wants to cause my laptop to fail so I will spend time with someone on a tech call, he has the right. Surprisingly, it gave purpose to what I would generally consider a delay. I had plenty of items on my to-do list for the day. God cleared all of them away so he could use me to minister to someone else. When we live with intention, it gives purpose to the mundane moments.

What would happen if daily we intentionally looked for opportunities to share Jesus with those who do not know him? What would happen if daily we intentionally looked for opportunities to disciple other followers of Jesus? Would our lives look different? Would it affect our schedules? What would happen if we made it our intentional daily goal to love God with abandon and selflessly love others? Would we give away our resources to meet the needs of others? Would we use our resources to minister to the poor in our communities? How would our world change?

I ask these questions because it seems like these are elements missing in many churches today. We seem comfortable to attend church, sit when it is time to sit, stand when it is time to stand, sing when it is time to sing, listen to someone teach, and then return home and live lives that are pretty much the same as the lives of anyone else in our neighborhood. There is an uneasy disconnect between what we do on Sunday and how we live Monday through Saturday. This disconnect is why I repeatedly call for an authentic relationship with God. If our relationship with God does not affect our lives and the lives of those around us, then maybe we should question if we are actually in a relationship with him.

In the end, I want to follow Jesus intentionally. I’m not content to hope it will happen by osmosis. I want to live a life of abandon, willing to give all to see others come into a personal relationship with God. I want to do whatever it takes to see others grow in that relationship. I want to share my faith intentionally. I want to disciple others intentionally. I want to grow in my relationship with God, intentionally loving him with abandon and selflessly loving others.

Will you join me? Will you live a life of intention? What would God do through you if daily you asked him to give you opportunities for sharing Jesus and discipling others? It just might change your life and your world.

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

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.

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.

Go Fish

It was another hot day in Capernaum. Peter was in his front yard working when the tax collectors from the synagogue approached him from the other side of the street. Lifting his eyes, he saw them drawing near and braced himself for the question that was sure to come.

The leader of the group spoke first. “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” he piously asked, his eyes half closed as he looked down the bridge of his nose at Peter.

Peter pursed his lips, took a deep breath, and slowly closed his eyes as he considered his reply. It was frustrating to know the question was more of an inquisition than a true request for information. It was common for his master to be questioned solely for the purpose of trying to trap him in his words.

Peter paused, resisting the urge to take the bait. “Yes, of course,” he finally replied, though he knew in his heart that their financial resources were depleted. Still, it was the manner of his master to do what was required. Of this, Peter was sure. How it would happen, he could not know. Jesus was poor, and by default, as his student, so was he.

The tax collectors smirked, darting looks cast between them on raised eyebrows, and finally turned and shuffled down the dusty road.

Peter watched them walk away and shook his head in frustration. Finally he turned and went into the house. He stood in the open doorway and looked at Jesus sitting in the cool inner room. He was about to tell Jesus what had happened, but before he could even draw a breath to speak, Jesus spoke to him.

“What do you think, Simon?” Jesus asked, “From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?”

Peter wiped the sweat from his brow with his forearm and leaned against the door frame. He smiled realizing that Jesus already knew the conversation he had just had with the temple tax collectors. Living with Jesus as your roommate was a never ending parade of confounding circumstances. “From others,” he replied.

“Then the sons are free,” said Jesus, slowly rising from his seat and looking out the open window toward the Sea of Galilee. “However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.” Turning to Peter, he continued. “Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

Peter smiled again and nodded, catching the eye of Jesus as he winked. The absurdity of the request made him laugh as he turned to reach for his fishing pole leaning next to the door and set off down the path to the sea.

Apparently, it was time to go fishing.

(Adapted from Matthew 17:24-27, ESV).

When I read Matthew’s account of this story, it makes me laugh. I can only imagine what went through Peter’s mind as he went fishing that afternoon. When he cast the line into the clear blue waters he must have thought, “This does not make any sense.” When he felt the tug on the line and began to pull in his catch, surely he must have been giddy with excitement. And when he finally landed the fish and reached down to remove the hook from its mouth, he must have been flabbergasted to see the flash of the silver coin in the fish’s mouth. Surely he laughed all the way home, tossing the coin from one hand to the other as he walked. And how did it feel to deliver the coin to the mocking tax collector the next day? Ah, that must have been a joy.

We forget sometimes that Jesus knows all things. Jesus knew the conversation Peter had with the temple tax collectors before Peter had an opportunity to share it. Jesus also knew they had no resources to pay the tax. Jesus knew as well that he had power to provide for the need in any way he sought fit. Jesus understood both poverty and power because both were embodied in himself. He knew the beginning and ending of the situation before it even began.

Sometimes as we walk by faith, God provides in the most unusual ways. I suspect he enjoys seeing the delight on the face of his children when he surprises us with miraculous provision. However, as I consider this example with Peter and Jesus, I can’t help but think about the responsibilities of both parties in the solution to the need. Peter had a responsibility, and Jesus, as God, had a responsibility. Both needed to be fulfilled in order to see the provision.

Peter’s responsibility was to fish. God’s responsibility was to put the coin in the fish’s mouth, and to put the fish on the hook on the first cast of Peter’s line. But please note there would have been no provision if Peter had not been obedient to what he was told to do. We cannot expect God to provide what he has promised when we are not willing to do what he asks.

When we live by faith, it is often difficult to understand where the line is between faith and personal responsibility. Perhaps the problem is that we are looking for something that doesn’t exist; there is no line. Faith and personal responsibility are both required. Living by faith does not mean that I can just sit at home and wait for God to provide for me financially. Instead, it may mean getting a second job, or selling things I don’t really need. Sometimes it may mean selling things I think I do need! Often it means a great deal of personal sacrifice. It is presumptuous to say “I live by faith,” but then to expect that I have no responsibilities in the process.

Faith always requires relationship, and then obedience to a divine directive. When God speaks, I move forward in confidence that he will provide for his work. When I join him in what he is already doing, my responsibility is only that of the servant. I merely follow his instructions. The financial supply to do the work of ministry is God’s responsibility. He may lead me to get a job to provide the money to do the work of ministry he wants me to do. He may lead me to sell all that I have to do the work of ministry he wants me to do. Or he may provide the finances in a miraculous way to do the work of ministry he wants me to do. In every case, it is God’s responsibility, not mine. He is the one who decides what he wants me to do. Then, in obedience, I move forward with what he has instructed with confidence that he will supply all that I need to accomplish his will. My responsibility is solely to obey.

My friend, are you living by faith? Then get ready for the ride of your life. It may be that God asks you to go fishing today. Will you do it? Or instead will you claim that you are living by faith and waiting for God to provide? God will always be responsible for his end of the deal. Will you be responsible for yours?

My responsibility is to fish. God’s responsibility is to put the fish on the line and the coin in its mouth.

My friend, go fish.

This article was originally published in the January 2016 Newsletter.