Category Archives: Unleash

Joy Suckers

joy-suckers

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us. For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: ‘Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.’ Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living. As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good” (2 Thess.3:6-13 NLT).

Every once in a while, my kids catch me doing something that I told them not to do. It might be a certain word I told them not to say, or I might eat something I told them not to eat. It really stinks that they’re all old enough to spell now. Olivia and I used to be able to spell things out to each other while keeping the kids in the dark, but alas, that is no longer the case! Yet we still do have our secret take-out dessert and snack door for when they go to bed (in your face kids)! There has to be some perks of being a parent! However, it is good from time to time when the kids catch us doing something we’re not supposed to. It keeps us honest and on our game.

It’s the same way in the church. Needless to say, we’re not perfect. We do mess up from time to time. Nevertheless, it is important to set a good example. If we don’t, we have no right to teach someone else. That would classify us as hypocrites (Matt.23:3). With that in mind, there has been a persistent problem that I (and countless others) have had to deal with for years. As Christians, we desire to be like Jesus and love our neighbors. But what do we do when people take advantage of us? There are certain people and situations that can totally drain us of everything we have while asking for more. A pastor friend of mine many years ago called them “Joy Suckers.”

At that time, I was actually a little offended by his words. After all, aren’t we supposed to help people? Isn’t that why we’re here? Little did I know that there was good reason (and many years of experience) to back up his words. He was speaking from wisdom and experience. After all, he was the one with the gray hair. So I now realize that I should’ve paid more attention and given him the benefit of the doubt! However (before we get too far), I must stress that my goal here is NOT to make fun of people or make light of the situation. People in these types of situations are in a very dysfunctional place. And our goal IS to help people and show the love of Jesus. However, we need to learn how to offer the kind of help that will actually help them.

There’s a popular saying that has been misquoted and misapplied over the years: “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s not actually found in the Bible. I’m not sure who coined the phrase, but there are implications of it in the Bible. Yet it needs to be applied in the proper context and in the right spirit. “A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies has no sense” (Proverbs 12:11 NLT). “Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper” (Proverbs 13:4 NLT).

So what do we do? Good and responsible believers (who do work hard) are usually very generous people. And that’s a good thing! But once they start to be taken advantage of, very needy people can easily and quickly suck out that good nature and burn them out quickly. Hence the name: Joy Suckers. So should we help people or not? Isn’t the Bible clear? Didn’t Jesus say, “But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Matt.6:3-4 NLT)? Didn’t James hit us pretty hard to be generous when he wrote, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:27 NLT)?

So if we have those Scriptures, how can we legitimately term people in a negative manner like Joy Suckers? As usual, there needs to be a balance. Of course we need to love people. Of course we need to give someone the benefit of the doubt first. We need to think the best of people. In fact, Paul presents a great definition of love to the Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Cor.13:4-8 NIV). So we always choose love first. We always think the best of someone first.

On the other hand (and in certain circumstances), the best way to love someone might need to be tough love. Furthermore, we have biblical evidence to back that up. In fact, Paul tells us to “Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the traditions they received from us” (2 Thess.3:6). Holy Cow! Is that in the Bible? We’re actually supposed to stay away from people who claim to be believers and have heard the truth, yet follow a pattern over time that proves that they have no intention of changing? Yes. That’s what the Bible says!

Paul even says that he and his close associates have set the example to be followed. And since it is not being followed, “Those unwilling to work should not eat” (2 Thess.3:7-10 NLT). Moreover, these folks are also trouble-makers because they talk about people behind their backs and won’t mind their own business. So he urges that we need to stay away from these people. They are Joy Suckers who suck the life out of us. And when they’re done, they move on to suck the life out of someone else. In other words, we are instructed to tell them to “Get a job!”

Paul urges us that we are to never tired of doing good, however, we need not shoot ourselves in the foot as we try to keep helping people that have no intention of helping themselves or anyone else (2 Thess.3:12-13). Moreover, I believe that money and work is just one example Paul gives here. There are many other examples where believers need to step up to the plate and make an effort. Perhaps you can think of some.

But please note that the following are not legalistic demands. We’re not trying to catch people making mistakes. We need to tirelessly leave a TON of room for grace. However, we cannot allow ourselves to be drained and burned out by people that wish to drain us and burn us out. We need to have a discerning eye to recognize the difference. So here are a few guidelines to go by when (not “IF” but “WHEN”) you run into Joy Suckers in your life.

Be willing to ask the tough questions and challenge people. Giving to the poor and needy is absolutely the right thing to do. Nevertheless, if the same people keep coming back for more it is indicative of a larger problem. Enabling someone doesn’t help them in the long run. So it’s more than OK to ask the tough questions, challenge people, and call them to accountability. And this doesn’t always have to do with money. Sometimes it can be romantic relationships, chronic health problems, dysfunctional sexual sins, issues in the home, and many other matters.

Invite people into relationship with you and your missional community. We need to protect ourselves from being used and abused. So if people won’t come to your meetings or hang out with you (or your community), stay away from them. But if they are willing to come into relationship and be accountable (there’s that word again), they’re not Joy Suckers. They might be EGR (Extra Grace required), but that’s OK. We’ve all been EGR at some point. So let your community show them love. Inviting people into relationship allows us to observe dysfunction and offer help. It also allows them to observe health and receive transformational help.

Questions to consider…

  1. According to 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, what is the point of living a quiet life, minding our own business, and working with our hands?

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others” (1 Thess.4:11-12 NLT).

  1. According to 1 Thessalonians 5:14, why do we need to warn some, encourage others, care for some, and be patient with everyone? How can we distinguish the difference between someone who needs tough love and someone who really needs to be lifted up and cared for?

“Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone” (1 Thess.5:14 NLT).

  1. According to 1 Timothy 5:3-16, what could some other good examples be of who we should help? Does this apply to nonbelievers? Who should we challenge and/or not help? What could be some other potential joy sucking situations (other than money)? When we’re not sure, how could listening to the voice of the prophet help?

“Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her. But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God. Now a true widow, a woman who is truly alone in this world, has placed her hope in God. She prays night and day, asking God for his help. But the widow who lives only for pleasure is spiritually dead even while she lives. Give these instructions to the church so that no one will be open to criticism. But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers. A widow who is put on the list for support must be a woman who is at least sixty years old and was faithful to her husband. She must be well respected by everyone because of the good she has done. Has she brought up her children well? Has she been kind to strangers and served other believers humbly? Has she helped those who are in trouble? Has she always been ready to do good? The younger widows should not be on the list, because their physical desires will overpower their devotion to Christ and they will want to remarry. Then they would be guilty of breaking their previous pledge. And if they are on the list, they will learn to be lazy and will spend their time gossiping from house to house, meddling in other people’s business and talking about things they shouldn’t. So I advise these younger widows to marry again, have children, and take care of their own homes. Then the enemy will not be able to say anything against them. For I am afraid that some of them have already gone astray and now follow Satan. If a woman who is a believer has relatives who are widows, she must take care of them and not put the responsibility on the church. Then the church can care for the widows who are truly alone” (1 Tim.5:3-16 NLT).

Connecting the Flock 2: The Unplanned

connecting-the-flock-the-unplanned

“Know the state of your flocks, and put your heart into caring for your herds” (Proverbs 27:23 NLT).

I was really nervous last night as I watched the Eagles play the Bears. In the end, they crushed them like a bug. However, it was anybody’s game in the first half. While I was watching, I had no idea that the defense would come up big in the second half. I had no idea that they would force two fumbles and get a pick. The offense was doing fine throughout the game, but once the defense kicked in, the victory was secured. That’s what’s so great about being on a team. Both sides work together. Even if one is on a roll and the other is struggling, you can still walk away with a victory.

As shepherds, we seem to only think we’re part of the defense. That’s why I started out last time with offense and doing life together. That’s a major part of shepherding. However, defense is also an equal part of shepherding. The problem, unfortunately, is that many of us have been taught (wrongly) that the paid pastors are the ones who do the defense (hospital visits, counseling, dealing with a death in the family, divorce, losing a job, etc.). But nothing could be further from the truth. If we really believe in the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9-12) and the fact that Jesus gave us ALL gifts to use (Eph.4:11-16), we need to be free to use them. That’s how everyone stays fresh, no one gets burned out, and people are shepherded really well.

Furthermore, once several shepherds are trained up and ready to go our defense is so much stronger. It’s much easier to get interceptions, force fumbles, and sack the quarterback, when we have more than one person on defense. For a football team, they have eleven guys on defense, not just one. And no one expects the coach to suit up and play. Nevertheless, in most churches, the team (congregation) sits in the stands as they throw the coach out on the field. It makes no sense. But as we properly mobilize and train shepherds, and as people and families go through a crisis, the closest and most available shepherds can jump in.

A few weeks back, a little boy ended up in the hospital. It just so happened that I got the call and was available to immediately stop by. And that’s part of my job. But what would’ve been even better is if I had a shepherd to call who could also come over and visit and/or organize other people in that group to visit as well. That way the boy could’ve received immediate attention and longer term follow up as the group showered the family with love. That’s how we play defense in the shepherding world with great success! And that’s how we allow shepherds the freedom to do what they were designed to do as opposed to relying on the paid professional.

The paid staff member can certainly visit and participate, but it means so much more when folks from the MC show up to visit. The same thing can happen if someone experiences a sudden death in the family or if a spouse leaves. A simple phone call can mobilize multiple shepherds to be there around the clock if need be. Obviously, we never know when or where tragedy will strike, but we can be ready when it does if we do some simple prep work and organization ahead of time. That way we’ll be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Perhaps a point person in each MC can have a loose schedule ready to go just in case. Perhaps there are a few in the group who might be available during the day. Perhaps there are a few who are more available in the evenings during the week. And perhaps there’s others who might only be available on the weekends. The fact of the matter is if we know who’s available ahead of time, it’s much easier to mobilize when we need to be ready to step up at a moment’s notice.

One of the shepherds in my MC beat me to the punch a week or so ago. The person happened to notice a troubling post on Facebook by someone in our group. It turned out to be nothing major; however, it was a good way for both of us to follow up with that person through texts and invites in response to the Facebook post. It doesn’t sound like much, but when we respond to someone in need, it shows the love of Jesus. It’s a simple and easy way for shepherds to show someone that we care. And it doesn’t go unnoticed. People really appreciate when someone shows love. In addition, it’s awesome to have a “specialist” in each one of the gifts (APEST) so the leader of the group doesn’t feel the pressure to have to do everything. Moreover, it’s a HUGE blessing to have several shepherds caring for the well-being of the people in the group instead of just one person.

So here’s a few TIPS that can help us play better defense in our missional communities:

Time is the key. Good defenses thrive at being aggressive and turning the football over. However, it takes time, patience, and practice to accomplish that. It might seem like nothing is happening, but the momentum of an entire game can change with just one interception. Yet that interception might not come until the third quarter. So we do need to be patient as we wait for the opportunities God brings our way. Shepherding is messy and solid relationships are never built in a day. So time is the key as we patiently wait, build relationships, and show the love of Jesus.

Inevitably, some people will leave. As shepherds, we take it personally when someone leaves our fellowship; however, we can’t control that. Despite our best efforts and intentions, sometimes people leave. We could have the best shepherd network and training in the country and people would still leave. Even the most skilled defenses can’t shut down every play. Some points will be scored against us. Sometimes we will miss tackles. Sometimes it’s our fault and sometimes it’s not. So even though we want to, we can’t solve everyone’s problems and/or keep everyone. Sometimes people leave. It’s inevitable.

Picture what this might look like in your MC. Every community is different. So there is not one right way to organize our shepherds. The only thing I recommend is picturing what it might look like in your MC. Work with your leader and whoever is coaching you so a system can be in place to react when the unplanned happens. That way we can pre-plan, like any good defense, and be ready to react when someone needs us. So what would be a good process and/or chain of command (for lack of a better term) that would best work for your group? The point is that we work together, keep each other in the loop of what’s going on, and have a process in place that enables our shepherds to be mobilized when something happens. That way we work as a team instead of placing the burden on one person alone who eventually burns out. We can’t plan the unplanned, but we certainly can prepare FOR the unplanned.

Schedule room for the unplanned. Last time we looked at possible ways to do life together as an MC. And that’s vital. However, we also need to insert wiggle room into those plans. As shepherds, we might go weeks and months without anyone in the hospital or having needs. But in the blink of an eye that all could change. And then we could go for months where one or two people drain the energy of whole group. The danger is that if we don’t leave room in our schedules for the unplanned, we might miss opportunities (or be too burnt out) to do the one thing we love to do as shepherds. So don’t feel guilty if EVERY night is not filled with something pre-scheduled! And even if it seems like nothing’s going on, use that time to get prayed up, trained up, and refreshed, so you can be ready to go when something IS going on. “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Cor.15:58 NLT).

Questions to consider…

  1. What are the push-backs to shepherding this way? What are the advantages? Does it make sense to have the paid professional train and teach rather than do everything (1 Peter 4:8-10)?
  2. What could this look like in your MC? What kind of structure might work for your MC?
  3. Is there any wiggle room in your schedule for the unplanned? Is your life and/or the life of your MC so jammed packed that there’s no room for God to work? At that point our MC might resemble a traditional church that spends all of its time in Bible studies without ever building relationships with people that don’t know Jesus.

Connecting the Flock: The Planned

connecting-the-flock-the-planned

I was a little star struck this past Sunday. I went to my first NFL game to see the Eagles play. And I was NOT disappointed. They won big. It was the first game of the season and the debut of their new franchise quarterback (Carson Wentz). I was snapping pictures like crazy. What made it even more special was that I got to experience it with one of my sons. I wish the whole family could have been there. Unfortunately, we only had two tickets. But I tried to take in every moment and savor it as long as I could. I do enjoy watching games at home, but now I know why people say that there’s nothing like being there in person.

It was incredible to be able to see my favorite players (live) and to see each play develop on the field. That’s one thing you cannot appreciate when you watch it on TV. They normally don’t show the entire field on each play. They shoot mostly close-ups. But being at the game allowed me to see each play as it developed. After the game, Coach Doug Pederson said something profound. In speaking of his team spending loads of time together and bonding along the way, he said, “Everybody’s got to be on the same page and that’s why family is a great way to describe what a team is all about” (Doug Pederson). In addition, at the end of his pep talk to the team after the game he had his team shout “Family” on the count of three. Most teams normally choose the team name or a word that describes them, so Pederson chose family.

So in this training and the next, I want to unpack why I think family is also a great way to describe what we are and what we do as shepherds in each one of our Missional Communities (MC). But it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. For those that have been a part of an MC for an extended period of time, they can say that their group is like a family. For others, they might be looking around and wondering why they’re not quite there yet. But in the same way that it takes years for a football team to become a family, it takes time for an MC to become a family.

So this first part of connecting the flock and turning them into a family (the planned) is like being on offense. I love offense. The thrill of calling plays in the huddle and scoring touchdowns as we run down the field is exhilarating! And when we’re on offense, we can be proactive. We can plan. As shepherds, our goal is to make sure everyone in the group is connected and stays connected. And there are a million ways to do that. So the following are simply ideas to get us started and thinking about how to keep each other connected.

The Bible is pretty quiet on the details of what worship and family life was actually like, and I believe that’s on purpose. If the Bible would’ve been too specific, whatever they did would’ve become legalistic. Moreover, how they gathered, what they did, and how they did it molded and changed over time based on circumstances. But what we do know is that the believers were like a family (Eph.2:19; Gal.6:10; 1 Peter 3:8), they were in each other’s lives on a regular basis (Acts 2:46), they took care of each other’s needs (Acts 2:45; Gal.6:2), they actually met in houses (Rom.16:5; Col.4:15) as well as the temple and synagogues (Acts 2:46; 17:1-3), they had some basic practices that they considered important (Acts 2:42; Col.4:16), and they took God’s mission seriously (Acts 1:8; 15).

Since the Bible is not specific, we do have freedom to implement the above practices in a way that fits our culture and the needs of our own day and age. But if we think we can squeeze all of that into one or two hours on a Sunday morning and still operate like a family, we are sadly mistaken. That would be like the Eagles showing up to play every Sunday without putting in the time to practice all week. They would not feel like a family at that point. And they wouldn’t be winning any ballgames in today’s NFL environment. However, that is how many traditional churches are designed to operate. Some have other services throughout the week, but they are information based and include a passive experience rather than an interactive give and take where people are free to use their gifts.

So what might a Missional 1st Century type of church family experience look like in America in our day and age and based on the needs of our time? What might some of our experiences together look like if we had a choice and if we were on offense? And please keep in mind that even if we fail (even if we royally suck) at becoming a family in the short term, we are at least moving in the right direction!

Some of the planned events each week could be a weekly gathering in someone’s home where believers can share a meal together and have spiritual conversation. Perhaps a devotional type of material could be read by all before the gathering and discussed after dinner. Prayer can also be an integral part of this smaller gathering. The Sunday Gathering is another time where believers can gather, sing praises to God, eat a meal together, learn and discuss together, and share stories about how God has been working in each of the missional communities. Other planned events (maybe less frequent) could be parties that are strategically planned and arranged to mix believers and non-believers as they simply get to know each other and build relationships.

Other ways to connect on a smaller scale could be where just a few from the community gather for coffee (a beer, a meal, a game, go swimming, go to the park with the kids, etc.) and simply hang out. Not every time people get together has to be a formal occasion where they do a planned study from the Bible. Sometimes spiritual conversations just happen without any planning. Sometimes, without an agenda, much can be learned simply from asking questions. If the group is particularly busy during the week, another great way to keep in touch (even if you can’t meet face to face) is through texting, email, and chatting on the phone. There are Facebook groups and online calendars where everyone can upload family events that are going on so the group can be kept in the loop. The possibilities are endless.

Not everyone’s schedule is the same. So weekly, organic activities will differ based on the season of life certain folks are in. Obviously, empty-nesters, folks without kids, and those who are single will have more time to hang out than those that have young children. That’s just a reality. And there’s no reason to feel guilty if you do have young kids. That needs to be our top priority and we can still be creative in missional living if we are in that situation. It just might not be as frequent as we’d like it to be. Once the kiddos are older, there will be more time. However, if we learn (little by little) to simply include people in what we’re already doing, it is a LOT easier to do life with our MC’s.

Finally, when a new group is first starting out, it will take time to build up to these rhythms and practices. It will take time to feel like a family. The missional life will be heaven for some and hell for others. This goes against accepted church tradition of the past 1700 plus years and the norms of our individualistic, western society. And that’s OK. This is not for everyone. We believe that it returns us to what was originally intended as the church was starting out and growing. However, this is not the only way to be the church. Other churches have different philosophies. And that’s fine. Again, the Bible is quite vague on how to go about this. Yet our goal is to make disciples. If other churches have better and more effective ways of doing that, God bless them. We’re all on the same team. Next time around, we will learn about the unplanned (defense). That’s when things come up that are out of our control and didn’t plan on.

Questions to consider…

  1. Based on the season your group is in, what should a realistic week look like? How many times a week or month should individuals be hanging out in order for them to feel like a family?
  2. Is there a danger in doing too much missional activity whereas your family and children are neglected? Or should your family be more flexible and take one for the team?
  3. As shepherds, how can we connect people and better facilitate family?

 

Introducing People to Jesus: The Opposite of Reformation

introducing-people-to-jesus

So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it (Rom.9:16 NLT).

Weddings can be joyous occasions. And they should be! But they can also be very stressful. Couples (especially the ladies) usually spend lots of money (that they don’t have) preparing to make one particular day (the wedding day) the most special day of their lives. What can get in the way of that is those unexpected surprises that pop up days, weeks, and months before the wedding. Even the day of the wedding can be very stressful because of last minute catastrophes like a bridesmaid going down (sickness), the wedding cake being late, the dress doesn’t fit quite right, and a host of other catastrophes.

Anticipating this, I always emphasize (in the pre-marital counseling sessions) the fact that whatever happens on the wedding day is the least of their worries. I understand that they want it to go well; however, I’m more concerned about every day AFTER the wedding. As the officiant of the ceremony, I like when things go wrong. It makes it much more exciting and funny. In fact, that’s why I always try to insert a little humor into the service. Why? Because it relaxes people. I personally think that if an uptight couple is going to serve alcohol at a wedding, it should be served BEFORE the ceremony and not after. That way people can chill out!

Most couples don’t want counseling before their wedding. They think they already know it all and they think that their marriage will last forever. I felt the same way before I got married. They think they are hiring me to perform a ceremony and sign a paper. Little do they know that my job is to ensure they STAY married, not that they only GET married. Anyone can GET married. My job is to help them STAY married. My job is to equip them with the tools that they need for a healthy, long-lasting marriage. That includes a review of the past, an honest assessment of the present, and a glimpse of the future.

However, most of what put them together and keeps them together is out of my control. There’s always an element of faith involved. Whether or not they take my advice and put it into practice is not up to me. Our spiritual lives are the same. Often I find myself frustrated that people are not progressing. There are simply certain things that are out of my control. In fact, most things are out of my control. I can only do so much. Faith plays a large role in what I do.

Recently, God has given me great clarity in this area. As shepherds, we obviously WANT to help people. It’s what we do. But oftentimes we feel powerless to do it. I spend half my prayer time asking God for help because I can’t do anything to help someone. I can’t be there 24/7. I can’t control people’s circumstances. I can’t control if they even want my help or not. I can’t control if they do anything about my advice, or if they even understand what it means to truly follow Jesus and grow spiritually. And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

In addition, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of trying to reform people ourselves or offer any other gospel other than Jesus! Outward reformation does nothing to change the heart. Filling needs, although very nice, can also be a false gospel. Once someone gets what they need out of us, they often disappear. It’s not wrong to love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s what God wants us to do. But the Good News we deliver has to be Jesus only.

Just as we can’t earn or work for our salvation, we also can’t earn or work for our own spiritual growth and development (or anyone else’s). It’s truly something that God needs to do. Honestly, I can’t teach someone to want to pray or study their Bible. I can tell them that’s what they need to do, but I can’t make them have experiences like I do and to yearn for it like I do. I can’t teach someone how to sin less. I can’t be there to watch all the time. If I turn my back and they get themselves in trouble, I can’t help it. As shepherds, we want to love and help people, but we can’t control their development like somehow we are the Holy Spirit.

So what can we do? We can introduce them to Jesus. “Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means ‘Christ’). Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus” (John 1:41-42 NLT). I love the simplicity of that moment. I love the fact that Andrew didn’t present a 10-page paper to Peter or present a five step plan to be ready to know what to say when he met Jesus. He just introduced him to Jesus. And Peter ended up being a leader in the church. All Andrew did was connect him to Jesus. I can picture him saying, Come here Peter. I have someone I want to introduce you too. Peter. This is Jesus. Jesus. This is Peter. And then Jesus took over from there.

Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you” (John 15:16 NLT). That truth is both the hard part and the easy part at the same time. I’m a perfectionist. I love to work hard. And that’s a good thing. The Bible teaches the value of hard work. But we can’t do God’s job. God uses people. But we have to trust Him to work. We can’t earn our own salvation (or anyone else’s). We also can’t earn our spiritual growth (or anyone else’s). It has to be God working in our lives or we will fizzle out. If it’s God working, the fruit will be long-lasting and genuine.

So let’s introduce people to Jesus. God did not call us to reform people once they accept Jesus. That’s not our job. We can’t guilt people into behaving well. God does the saving and converting, not us. Furthermore, it’s not based on anything we’ve done. It’s based on what Jesus did. When we work hard to reform people and conform them to our image, it NEVER works out well. To be honest, the people I agonize over never seem to make much progress. However, the ones that come to me (because God is already working) are the ones that make the most progress. And I barely have to lift a finger. I just need to get out of God’s way and be a guide.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (Matt.23:15 NLT). Being super religious, placing heavy burdens on people, and guilt trips are designed by man, not God. So what do we do? Just introduce people to Jesus. Sure, if they ask your advice on what to do, you can suggest practices. You can teach them how to pray and read and study Scripture. But introduce them to the Good News of Jesus. That’s all Andrew did with Peter. He brought him to Jesus. That’s all it took because it wasn’t Andrew’s job to grow Peter. That’s God’s job. Andrew’s job was to introduce Peter to Jesus.

In the same way that putting a wedding together can be crazy and tension filled, our man-made methods of shepherding and discipling tend to be the same way when we stress out about what we can’t control. I tell couples that the best part about the wedding isn’t that the ceremony goes perfect, it’s about the fact that God has put them together and they GET to be in relationship with each other and love each other every day AFTER that one day. So as we shepherd people, we trust that God is doing His part. We don’t need to turn people into religious snobs, hypocrites, or children of hell by reforming them on the outside. None of that can change anyone’s heart. Works can be faked, but a genuine heart transformation (by God) cannot.

So then what? What if God is actually working on their hearts and they want to know what following Jesus looks like? We show them. There’s no need to do a Bible study about fellowship when we can just invite them into our missional community and SHOW them what fellowship looks like. We can show them what Good News looks like. We can show them what a healthy relationship with God looks like. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others (2 Tim.2:2 NLT). Yet we don’t teach with words alone. We show them like Jesus showed His disciples as He did life with them. That’s why Paul said, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor.11:1 NLT).

In short, we can guide them into spiritual practices as God prepares their hearts. We can’t just tell people to work harder. We can’t reform them and guilt them into doing what we do. They need to want to do it. They need to be hungry for it. And when they are, we can show them what it looks like. If not, we’ll only be molding them into our image. The image of Jesus is much better! So let’s simply get out of God’s way, introduce people to Jesus, and be ready to show them what missional living looks like.

Questions to Consider…

  1. As a shepherd, how does it make you feel that you have so little control over what people do? Even though you desperately want to help, how do you feel about the fact that people don’t always make the right choice or follow your advice?
  2. Do you see the value in letting God work in someone’s life (from the inside) while we constantly show them Jesus as opposed to trying to get them to submit to a subjective form of whatever behavior is acceptable to us?
  3. How do you best learn? From books? From getting advice? From watching other people? From trial and error? Does it make sense that we invite people in to our lives so they can see what following Jesus is all about?

 

The Still Small Voice: HOPE for the Depressed

 

The Still Small Voice

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:9-12 NLT).

A few months ago I had a great moment in the backyard. There was no sermon. Thousands of people were not there. It was just a few people and me. And we were just talking. Yet they were asking really good questions. They really wanted to know how to help and reach out to a certain person. It was no accident that this person admitted (just a few days later) to feeling depressed. I already knew it. But hearing it was confirmation that God’s Spirit was working in this person’s life and in the life of the folks who were trying to help.

Before diving any deeper, I must add that I’m not a professional counselor. I’m not a doctor. Personally, I don’t like the term counselor. I don’t consider myself a counselor. I prefer the word discipleship. Jesus told us to make disciples and that’s what I do. But I emphasize this to point out that (as shepherds) we can reach out and help people. If they have serious psychological issues, we can refer them to a doctor. We can allow the doctors and professionals to do their thing. That’s ok. If they need medication, they need medication. But whether or not they need medication or a doctor is not the issue. Even if that is the case, we can still come along side as a shepherd and as a friend to take their hand and help them through difficult times.

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us have had to battle depression one time or another (even if it was the mildest case of the blues). I’ve been there. It’s not a great feeling when you think you’re worthless or that nothing you do matters. It’s not a great feeling to think that you’re a failure or that nobody would notice or care if you were gone. That’s just not a good place to be. It’s also not true! However, the word depression scares people. We might think there’s nothing we can do to help other than refer them to a doctor. But that’s not true either! As I’ve said before, a doctor or a counselor will not be there for them when they step out of the office. You will. They might need a doctor, but they also might need YOU.

In addition, there are many examples of depression in the Bible. That particular word might not be used, but it’s there. Elijah, in the Scripture above, is one good example. Moses was in similar despair when he was upset with his people (Numbers 11:14-15). Two other famous characters that are easy to spot are Jeremiah (just read his books) and David (read the Psalms). Even Jesus was in anguish the night before He died (in the Garden of Gethsemane). And who could forget Jonah (Jonah 4:8-9) and Job (Job 3:10-13)? It’s easy to feel like we’re alone; however, when we look at the Bible we realize that we’re in some pretty good company!

So with that in mind, I have a few thoughts to pass along. Also, if you are a shepherd you might’ve been there before and are able to testify to the validity of these truths. Nevertheless, I’m not saying do these four things and depression will clear up like a pimple on a teenager’s face. This is not a cure. However, the following are some simple truths that I have picked up over the years that can aid in the process of shepherding the depressed.

Hang Out! This alone could help to change someone’s life. It could take a person from rock-bottom to functional just because you took the time to spend time with him/her. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone (1 Thess.5:14 NLT). This takes no skill at all except to just be there for someone. As a shepherd, listening should be one of your natural abilities, so just listen to what is said. Simply hanging out with someone who is depressed and listening to their story means so much and goes a LONG way. They need to know someone is in their corner and cares. And that’s showing the love of Jesus.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Gal.6:2 NIV). People who are in despair have trouble even getting out of bed in the morning. They might feel like it would make no difference whether they even woke up. Work might get them out of bed Monday through Friday, but on Saturday or Sunday morning, perhaps a phone call from someone to do something could give them a glimmer of hope. That someone can be you.

Occupy time! No one can be there 24/7. We certainly can’t beat ourselves up in the process if someone does the unthinkable. We can’t control that. I had a neighbor a few years back who was bipolar (which is much worse than depression alone or a mild case of the blues). He had a rough life to say the least. He was on medication. He was doing everything he could. We became friends, and even after I moved out of the area he often wrote and told me how much he appreciated the time I spent with him.

Unfortunately, about a year ago, I found out that he took his own life. I was in shock. I still can’t believe it. However, I knew that he had good people in his life (even though I was far away). He was also involved in his church. The point is that we can’t control it. If someone’s going to do something, we can’t stop it. We have to trust that God is in control and that He knows best. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV).

But one thing we can do, other than hanging out on a regular basis, is making sure they have plenty to do. Other than going to work, people that are down need to be engaged. Too much down time alone can spell disaster for someone who is down in the dumps. One proactive thing we can do is to make sure they are plugged into local activities and groups that interest them. Being part of a missional community is also a great way to keep someone busy with positive activities.

Pray for them as you pursue them. If we begin with the first two suggestions, we are well on the way of taking great care of people who are down. Yet without God working in their lives, all our efforts will come up short. It must be bathed in constant, fervent prayer. If we do that, we will be pursuing the lost sheep just like Jesus described (Luke 15:1-7). The natural tendency in this situation is to withdraw. And as we pursue those individuals, we also have to realize that it might take more than one person. None of us are in this alone. None of us should feel that the weight of someone’s life is on our shoulders alone. That’s why it’s crucial to have an army of shepherds in pursuit of lost sheep.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you (1 Peter 5:7 NLT). That verse works for both the shepherd AND the sheep. We ALL constantly need to hear that as much as the person we’re trying to help! Satan is full of lies. For him, it doesn’t matter who he attacks as long as the process is disrupted. Remember, this is spiritual warfare (Eph.6:12), so don’t be surprised if he also comes after you as you’re trying to help someone else. Jesus said, He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44 NLT). We need to be constant in prayer, pursuing lost sheep, and trusting in God. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8 NLT).

Encourage with God’s Word! If half the battle is in the mind, how can we fight back? We fight back with the TRUTH of God’s Word. And it must be encouraging truths! It drives me crazy when I hear Christians tell people that God is punishing them for their sins. The last time I read my Bible, Jesus was HARSH with the holier than thou religious people and gentle as a dove with the dirty rotten sinners. I often use the example of the woman at the well because it’s one of the best. Jesus was trying to help her, not punish her. In addition, the last time I checked, I read that vengeance is up to God, not us. So if God does punish someone for their sins, that’s His business (Rom.12:19). Our business is to LOVE and pursue people like Jesus (Matt.22:37-39).

So we need to be the best encouragers on the planet! Hope for the depressed could be spelled Y-O-U. We certainly don’t want to give people false hope or make promises we can’t keep. But we do want them to know their ultimate victory in Jesus Christ! He is coming back and one day He will put an end to depression, disease, sickness, and every other consequence of this sin-cursed world. “With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands, and encourage those who have weak knees. Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you’” (Isaiah 35:3-4 NLT).

Moreover, as we encourage people, let’s always remember to keep Jesus front and center. Let Him be the One they praise, call out to, and come to for comfort, joy, and relief. Even if it doesn’t look that way right now, God has a plan for each and every one of us. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jer.29:11 NIV). Finally, we need to know and pass along that the weight of the world is on the shoulders of Jesus, not me or you. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matt.11:28-30 NLT).

Questions to consider…

  1. Ask the person you are shepherding to share their story, and feel free to share your story. Is there a truth you’ve discovered that might give them hope?
  2. What are some interests and activities you could suggest to keep this person in contact with other people? What can you do together? Who else in your missional community can pursue this person other than just you alone?
  3. What are some ways we can encourage the depressed on a regular basis? What are your favorite Scriptures that can encourage people in their time of need?

Unleash the Prayer Part 2: Next Level Prayer

Prayer 2

Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one (Matt.6:9-13 NLT).

I love to look at nature. When I take a ton of pictures, soak in the views, and breathe in the air, I’m in my happy place. The only part I don’t love about nature is actually BEING out with the creatures that live in nature. Yesterday I went on a hike with a friend. It was a small slice of the Appalachian Trail. Yet it was a 30-minute, heart pumping, moderately challenging hike with an awesome view payoff at the end. The part I didn’t like, however, was the threat of snakes all along the way. I was warned, once we were already in the process of making our way there, that Copperheads frequented the area. Yikes! Snakes and I do not see eye to eye or get along.

But once we got there, I felt slightly comforted with the Moses Stick I found at the beginning of the trail. Someone must’ve left if behind just for me. Even though I probably would’ve lost a battle with any snake, I felt better just having it with me. But alas, we made it safely to the top, breathed in the view, had great conversation, and then spent quality time with the Father in prayer! It was a great experience and representative of the opportunity ALL believers have every day to be with the Father. Granted, we’re not going to withdraw to a mountaintop to pray every day. Most people aren’t able to do that. They have things called jobs. But all of us can set aside a few minutes a day to get alone with the Father and pray.

This is the second post in our short series on prayer. The first was to emphasize the need for prayer and the fact that we need to make it a priority in our lives. The truth is that if we want to grow in our faith, have a good relationship with God, and if we want to shepherd others, we HAVE to pray. This second post is about making prayer a priority because we WANT to pray. It’s about helping us dig a little deeper, beyond the surface, and going to the next level of prayer. We can’t hang on to the basics forever (click here for Part 1). We need to go deeper. People have asked me on more than one occasion why we don’t recite the Lord’s Prayer every week in church. They think it’s strange that we don’t pray the prayer Jesus told us to pray. But the truth is that He NEVER told us to recite those words over and over. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Jesus was teaching us HOW to pray. He told us NOT to keep repeating the same things over and over. It’s amazing how the church has twisted Jesus’ words to mean the opposite of what He said.

Another thing Jesus did not tell us to do was to have a long prayer list where we pray every day for people we barely know. It’s not that we can’t do that, but it’s more than that. The real reason most of our prayer lives royally suck is because we don’t know how to pray and we’ve never been discipled in prayer. I usually don’t utilize pneumonic devices. And as I mentioned last time, I do not wish for this to show up on Pinterest or Facebook as the next thing people think is cool yet never practice. But my point, with the rest of this post is to walk us through rethinking how we pray. But this is not meant to be a new checklist or legalistic rules to follow. When I talk with my wife, there is no checklist. We just talk. I don’t go up to her and say, I’m going to praise your good looks now. And then I’ll say I’m sorry for the way I offended you over the past week, and finally I’m going to ask you some questions before I let you speak. That would be really weird! We just talk to each other, back and forth, and we let the conversation flow naturally. That’s what prayer should be like. However, the first thing we need to do is throw away our prayer lists and start over.

P stands for Private. We can’t have quality conversation with God if we’re distracted. The best thing to do is to set aside quality time to be with the Father in a secluded place where we can concentrate. But it doesn’t have to be four hours long. Just find some alone time with God and say what needs to be said. That’s what Jesus told us to do. “But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again” (Matt.6:6-7 NLT). All we need to do is get alone with God and say what needs to be said. You’re not more spiritual if you babble on for ten hours. Say what needs to be said and be done.

R stands for Raise the roof of expectations. If we think prayer is boring, a waste of time, and an obligation, the bar of expectations is not very high. In that scenario we don’t expect God to actually answer our prayers other than a big fat NO! But if we pray expecting positive results, if we pray really BOLD prayers every day, we might actually be on the right track. But if we throw up a Hail Mary (during a crisis) out of desperation, not expecting anything great, what do we think is going to happen? James offers us good advice on this subject: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6 NIV). God wants to be with us and speak with us. He wants us to call to Him. He wants to answer us. He wants to show us “great and mighty things, which” we “do not know” (Jer.33:3 NKJV). He wants us to raise our roof of expectations.

A stands for Ask Him questions. We can’t talk AT God. It’s not a one-way conversation. The whole God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food prayer drives me up the wall! How impersonal is that prayer? Do I say Olivia is pretty? Do I say Olivia is a great mom as I’m talking to her? No. I might say that as I’m telling someone else about her, but I wouldn’t say that to her face. When we talk to God, we need to talk TO Him, ask Him questions, and actually listen back to what He says. It’s not weird. It might be the first time you try it, but when you hear God for the first time, you’ll want MORE. It’s a two-way conversation. In addition, when we pray, we need to pray for what God wants, not what we want. This is the most ignored, yet most critical, piece of prayer. When Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray, He said, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt.6:10 HCSB). And again, we say what needs to be said, and then we listen. “As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. It is evil to make mindless offerings to God. Don’t make rash promises, and don’t be hasty in bringing matters before God. After all, God is in heaven, and you are here on earth. So let your words be few” (Ecc.5:1-2 NLT). So let’s ask Him what He wants and then listen.

Y stands for Yearn for relationship as you pour out your heart to God over time. It’s all about relationship. When Adam and Eve sinned, it messed up their relationship with God and each other. Yet from the beginning, we were created as relational creatures. Even though we’re broken, we still all long for a relationship with God (even if we don’t know it) and with each other (even though brokenness abounds). As we get alone with God, as we expect positive results, as we ask Him questions, and as we listen back for answers (on a consistent basis over time), our relationship with God goes deeper. We can’t get deep if we only talk to Him once in a blue moon. We can’t get close to God if our prayers are shallow, one-sided, and/or selfish. We need quality, consistent time with the Father as we pour out our hearts to Him. And when we do that, the relationship goes deeper.

Each evening, Olivia and I love our time of relaxation, watching a show on Netflix, and discussing our day. When we get too busy and don’t have time for it, we miss it. We long for it. We actually LIKE spending time together. We ENJOY each other and our kids. But when we don’t spend time together, when we’re too busy, we get irritated with each other really fast. It’s not good for relationship. It’s the same way with God. If we’re too busy to pray, the relationship is strained, we get easily irritated, and then somehow we have the audacity to blame God. But Jesus set the example for us: “Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed” (Luke 5:16 HCSB). He knew it was necessary to be alone with the Father. But it wasn’t just for Him. He was setting the example for us to follow.

If we do the same, wouldn’t it be awesome if we could get to the point Jesus did? He said, “I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me. And the one who sent me is with me-he has not deserted me. For I always do what pleases him” (John 8:28-29 NLT). That’s the complete opposite of what our culture teaches us. Our culture says look out for number one! It’s all about me! Jesus says it’s all about Him and what He wants! James agrees. Nothing much has changed in two-thousand years: “And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong-you want only what will give you pleasure (James 4:3 NLT). So let’s go against the grain. Let’s go deeper in prayer. Let’s share this with those we shepherd. Let’s go to Next Level Prayer.

Questions to consider…

  1. When you pray, do you get alone with God? Or are there too many distractions?
  2. When you pray, do you expect Him to answer positively? Or do you expect defeat?
  3. When you pray, do you ask Him questions, ask what He wants (not what YOU want), and wait for answers?
  4. When you pray, do you consistently get alone with the Father? Is it a priority in your schedule?

 

Unleash the Prayer Part 1: The Clock is Ticking

The Clock is Ticking

One of the few early memories I have of church is when I was forced to pray against my will. It was humiliating. In fact, I do not remember ever being taught how to pray before I was required to pray. But that one moment in time scarred me for quite a while. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I started to be comfortable praying in front of other people. In addition, I didn’t pray much on my own up to that point either. Truth be told, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was never discipled in prayer. I had simply heard other people praying in church and it terrified and intimidated me because I knew I could never pray like they could. So why bother?

Prayer just wasn’t a priority for me. Eventually I learned the basics of how to pray and I felt more comfortable praying in public. But it still wasn’t a priority. It wasn’t until I HAD to pray that it became a priority. I ended up needing to pray because events in my life required it. God has His ways of nudging us along and putting us where we need to be. But we still need to make the conscious choice to pray. He won’t force us. We need to follow through. Religious people might force us to pray but God won’t.

Unfortunately, over and over again I witness God working in people’s lives and they miss the memo. Struggles come and I see God trying to do in them what He did in me. But for some, the rough patches of life seem to drive a wedge between them and God. They tend to follow the advice of Job’s wife: Curse God and die (Job 2:9 NLT). I totally understand frustration. I understand that when people start to grow and start to take God seriously, the bottom often drops out. So the first tendency is to curse God and die. The first tendency is to give up on God and faith. But that’s where shepherds come in. We have to step in and say that this is normal! It’s growing pains! We can’t promise it’ll go away and get better, but we can encourage people along the way. We can share our own experiences. And we can certainly pray with them.

That’s what shepherds do. Unfortunately, if WE’RE not prayed up, we won’t be much help. We need to make prayer a priority in our own lives on a regular basis before we can be ready to challenge and encourage other people to do the same. In my life, God has used many struggles to wake me up. He put me in circumstances where sometimes all I had was prayer. And that’s really all I needed. Sometimes we just need to rely on God, with no backup plan, to realize that we need Him. We can’t control anything in our lives. But He always provides.

In Psalm 105, the Psalmist points out how God worked out Israel’s journey and led them where they needed to be. And then at the end, it says, All this happened so they would follow his decrees and obey his instructions. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 105:45 NLT). God has a plan. He’s always working it out, even when we don’t know which way is up. And prayer is the key to getting through those times. Prayer is relying on God. It builds our relationship with Him, shows that we NEED Him, and helps sustain us through the toughest of times. And once we learn that lesson, we can always make prayer a priority, whether life is rough or smooth. Praise the LORD!

My wife typed up a bunch of my favorite Scriptures one time and put them in a holder on my desk. I used to switch the Scripture daily; however, at one point I got to a certain passage and kept it there. Presently, I refuse to change it. It has now stayed the same for a few years. It says, “…pray continually…” (1 Thess.5:17 NIV). Why move on? I need that constant reminder. If I miss a few days, I feel the difference (not in a good way). Prayer is vital to our relationship with God. I cannot emphasize it enough. In fact, if I had to choose between reading Scripture and praying, I would choose prayer. Too many of us rely on information or ourselves. Yet we forget that God is the One who makes things happen. He wants us to rely on Him. That’s what faith is all about. And prayer is one way we demonstrate our faith.

That Scripture above is in the context of some crazy events. Paul is urging the people to pray (among other things) because the clock is ticking. He was writing to them about the end of the world (the return of Jesus), which they all thought could happen at any moment (and it can). People were dying FOR their faith and IN the faith. So his goal was to give them hope. He wanted them to cling to God and know that heaven awaited them. Their faith was not in vain. But in the meantime, they needed to pray continually. They needed to share their faith because the clock was ticking. Jesus could have come back at any moment. They needed to be ready. We need to be ready and on mission. And we can’t be successful without being connected to God in prayer. We can suck at mission but we can’t be successful if we’re not connected in prayer.

Honestly, prayer can’t be a last resort. It can’t be just a few wasted words or a ritual we perform to open or close a service (or a class). It HAS TO be a PRIORITY in our lives. We need to pray individually and in community with other believers. Unfortunately, the most common comments I usually hear about prayer are that I’m not very good at it and/or I need to make more time for prayer. And then nothing is ever done to change it. In addition, when pastors teach about prayer, we usually teach a message or series on the Lord’s prayer, but we always stick with the basics. We use tools like PRAY (Praise, Repent, Ask, and Yield) or ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). You can certainly find those all over the internet.

While none of those are bad or wrong, the fact is that most people don’t even use them. For those that do, they never get beyond those basic tools. They’re fine to get us started, but we can’t stay at the beginning forever. Let’s be honest. Those tools make our prayers impersonal at best. Those tools make God out to be an unfeeling dictator (with a lightning bolt) that we need to appease so He won’t be mad at us. May I suggest starting with pouring out your heart to God, telling Him what you really think, and asking Him what He really wants?

And don’t worry about technicalities. Yes. Theologically speaking, we pray to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, and we pray through the Holy Spirit. But it’s not like if you forget to address God as your Father or fail to end your prayer with IN JESUS’ NAME that He won’t hear your prayer. We have to get over that. We have to get beyond the basics. Prayer is not an incantation. In part two of this message (just out of spite), I will give a new PRAY tool. But I’m only doing it because we need to move beyond the current paradigm. I don’t care if you ever use it. The point is not for it to show up on Pinterest. The point is to get us to take prayer seriously.

So this first post was simply to whet your whistle. But at the very least, meditate on this (dare I say PRAY) and discuss it in your Missional Community. And if you want a good start, just try talking with God in your own words, not worrying about how other people pray, not worrying about methods or acronyms, and just sharing your heart with God. Ask Him questions. And take time to listen to what He says. Sometimes our best prayers are in crisis. Sometimes God uses that to wake us up. But they can’t be our only prayers.

Furthermore, don’t worry about length. Length doesn’t matter. Just pray all the time and all day long in shorts spurts as your day progresses. In fact, I even pray in my car when I’m driving during the day. I’m sure people think I’m crazy, but I don’t care. On the other hand, with technology these days, people will probably think you’re talking on your cell phone with a hands free device. So go on and pray. Don’t worry what other people might think. You’re just having a conversation. Make prayer the first thing (and continual thing) you do instead of the last resort. And let prayer be what we do with those we shepherd. Be honest and let them know that you don’t have all the answers. In fact, you can pray and ask God for answers together. And you can keep asking until you hear those answers from Him. We must rely on Him. And we need to start now. The clock is ticking.

Questions to consider…

  1. Why do people always seem to wait for a crisis to pray and then blame God for what went wrong? Do you think that maybe a crisis could be used to get us to rely on God rather than ourselves?
  2. Do you take regular time to pray with God or do you keep striking out at home plate? Why?
  3. Why is it better to rely on God for an answer than for us to always have the answers ready to go before we even pray? As shepherds, we don’t always have the answers. We need to rely on God for those answers. And when He answers, it encourages us and those we are shepherding. Are you willing to pray to God and take time to listen for His answers?
  4. How can prayer be an encouragement to those we shepherd? How can prayer also be a discipleship tool?

 

 

 

Putting the Life in Doing Life Together

Putting the LIFE in Doing Life Together

Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters. Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her (1 Tim.5:1-3 NLT).

In a traditional church, the above Scripture is reduced to an expression as we shake hands with someone we barely know on a Sunday morning. When we say, “Brothers and sisters, let us do this and let us do that” we are full of crap and we don’t really mean it. The best case scenario is that we don’t realize we don’t mean it. The worst case scenario is that we know we don’t mean it and we don’t care. We just say it because we’ve always said it and that’s what you say on a Sunday morning to play church.

Usually what happens is that the elders are put in charge and make all the decisions. The church then puts on a show every Sunday morning, they do evangelistic events from time to time (to attract people from other churches), and on occasion there are fellowship meals after a Sunday morning service in a fellowship hall. The problem is that there are no close relationships being developed. We’re not really brothers and sisters. We are acquaintances at best and competitors at worst. Everything is on the surface, no one really spends any time with each other outside of Sunday morning, and the terms brother and sister in reality mean absolutely nothing.

But when Paul and others in the New Testament throw those words around, they are way more than an expression. That language is legit! The words brother and sister describe our relationships with each other and how we are to act with each other. “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone-especially to those in the family of faith (Gal.6:10 NLT). So when Paul uses the word family here, he’s totally serious. If we are the family of God, we should probably behave like a family. But family can be messy! And it takes some hard work to operate like a family.

Moreover, in a missional community setting, you would think this would be easy and automatic. But it’s not! A month or so ago someone came to me a little discouraged. This person indicated their disappointment. Their expectations didn’t match up with reality. This person was starving for fellowship. So all the talk of doing life together and belonging to a community on mission sounded pretty awesome. The only problem is that it wasn’t happening. I mean, how can you claim you’re doing life with someone when you only see them once or twice a month?

And that’s where shepherds come in! Just in case I haven’t mentioned this yet, being a shepherd is not always a negative thing. Shepherds don’t just make hospital visits. They’re not always defusing crisis situations when someone is considering suicide. That sometimes does happen, but more often than not shepherds are the glue that holds missional communities together. Shepherds come in all shapes and sizes. Some are introverts who latch on to one person and care for them. Some are extroverts who are amazing at hospitality. But again, this can be a positive, ongoing, and nurturing effort, rather than constant crisis management.

The first thing that came to my mind as this person poured their heart out to me is that they are a shepherd. Having said that, we pulled some great lessons out of that meeting. I love using the expression, “The hungriest one cooks.” Honestly, I have learned over the years that what we complain about is often an indication of what our gifts are. So I instantly realized that this person who came to me is a shepherd, even if they don’t know it yet! So the idea was to help turn this negative into a positive. If they felt that the group was not doing life together, this person was now going to be a part of the solution instead of just complaining about the problem. In other words, the hungriest one cooks!

So if people are not connecting the way they should, shepherds can be the ones that jump in and start the process. Shepherds are the glue that holds missional communities together. Sure, they care about those that are hurting, but they also care about everyone being plugged in, connected, and doing life together. And shepherds have the freedom in Christ to do that! One of our sayings at NRC is that “everybody plays.” So the MAG (Missional Action Group) leader does not have to be the one that does everything. Shepherds are good with people, so we can let the shepherds do their shepherd thing and make sure the group is doing life together rather than just having meetings and holding events. Shepherds can help us connect throughout the week.

This is not a new problem by the way. The first century church had issues too: “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another(Gal.5:13-15 NLT). We are all selfish by nature. Our first tendency is to complain and think about ourselves. But my challenge to shepherds is to turn those complaints into positive connections as we strive to build community. Be an agent of change.

And yes, you’ll mess it up. We all do. But just jump in and try it. See what happens. If something doesn’t work, try something else. There is no manual. You can’t learn fellowship from a book or a sermon anyway. It is something that needs to be experienced. Clearly, a fellowship meal after a service is NOT doing life together. You have to actually put the life in doing life together.

Another lesson that came out of that meeting was communication. A simple group text message with your group each week can go a long way. A shepherd can get a text going which becomes an ongoing conversation all week. Even if your people are busy, you can still find out what’s going on with everyone, where they are, what they’re struggling with, and how to pray for them. Furthermore, let’s say that from one of those texts you learn that one of the kids in the group has a football game that week. Perhaps some in the group decide to go to the game to show support. That’s a great way to do life together! That’s a great way to be a brother or a sister. But hey, why stop there? Maybe after the game you guys could go out for ice cream!

In addition, that also creates an opportunity for mission. As you hang out with each other at the game, you might meet someone who doesn’t know Jesus. This can eventually help us to go deeper in our relationships with each other and with those that don’t yet know Jesus. And all of this happens outside of Sunday morning and outside of a weekly MAG meeting. But it all started with a simple text message from a shepherd. It’s called communication, which is generally either the solution or the breakdown of any family or relationship. This good communication leads to continuity and creates lasting connections, which is the root of building deep relationships.

That may sound overwhelming at first, but it’s just part of the everyday rhythms of life. We’re not adding anything to our schedules. We’re not making ourselves busier. We’re simply including other people in what we’re already doing. That was a major lightbulb that went off for me (and was taught to me) as I was being trained in what missional communities are all about. Remember, building relationships takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. Brothers and sisters grow up together over a period of years. They spend time together, play together, fight together, eat together, cry together, and celebrate together.

And that leads to my final point: Conflict is inevitable. When we do life together, we will argue and fight and complain just like any other family. That’s part of the messiness. It doesn’t mean the group needs to break up. It means that fellowship is actually happening, relationships are being deepened, and we’re actually starting to ACT like brothers and sisters! That’s a GOOD thing! That’s what God wants! He doesn’t really want us to fight, but fighting is an indication that we’re on the right track! Just try not to bite as Paul says!

But as we stop playing church and begin doing life together, conflict will happen. We need not fear it. Missional life is messy and real. We don’t have to pretend it’s easy, because it’s not. If we are truly acting as brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, we will have conflict. And shepherds can be at the heart of cultivating this family environment. Remember shepherds, you are glue! So connect people together. Referee fights. Love people. It’s worth it! It’s real life. So I challenge you to aid in putting the life in doing life together.

Questions to consider…

  1. Is everyone in your group plugged in with someone in the group? Not everyone in the group will be best friends. In addition, there will always be that one who just doesn’t connect well. But can you find it in your heart to go after that person? Read James 2:1-13. James asks a great question: “My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” (James 2:1 NLT). If we only let the “cool” people sit at our table, we miss what Jesus modeled for us. He ate and drank with the outcasts.
  2. Do you have unrealistic expectations about someone in the group? We are all in different seasons of life. The dad with kids won’t be able to give as much time to the single or divorced man in the group. It’s not that they don’t WANT to; they just can’t. When they become empty nesters, or when their toddlers get a little older, they will be able to.
  3. Are you willing to turn your complaints into connections? What we complain about is often an indication of our gifts. So if you complain that there’s not great fellowship in your group, that might be an indication that you’re a shepherd. It’s a unique gift that comes naturally to you but not to others. So why not provide what is lacking in your group? You might be really good at it! “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi).
  4. Is your group doing life together? How often? Sometimes we tend to think that our missional community consists of a weekly meeting, but it doesn’t. A missional community goes on every day as we do life together, text each other, call each other, as we go to a sporting event together, as we eat together, etc. Community can’t be formed in a one hour a week meeting.

 

The Human Bungee Cord

The Human Bungee Cord2

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent (2 Peter 3:8-9 NLT).

In my younger days, I loved a good roller coaster. The metal ones were my favorite because they delivered such a smooth ride. It didn’t matter if I was being turned upside down, sideways, or any which way but loose, the metal coasters were smooth operators. Hands down, amusement parks were my favorite place to go as a kid. Sky diving was also on my list, but I never got around to it. I’d still be interested, but I’m not positive my body could handle it at this point. As I get older, I find that I can’t do the things I once did even though my mind tells me I can. Whenever I go to amusement parks these days with my kids, I find that my body screams NO quite often as the twists and turns now disturb my soul. The whole smooth part is out the window. For example, my wife and I recently went to Hersheypark. I finally convinced her to stop being a baby and get on the swings because it was a girlie enough ride even for her. But in the end, I thought I was going to be sick. So who is the girlie one now?

There is one thrill ride, however, that I have never done and have never had the desire to do. That’s the bungee cord. Something just seems unnatural about it. Why would anyone want to do that? It seems a little dangerous. Whenever I see it on video, people are always bouncing all around. It looks uncontrolled. In addition, it always looks like there’s something too close by that they’re going to crash into, like a support beam on a bridge or a crane arm. Furthermore, the whole the cord could snap and I could plummet to my death thing often leaves me highly motivated to try it (NOT!). I’ve even heard of people bungee jumping out of helicopters! What if you spring back up so high, you go through the blades of the copter? These are things I do not wish to explore! I’m too old for that kind of stress!

Having said that, I cannot think of a better illustration for growing in our faith. God is constantly stretching us like bungee cords. Even though we think we might break, God knows what He’s doing. He knows we won’t break. He knows just how far we can stretch. All we need to do is conquer our fears and learn to trust Him! However, that’s easier said than done. And for whatever reason, when we’re being stretched, our first instinct is to think something’s wrong. But if and when we bounce back, then we think everything’s OK again. So it’s like a continual bungee jump of either falling (being stretched) or bouncing back up (relaxed). I’ll coin the term the Bungee Effect for our purposes here today.

Over the years I have stopped trying to figure out WHY something negative is happening and have started to channel my energy into asking what I can learn from the situation (or how I can grow). Typically, our first gut reaction in a trial is to question God (Why are You doing this to me God?). This is especially true of new believers or folks that have never matured in the faith. Once they begin to grow and make an effort to live on mission, inevitably the bottom drops out, and they immediately begin to doubt their faith and doubt that God loves them. But nothing could be further from the truth. It simply means that the stretching process of growth has begun.

Even though we don’t always know WHY something is happening, we do know some of the basic ground rules from Scripture. We know there’s a plethora of reasons why we could be facing a trial. God could be disciplining us. There might be a sin He’s trying to help us repent of (Hebrews 12:3-11). On the other hand, it might not have anything to do with you at all. Joseph is the best example of that. He did everything right, yet suffered for many years. In the end, he realized that God was working behind the scenes to save the people of Israel from starvation during a famine. So even though his life sucked for many years, God was working it out for good (Gen.45:5). It seemed like every time Joseph was on the right track and making progress, his feet would get taken out from under him. That’s a very discouraging place to be again and again.

This happens all the time, not only to us, but also to the people we’re shepherding. Yet as we ask WHY, consider that it might not have anything to do with us. What if it has to do with something else entirely? That’s what happened to Joseph. It wasn’t about Joseph at all. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Gen.50:20 NLT). God knew Joseph was faithful. God knew Joseph wouldn’t break when stretched. And God used Joseph for something bigger than himself, even though it made no sense to him and took many years to come to fruition. Sound familiar?

Sometimes we simply suffer for righteousness’ sake (1 Peter 1:3-9; 4:12-13; 5:6-11). Sometimes it’s solely to bring God glory (John 9:1-3). But in the end, there’s no real way to know what the reason is. We can be aware of the reasons, but regardless, God wants to grow us as He stretches us. In addition, it could be a combination of many reasons. It doesn’t have to be just one. But without a doubt, we all have something to learn from being stretched. And if I could pass one groundbreaking truth along to the shepherds and the sheep, it is that if we give up, we’ll never have a chance to learn the lesson.

Think about that! What if Joseph would’ve given up mid-stream and said, I’ve had about enough of this God! What about ME God? I quit. Literally, millions of people were saved by God using that one man. Subsequently, millions of people have been inspired by that one story. But if Joseph would’ve quit, we wouldn’t know about him, or the Jews, or Jesus. He had to be stretched to grow, to save people, and for God to be glorified. The rest, as they say, is HIS-Story.

But here’s a few take-a-ways we’re sure of, from Scripture, as human bungee cords. We won’t break. “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure” (1 Cor.10:13 NLT). God knows just how far we need to stretch to grow. So no, you won’t break. Good CAN come out of it.  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Rom.8:28 NLT). Good CAN come out of it, but you need to endure. Hang in there! You’re being streeeeeeeetched for growth (Read and memorize Jeremiah 29:11-13; Proverbs 3:5-6).

The one that will grow the most is you. Oftentimes we think about shepherding other people. And that’s a good thing. But when we’re pouring ourselves into someone else, what we often discover is that the person that has changed the most is me, myself, and I (that most unholy trinity). Furthermore, more often than not, we don’t notice it until after the fact. God is sneaky like that! God is SO like Mr. Miyagi! So go ahead and wash the car and paint the fence. And feel free to complain a little during the process. But in the end, when God says to show Him paint the fence and wash the car, be prepared to be amazed at what you’ve learned! If you have no idea what that means, go rent the movie (The Karate Kid; the original 1984 version)!

God delivers us THROUGH trials, not from them. Needless to say, comfort does not equal growth. God grows us through stretching us, not through sitting on the sofa. Have you ever considered the timing of WHEN David got into trouble with Bathsheba? It’s when he was comfortable and at home. He was super faithful in the midst of adversity and wars, but when he stayed home, kicked his feet up, and watched a little too much Netflix, that’s when he got into trouble (2 Sam.11-12; 1 Peter 3:20; John 17:15-21).

So next time you’re being stretched by God, consider yourself in some fantastic company. But remember, God is on YOUR side. “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help. This I know: God is on my side! I praise God for what he has promised; Yes, I praise the LORD for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:8-11 NLT).

Questions to think about…

  1. Is it your natural reaction, when God is stretching you, to pull back? Does your first instinct tell you that it must not be His will, that you’ve done something wrong, or that you’re on the wrong track? After today, I do hope you consider a new thought. We grow when God stretches us, not when we’re at rest. I like to be at rest and comfortable all the time, but the problem is that’s when we can get lazy and fall into sin. Just ask King David.
  2. What’s the biggest test of faith you’ve ever been through? Have you ever had an epic fail of faith? I don’t ask that to shame or guilt anyone. Sometimes when we realize an epic fail, we can still learn. We can learn what decision to make the next time around. Thank God for His grace! When God stretches us beyond what we think we can bear, He’s giving us a chance to grow. And even if you’ve screwed it up in the past, God will give you another chance. So get back up and try again. Fail again. Just get back up. And pick others up with you.
  3. How can you encourage those you are shepherding when they are being stretched beyond what they think they can take? It’s perfectly natural for new believers to get upset at God once they start to get on the right track and then bumps in the road occur. But the Bible never says that once we accept Jesus, all of our problems will go away. It actually argues the exact opposite. We might get rewards in this life. But we might not. Our final, lasting rewards are still future (waiting for us in heaven). We must make sure we deliver the right gospel and not offer false expectations or promises we can’t keep.

Hurry Up and Wait

 

Hurry Up and Wait4

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone-especially to those in the family of faith (Gal.6:9-10 NLT).

Olivia hates driving with me. She drives like my grandmother. When she drives, it doesn’t even cause a breeze because the pace is that slow. So when it’s time to get in the car with me, it’s a little bit of a shock each time. Even after almost sixteen years of marriage, she still complains about my driving. Apparently, she fears for her life and always thinks we’re going to crash, which is a bit of an exaggeration. I’m pretty sure I’ve only been in two crashes my whole life (when I was at the wheel), one of which was not my fault. The second of which I was on company time! So does that really count? And it wasn’t even a fender bender. It was a bumper scratcher. In addition, that crash was either just before or after we got married. It was a LONG time ago. My wife really needs to learn Elsa’s song and Let it Go.

Most days I do drive like a decent defensive driver. My Driver’s ED instructor would be proud. But occasionally, when I’m in a rush, I do pick up the pace a bit. And a few weeks ago, with my family in tow, I might have given Olivia a wee bit of a reason to hold on to the handle above the passenger’s seat. We were running late (which is so unlike our family of six) and I was heavy on the gas pedal. Of course, I wouldn’t have had to drive so crazy if people would’ve gotten out of my way, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

The real issue, however, was that as we were driving down the highway in the fast lane, we came upon a SLOW driver (who drives much like Olivia, but in the fast lane). So I did what any sensible person would do. I switched lanes. I got in the slow lane so I could pass this inconsiderate driver. And what does he do at that point you might ask? That’s a very good question! I’m so glad you asked! As soon as I switched lanes, he switched lanes! So I switched back and passed him. The story should really end there, but it doesn’t. I got an earful from Olivia about how reckless and impatient I am. I also was reminded about the fact that my children were in the car. Furthermore, I was instructed that if I would like to continue to drive in this manner, I am allowed to do it when my family is NOT in the car. So I slowed down. I enjoy being married.

Of course, I would like to say that was the first time that happened, but it wasn’t. But what would’ve make that story really awesome (and what would’ve made my point better) is if two minutes later, we got stuck behind a red light and that slow car not only caught up with us, but pulled up beside us! That would’ve been epic. But it didn’t happen. Although I have had that happen on more than one occasion. And that finally brings me to my point. And yes I do have one! When you’re in a rush (which causes mistakes and accidents), you normally don’t get where you want to go any faster. In fact, what usually happens is the opposite of what is intended. If you’re driving fast and in a rush, that car you almost crashed into will inevitably get where you are at the same general time. And they’ll give you that I told you so type of look! Moreover, when you’re trying to rush your kids out the door, someone will inevitably get trampled on, which causes crying and will obviously cause you to be even later than before.

The same is true when we shepherd people on mission. If we try to rush them through the process, they don’t make progress any faster. Trust me. I’ve been there and done that. I’ve spent many a day (and sleepless nights) crying out to the Lord to hurry people up but it just doesn’t happen. It’s a process. Just shoving all the answers down their throats, giving them a ten step process, and “praying” for them isn’t going to cut it. Most likely they need to go through the fire and come out alive to appreciate the lessons God is teaching them along the way. There is quite a lot a madness in His methods (or was it method in the madness?). So you might as well just give in now (because God always wins), strap yourself in, drive the speed limit, and wait a while to get to your destination. There are many hours of driving ahead.

In English, we call this patience. We typically define patience as a time where we simply have to wait (and like it). We think of it as neither good nor bad, but simply an in between time where we need to wait for something to happen or for someone to do something. That’s why no one in our culture likes patience. We want everything NOW and exactly the way we want it. Patience doesn’t really make sense to us. But in our context today, patience is much worse! If you thought the above definition was bad, wait till you hear what God has in mind when it comes to patience! The Bible says, Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love (Eph.4:2 NLT). For our context today, the word for patient here (Greek) would be better translated longsuffering. It goes way beyond our simple smile and wait for a while for something to happen state of mind. Longsuffering has to do with a little agony while we wait.

Longsuffering, according to the Bible, is much more than two princes waiting in Agony to have their princesses (Into the Woods). Agony is a GREAT song. It’s hysterical. If you’ve never seen Into the Woods, go rent the movie, or see it on stage! For the love of God, get some culture into your life! Laugh a little! But longsuffering is a little painful. Longsuffering is a better word when it comes to what shepherds are dealing with. In fact, patience (in our case) is a little different than waiting for your oil to get changed at Jiffy Lube. There’s actually a bit of true agony involved, yet we learn to patiently endure with someone who is suffering.

So we are patient with the person not making much progress (in our view). We are patient with the person who can’t catch a break. Most of the time it’s not even their fault! Sometimes irresponsibility is the case, but many times even irresponsibility comes after being beat down so many times, or having been raised in such poor conditions that the person doesn’t have the energy to go on anymore. They don’t even know where to begin. That’s where shepherds come in. That’s why we’re needed. And that’s why we also have to be prepared for some longsuffering. It’s also why we need more than one shepherd to care for people. It truly takes a community.

Even in a single missional community, we need more than one shepherd to help bear the burdens. One person can’t handle it all. And they shouldn’t have to! Last time, we talked about patience from the point of view of being satisfied that the person is moving in the right direction toward Jesus (One Way). And that’s an important foundation. But then comes the fact that we need to wait WITH them. We need to suffer WITH them. We need to walk the road alongside them as they slowly make progress toward Jesus. It’s not a fast process. So get ready to hurry up and wait! There’s no way to rush it like I tried by hastily switching lanes in my car. Switching lanes too much, taking too many shortcuts, or driving too fast is just an accident waiting to happen.

So longsuffering is for both the shepherd and the sheep. Yet it’s not for the faint of heart. We will most likely have to speak the good news of Jesus into their lives on more than one occasion. It must be little by little and over time. Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others (Col.3:12-13 NLT).

The last part of that verse is intense. Anytime we get into someone’s life, it will get messy. And when people get frustrated they take it out on the person closest to them. That’s why it’s so important to have forgiveness ready to go alongside of longsuffering. I like how that Scripture tells us to make allowance for whatever someone is going to do to you. And yes they will hurt you in the process. They will let you down. But if we’ve already made room for forgiveness, if we expect it to happen, we’ll be less surprised when it does.

And think about all the times you’ve rebelled against God. Think about all the times that He was longsuffering with you as you kept going your own way. But then one day you figured it out. One day, God had just a little more patience with you, someone took you by the hand and forgave you one more time, and then you finally figured it out. You finally got over that addiction, that stumbling block, whatever it was. Jesus did the same for all of us. He took our burdens. He took our mistakes. He took our sins. He took the whole world on His shoulders. And He gave up His life. He moved from heaven to earth. He lived with us so He could shepherd us. He listened to our cries for help. And then we killed Him. But He said, I forgive you. I willingly lay down my life for you because I love you. That’s a pretty good Shepherd. We learn from the Best!

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 NLT). The phony will run at the first sign of trouble or inconvenience. But the real shepherd will stick around and sacrifice his life for his sheep. That’s what Jesus did for us. Are we willing to be a little uncomfortable to help someone? Are we willing to make some sacrifices for someone else? Are we willing to be longsuffering? I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. A counselor will not get better results than YOU. They can’t give the time you can. You can do life with someone, but the professional counselor really can’t. Neither can your pastor. He has 200 other people to shepherd, whereas you have one. Make it a quality effort. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Slow down with one sheep who needs a shepherd.

Questions to consider…

  1. Does the thought of shepherding being messy scare you or deter you from wanting to help? It’s not always quite as easy as having polite conversation over coffee. Sometimes you will get a call late at night. Sometimes you will be inconvenienced. Sometimes you will have to suffer alongside someone over a period of time with no clear answer in sight.
  2. Who in your missional community are you in the process of shepherding? Are you stuck? Are you not sure of how to help them? Do they seem to be doing well for a time and then the bottom always seems to drop out? As a shepherd, what’s your first instinct? Is it to pay their bills and go into savior mode? Generosity is certainly a noble and right thing, but it might not solve the deeper problem. Perhaps teaching them how to make and stick to a budget would be a more long-term fix than giving them money. In reality, if you give money several times, they might keep expecting it like a wild animal looking to be fed in the back yard of someone’s home. It’s not a healthy or long-term fix. It creates co-dependence rather than independence. Try spending time with the person, praying with them, and asking God what the long-term fix is. You might be the one to help. Or you might have to hook them up with someone who can help. And you can be by their side the whole time. A shepherd doesn’t solve everyone’s problems, but he can aid in the process.
  3. Do you think handing someone off to an organization gets you off the hook? Is it an easier alternative? Oftentimes we want to volunteer in a soup kitchen, but does that offer a long-term and personal shepherding opportunity? Those organizations have their place, for sure. They offer much needed services. But it does not offer you a one on one opportunity to shepherd someone well. Shepherding includes rolling up your sleeves and putting in time with another person over a period of time. It’s a relationship. It’s not a once and done situation every Thanksgiving when you serve turkey.
  4. Does the thought of slowing down with a person, one on one, and suffering alongside someone help you to think through how to help them? Instead of quick-fix problem solving, cutting corners, or moving on to the next person, does the thought of taking time for someone over time inspire you? You don’t need to help twenty people at a time. It’s ok to slow down and help one person. That’s what shepherds are for. There’s no need to be in a rush. We are on the Holy Spirit’s time clock, not our own. We won’t help them any faster by changing lanes, stepping on the gas pedal, or honking our legalistic don’t do it horns. That just leads to mistakes, accidents, and injuries. As long as we’re pointing them to Jesus, slowing down WITH them, and waiting on God (patience; longsuffering), we’re in a good place. We don’t need to have all of the answers up front. And they might not be ready for the answers for another six months anyway. Longsuffering is a virtue. Isn’t that how the saying goes?