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Living in the F.O.G.

favor

We know that Noah found the favor of God.  Noah worshiped faithfully as did Abel in Gen. 4.  He walked with God intimately just like his great-grandfather, Enoch, did in Gen. 5.  Then Noah worked purposefully for God in Gen. 6.  Living in the F.O.G. is living in the favor of God.  What does it mean to have the favor of God?

Favor can be defined as demonstrated delight.  The favor of God equals tangible evidence that you have the approval of God.  Perhaps more than any other individual in history, Noah’s life was obedience personified.  Noah is the poster child for obeying God without debate or hesitation.  Gen. 6:22 says, “And Noah did this.  He did everything that God had commanded him.”

What does this tangible evidence look like?  We need wisdom as ancient as the foundations of the world.  That is the word of God that is settled in heaven forever.  We also need insights as fresh as each new morning.  That is the Holy Spirit guiding us, directing us, and leading us.  God looks down with favor on those who look up to Him with an eye of faith and then obey Him!

Isa. 66:2 is a good litmus test for tangible evidence of living in the favor of God.  “My hand made all these things, and so they all came into being.  This is the Lord’s declaration.  I will look favorable on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at My word.”  God’s favor rests on those who worship Him, walk with Him, and work for Him.

Here are three ways to live in the F.O.G. (Favor of God):

First, do not rely on what others tell you about God.  Get to know Him firsthand.  Noah walked with God.  He had had a close, personal, and intimate relationship with Him.  This requires an investment of your time for which there is no substitute.  The best and only way to learn who God really is requires intentionally seeking Him daily in His word.

All of us have accepted ideas and notions about God because of what someone has told us about Him that simply are not true.  We must find out for ourselves through searching the scriptures because Jesus said they are what testify of Him.  That is where you find out who He is, what He likes, and what He dislikes.  For example; He likes humility and He dislikes pride and arrogance.

Second, don’t let somebody else tell you who you are.  All too often we base our identity on how others have described us and who we know.  We think our value depends on our athletic abilities, our popularity, our academic advancement, or our possessions.  Living in the favor of God means that we let Him tell us who we are.  Our true value is based on our position in Christ.

Our value is assigned to us, it is not earned.  Regi Campbell says it like this, “At the moment we accept God’s offer to become His adopted son, our value is maxed out.  We go from the outhouse to the penthouse.  From sinner to saint.  From ‘guilt’ for our sins to ‘innocence’ through Christ’s payment on our behalf.”

Third, take the “one-word” exercise challenge.  In a recent blog, Regi Campbell challenges mentors to have those they are mentoring to divide a sheet of paper in half.  On one side you are to write down terms that may have been said to you while you were growing up.  You may have forgotten them but they can cause you to doubt who you are in Christ.  You might write down words like; selfish, stupid, worthless, incompetent, fat, lazy, wasteful, useless, and others.

On the other side of the sheet begin to write down what your Heavenly Father says about those who are in Christ; smart, worthy, competent, capable, valuable, son, friend, heir, and favored.  His words are loving, accepting, and encouraging.  God’s description of us can be totally different than who people say we are and even who we believe in our hearts we are!

The question is who are you going to believe?  Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord which is the unmerited favor of God.  When God looks at His child He has a sparkle in His eye and a smile on His face.  You are favored!  John 1:12, “But to all who did receive Him, He gave the right to be the children of God, to those who believe in His name.”

The Epicenter of Kingdom Work

Epicenter

At a meeting of leaders from around the world, Bishop Francis Kamau from Kenya said this, “We are the epicenter of church planting training and multiplication.”  The discussion that followed was lively and fun as other church planting leaders playfully challenged his declaration.  One replied, “Not for long!”  Bishop Kamau then said, “You’ll never catch us!”  Everyone was laughing and enjoying the banter of visionaries who all passionately believed in what God had called them to do and where He had placed them to accomplish His mission!

Recently, while visiting Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Blanchard, OK, I was listening to the pastor, Richard Payne.  He passionately shared his vision for the ministry in a town with a population of less than 8,000.  You could tell that my good friend saw his ministry and church as the epicenter.  His passion was contagious and you could envision the preferred future for this church as he shared the vision God had given him.  It was exciting to see his focus and determination to carry out God’s plan for “His” church there in central Oklahoma.

In Practicing Greatness Reggie McNeal shares, “Then there is David.  He is serving in a community of under a thousand people in a town nobody has ever heard of.  But when you go to lunch with him and hear him recount the work of God going on there, you would think his church is the epicenter of the Christian movement.”  There it is again; “Epicenter!”  It describes those passionately serving God in their sweet spot and as they share their vision you want to go join them and be a part of it.

The word epicenter is most used for “the point, directly above the true center of disturbance, from which the shock waves of an earthquake apparently radiate.”  It has also been used to describe “a focal point, as of activity such as; ‘Manhattan’s Chinatown is the epicenter of the city’s Chinese community.”  It describes the main place where things are getting shook-up by all of the activity.  Do you see your place of service as the epicenter of kingdom work and advancement?

Here is why you should see your assignment as the epicenter of kingdom work:

  • God called you and placed you there! Where you serve is negotiable but the mission we are called to is not negotiable.  Begin to serve Him where you are because a change of scenery never guarantees a change of opportunity.  If not you, then who?  If not now, then when?  God’s call does not depend upon us having a position, a title, or on drawing a salary from a church.  Begin now, where you are!
  • There are no small places of service! Your success does not depend upon the size of your city or the size of your church.  You never know what God has in mind where He has placed you nor the impact you might have in the lives of the people you touch.  Lead people to Christ, disciple them, equip them to do greater works than you, and send them out to create another epicenter of kingdom work.
  • Your passion depends on Him not them! Moses went up on Mount Sinai and when he returned his face was radiating the glory of God.  In Acts 4:13 we read, “When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus.”  Can people tell that we have been with Jesus?
  • Your gifts match your assignment! God places us where we can live on mission that fits our giftedness.  In Practicing Greatness Reggie McNeal says this, “The truth is, God has not called you to your life mission in spite of who you are; He has placed you precisely because of who you are.”  Focus on your strengths and bring others onto the team whose strengths are your weaknesses.

The question then is what do I do if I feel trapped and in the wrong place?  Get your swag back!  My pastor, Todd West says this quite often.  “We need to get our swag back!”  What does that mean?

  • Spend time seeking the Lord! Enjoy his presence.  Desire to know Him better and more intimately.  Go on a prayer retreat to focus on Him and your relationship with Him!  Be willing to do whatever it takes to be refreshed and encouraged in the Lord!
  • Reconnect with your passion! This may require a move, but not usually.  It will require that you make some changes in your calendar and your ministry priorities.  It will also require some courageous choices.  Focus on what makes you tick and be intentional in finding your sweet spot!
  • Stop doing everything! Fight the temptation to think that you are the only one who can fix it or make it better.  Stay away from (as much as possible) those tasks that drain you and rob you of your passion.  Maybe you are robbing someone else of the joy of serving in their sweet spot.

Reggie goes on to say, “Your best shot at making your greatest contribution in the world is for you to get better at what you are already good at.”  God made you distinct and unique to fulfill His will and to accomplish His plan for your life.  The key to believing you are at the epicenter of kingdom advancement is knowing that you are the right person, at the right time, and in the right place.  God has placed you there, “For such a time as this!”

Action Changes Things

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It is kind of funny that the Bible says we are supposed to be “changing” all the time but it seems that many Christians do not like to even hear the word change.  Like it or not, things change, people change, styles change, and the culture changes.  Yes, followers of Christ must use great discernment in what areas they should or should not change.  Some say we should never strive to contextualize the gospel but is that not what Paul did in Acts 17 at Mars Hill?

It is strange how we decide what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the area of culture and contextualization when the Bible does not address it.  For example many believe that not wearing a suit when you preach would be a sin but quite honestly the suit is a contextual manifestation of a particular culture, like it or not.  Would it not be ok to wisely and prayerfully choose to change in some areas if it would advance the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom?

Sometimes the only alternative to change is to pick a rut and make it deeper.  The truth is that many churches need to change and if they do not they will suffer a slow but sure death of their ministry.  Rather than being on mission with Jesus Christ some have opted to just fellowship with those they are comfortable with and seem content to go around in circles.  We are bound to the Great Commission and must move beyond only being concerned for those already in God’s family.

Recently a good friend of mine shared this convicting definition with me; “Failure is succeeding at doing the wrong thing!”  Have churches “succeeded” at becoming gathering centers more than being sending centers on mission for God?  Unfortunately, it is far too easy to fall into old and ineffective behavior patterns that are completely unproductive.  We are continually drawn to be inwardly focused on ourselves instead of remaining outwardly focused on others.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Another way to say this is, “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.”  Jethro told Moses to change the way he was overseeing the Hebrew children.  Samuel was told to change the way he was looking for a King.  Jonah was told to change the way he looked at his enemies.  The Pharisees were told to change the way they worshipped and six of the seven churches of Asia were told to change or else.

There are some things that definitely need to be changed (maybe I should have said transformed because that seems a little easier for some to swallow) in our lives and in our churches.  While my list certainly is not exhaustive, nor is it necessarily prioritized, allow me to suggest a few things.

  1. We need to change the focus from only bringing people to church to also need to be the church to them.
  2. We need to change our focus from developing more programs to discipling and developing more people.
  3. We need to change from how many we can gather around us to how many can we can send out from us.
  4. We need to change from institutional maintenance to incarnational influence.
  5. We need to change from talking about making a difference and start making a difference.
  6. We need to change from talking about Jesus to acting more like Him.
  7. We need to change from knowing what’s wrong with our communities and start doing something to transform them.

There should always be room for change in a follower of Christ.  That change needs to happen in our hearts, in our actions, and in our focus.  We have spent a lot of time and effort trying to do church better when what really needs to change is all of us to start acting like the body of Christ.

Reggie McNeal describes the problem well, “Many congregations have become sociologically cocooned, evidencing little interest in reaching beyond their family or tribe, however defined.”

 

Missional Practices

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We are all called to live sent according to John 20:21. What does that look like? What does that mean? Our ineffectiveness to reach out is summarized by Reggie McNeal when he says, “Many congregations have become sociologically cocooned, evidencing little interest in reaching beyond their family or tribe, however defined.”

The challenge has always been, and will continue to be, keeping the church focused outward instead of inward. We are all called to join the everyday mission of God. Living on mission has been defined as “having an inherent understanding of our being the people of God partnering with Him in His redemptive mission in the world.”

The church needs to be led back to an obedience in embracing the Great Commission. When will we wake up to the realization that doing business as usual will not qualify as obedience to the Lord? We are all called to share the gospel.

Recently, PJ Noland preached on this very subject of Missional Practices. He quoted Dr. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, as saying, “Practice determines play!” All of us have spent hours practicing something because we were taught from an early age that “practice makes perfect!”

PJ went on in his message to say, “Missional practices produce meaningful moments.” He shared multiple stories of Oasis members practicing missional principles in the regular flow of their everyday lives.

The message shared three missional practices in living sent:

  • IDENTIFY – Who do you know that is far from God? In your community, who are those people and where do they hang out? What can you do to make an intentional move toward them? In the message, PJ shared that in Mark 4:35 Jesus said He had to go to the “other side” and then in Mark 5:1-5, He was on “the other side.” He had identified a group of people with whom He needed to share the good news. It begins with you identifying those God has placed in your path that you can begin taking steps to reach them with the Gospel.
  • INVEST – With whom are you consistently developing relationships? With many it is not enough to just share words, you must also share your life. Who are you spending time with on a regular basis that is far from God? Where could you meet up with them on neutral ground and enjoy some quality time together? What hobbies or interests could you leverage to be salt and light? Do you have a list of at least 10 people who are not born again, as far as you know, that you pray for every day? Invest your time into their lives!
  • INVITE – Jesus was all about inviting people to get closer to Him. He said, “Come and see” and “Follow me.” He challenged His disciples to go out into their communities and compel people to come to Him. Today, Jesus does His inviting through us. What could that invitation look like? Maybe you could invite them into your home to enjoy a meal or to the Sunday morning service or to the lake for the day. Don’t be afraid to ask them!

In The Unchurched Next Door, Dr. Thom Rainer shares, “Eighty-two percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited.” That should be a great encouragement to all of us but Dr. Rainer goes on to say, “Only two percent of church members invite an unchurched person to church. Ninety-eighty percent of church-goers never extend an invitation in a given year.”

How can that be? Far too many churches are not even asking the right questions about their ineffectiveness in penetrating the darkness and reaching out to those far from God. We fiddle with this ministry, rework that ministry, implement that new ministry but never address the congregation’s lack of mission.

How will your church regain God’s heart for the people around you? Missional “Practices” require a couple of things for them to occur:

  • Honest Evaluation – When was the last time you invited someone to church? Have you shared the gospel with anyone in the last month, three months, six months, or year? There must be a ruthless admittance to a lack of burden or real concern for the lost if we have not. It is not enough nor acceptable to think and act like they must come to us if they want to find Jesus. We must go to them!
  • Repentance – Is there a godly sorrow for your lack of burden and concern for the lost? When was the last time you wept or I wept over someone we know who is not born-again? We must repent and no longer accept excuses and disobedience to carry the gospel to others around us. Repentance means we are ready to change and that we are ready to turn things around. Changed
  • Behavior – It is not enough to merely evaluate and repent. Our behvior must change and we must begin to develop missional practices on a daily basis. If we say we value the people’s souls then we must begin practicing habits that will lead us to sharing the gospel with them. While we are trying to “do church” better we must begin “being” the church daily!

Healthy churches are evangelistic churches!

Accountability

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Accountability is talked about a lot and it is a necessary ingredient for our spiritual growth. It is important to have someone in our lives that holds us accountable for what we say we are going to do.

They love us enough to speak into our lives when they see us headed in the wrong direction. All of us need to build strong accountability relationships into our lives (Matt 17:1; II Tim 2:2).

Here is the reality though. You can only hold people accountable who want to be held accountable. It is kind of like what I have heard locksmiths say about our cars. “Your door locks only keep honest people honest!”

In other words you really can not hold someone accountable who does not want to be held accountable. There must be a submissive humble spirit in the heart of the one being held accountable.

Hear are five key questions you can use to hold yourself accountable:

  1. How is your spiritual life?
  2. How is your home life?
  3. How healthy is your ministry?
  4. How often are you sharing your faith?
  5. How often are you able to unplug to refresh and rest?

There is also the need for accountability partners in our life that we can be completely transparent and authentic with. Neil Cole has implemented 10 accountability questions into his LTG’s (Life Transformation Groups) discipleship process.

These are small groups of 2-3 people who study the word together and grow together. Here are the accountability questions they use:

  1. Have you been a testimony this week to the greatness of Jesus Christ with both your words and actions?
  2. Have you been exposed to sexually alluring material or allowed your mind to entertain inappropriate thoughts about someone who is not your spouse this week?
  3. Have you lacked any integrity in your financial dealings this week, or coveted something that does not belong to you?
  4. Have you been honoring, understanding and generous in your important relationships this past week?
  5. Have you damaged another person by your words, either behind their back or face-to-face?
  6. Have you given in to an addictive behavior this week? Explain.
  7. Have you continued to remain angry toward another?
  8. Have you secretly wished for another’s misfortune so that you might excel?
  9. Did you finish your reading this week and hear from the Lord? What are you going to do about it?
  10. Have you been completely honest with me?

John Wesley developed these questions for his class meetings (small groups) to help them hold one another accountable:

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told me in confidence?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today? Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
  7. Am I enjoying prayer?
  8. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
  9. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  10. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  11. Do I disobey God in anything?
  12. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  13. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  14. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  15. How do I spend my spare time?
  16. Am I proud?
  17. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?
  18. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard?
  19. If so, what am I going to do about it?
  20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to me?

Spirituality does not flourish without accountability.

Dr Dave DeVries (www.missionalchallenge.com) says this about accountability. “Spiritual leaders value personal accountability. They realize that ultimately they are accountable to God for their decisions and leadership. Because they seek to please and honor God they appreciate and pursue other leaders who will help them to maintain high standards regarding character and conduct.”

“They welcome questions of others and don’t view themselves as above accountability. They also ask hard questions to make sure the leaders around them are above reproach. Personal accountablity is mutually required and pursued.”

Get A Check-Up

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There are many ways to determine health. An annual check up is a part of that process. They listen to your heart, take your blood pressure, and ask you questions to evaluate how you are doing. They draw blood and have it tested to see if there is anything the doctor should know such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and a host of other things. The doctor needs to know if there is something going on that cannot be seen by the naked eye.

We are told as a nation we are probably more unhealthy physically than ever because of our unhealthy lifestyles. It cannot be blamed on a lack of knowledge of the proper diet. Also, the options for exercise are plentiful. Many remain unhealthy because they have chosen not to do anything about what is causing them to be unhealthy.

In Breakout Churches Thom Rainer talks about a church having an “ABC” moment. This is necessary for change to be considered and attempted:

  • Awareness – something needs to change.
  • Belief – God will transform your church.
  • Crisis – you are willing to deal with for the change to occur. Are you blind to the crisis your churches is faceing?

Is being satisfied with being satisfied no longer acceptable? Most will not change their behavior until the pain of remaining the same becomes greater than the pain of making the necessary changes! Crisis can occur when you are no longer satisfied with the status quo.

It begins when a church decides that it is no longer acceptable to keep doing the same thing while expecting different results. Is there not a crisis when we see that discipleship in our churches is undefined and God’s mission is unengaged?

Thom Rainer recently shared 10 Warning Signs of Trouble for Churches:

  1. If the pastor does not have adequate time to be in the Word or if he chooses not to do so.
  2. If the members are spending time arguing about how money should be spent.
  3. If none or only a few of the key leaders are actively sharing their faith.
  4. If there is no clear process of discipleship in place, just a plethora of programs and activities.
  5. If corporate prayer is not a major emphasis in the church.
  6. If church members are arguing about worship style or worship times.
  7. If church members expect the paid staff to do most of the ministry, instead of the staff equipping the members to do the work of ministry. (“Why didn’t the pastor visit me in the hospital?”)
  8. If there are ongoing disagreements about matters of the church facilities.
  9. If the church has more meetings than new disciples.
  10. If the leadership of the church does not have a coherent plan for what is taught in small groups and Sunday school classes.

Is there not a crisis in your church when people know what to do but are not doing it? The scary thing is that all too often the knowledgable religious “mature” christians, who are not engaged in the mission of God, are criticizing those who are.

When we say we value something it shows up in our behavior. We do not just talk about it but we act upon it. Values are confirmed by actions, not just by words.  It is not a value when it is a preference but only becomes a true value when it is practiced.

In The Emotionally Healthy Church Peter Scazzero says , “I discovered that the skills to lead into the next phase were not hard to learn. The real difficulty was taking the time, thinking carefully ‘before the Lord,’ summoning the courage to have difficult conversations, and following through all the way.”

There is a crisis when your knowledge base does not lead to an action in your life and in your church!

Paradigm Shifts

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Today you hear a lot about the need for change or a “paradigm shift.”  Those who love new things and experimenting love this concept while others are not so sure.  A paradigm is defined as a typical example or pattern of something; a model.  A paradigm “shift” has been defined as a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions and a ​time when the ​usual and ​accepted way of doing or ​thinking about something ​changes ​completely.

Truth never changes but there are times we must evaluate assumptions, perceptions, and the way we are carrying out the Great Commission.  A paradigm shift is needed when the rules of the game change.  This is why Paul was so masterful in how he handled the Greeks, Romans,  Jews, and the Judaizers.  You see, a paradigm defines reality for the situation we are in and we must be aware of our audience and of the culture in which we are ministering.

This is what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Paradigm shifts can correct past problems but they are not a fix all.  The reality is that new problems will arise.  Great paradigm shifts are occurring in churches, denominations, and in leadership.  These are usually needed because of momentum created by a certain focus that causes the pendulum to swing too far one way or the other.  One paradigm shift that should be applauded by all is in evangelism.  The goal has shifted away from scoring a decision to securing a disciple!

In Revolution in Leadership, Reggie McNeal says, “Paradigms inform both vision and values in people and in organizations.  They drive actions as well as influence attitudes.”  Paradigm shifts help us to refocus and to place the importance back where it needs to be because somewhere along the way we drifted.  This is why Reggie McNeal also says, “God has given each denominational system the freedom to become completely irrelevant or to be a relevant servant of the churches.”  Just remember “perception becomes reality.”

This is why our office has stressed so strongly, “Churches do not exist to serve us but we exist to serve churches and help you carry out the Great Commission.”  The center of the mission of God is the local church (Eph.3:10).  There are a couple of paradigm shifts here that are occurring:

  • From a church has a mission to God’s mission has a church to carry it out!
  • From missions driven by an office or organization to missions driven by a local church!
  • From the mission field being “over there” to we live in a mission field!
  • From we will send our money to accomplish missions to we will also get personally involved!
  • From planting churches to planting churches that plant churches!

Never fear, there is still plenty of work for us to do in coming alongside churches to help them develop their missionaries through assessment, training, and coaching.  Also, we have a network that enables everyone to help financially in getting missionaries and church planters to the field.

Churches are also going through paradigm shifts:

  • From being inwardly focused to becoming outwardly focused!
  • From being performance focused to concentrating on developing disciples!
  • From busyness and frenetic activity to spiritual health and vitality!
  • From one doing everything to the team being trained to do the work of the ministry!
  • From seating capacity to sending capacity!

What paradigm shifts might you or your church need to consider?  How well are people progressing in their spiritual walks?  Are you making disciples who are making disciples?  Is your church behaving like the body of Christ is supposed to behave?  What are the easiest changes you could make to get back on the right path?

The two biggest mistakes many churches make is, first, an unwillingness to evaluate their spiritual health.  The problem is that we know how to count but we do not know how to measure.  The second is this, an unwillingness to take the necessary steps the evaluation uncovers.  Once we discover our errors we must first repent and then begin to take the necessary steps for our behavior to change.

Healthy churches are willing to embrace paradigm shifts that are directed by the Holy Spirit!