The Challenge of Being a Friend of Sinners

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Like many followers of Jesus that I know, I sometimes struggle to move outside the comfort zone of my family and established friends to hang out with those far from God. While God has given me a sustained passion to connect with the lost and help them discover Jesus, developing a functional lifestyle of doing so is a work in progress. What inspires and convicts me most to do so is the example of Jesus, who was accused of being a man who welcomed sinners and ate with them (see Luke 15:2).

Being a “friend of sinners” is the vivid testimony of how Jesus chose to prioritize his focus and time. This theme was also emphasized in his teaching. In the parable of the two lost sons, Jesus said of the younger, rebel son;

But when he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The father’s son was not ‘home’ yet. He had not fully returned. In fact, he was still a long way off from that!

Question: How do you and I honestly feel about people who are a long way off from being where they were meant to be in terms of their relationship with God?

While the son was still a long way off, several things happened:

  1. The father sees him.
  2. Having seen him, the father is filled with compassion for him.
  3. The father pursues him.
  4. The father unmistakably embraces his very prodigal son.

Here are a few lessons I am wrestling with that come out of my reflection on this parable:

  1. Unless I am looking for those far from God, I will likely not see them. Oh, I might see them with my human eyes, but such limited vision won’t register deep within as it must for me to be like Jesus. Am I looking for the lost? And since they are often all around me, do I “see them”?
  2. One test as to whether I see those as Jesus did has to do with what happens to my heart. Am I filled with compassion for them or with disgust and judgement…or just plain indifference?
  3. It is a rather simple test to find out if compassion is at work in my heart. When I “see” a prodigal, does my heart motivate me to pursue them or avoid them? The active side of Jesus’ ministry was motivated by compassion. His heart was broken for the broken, and it moved him into action. Is this true of me…of you? If I do not move toward the lost and broken that God brings across my path, then this is a clear sign that my heart is not broken for the broken. God, have mercy on me.
  4. To see and feel compassion, and even then, to move meaningfully toward the prodigals, is one thing. It can be a dangerous scandal to then authentically embrace them…to warmly identify with them. Yet this is precisely what Jesus did every time he welcomed sinners and ate with them.
  5. Finally, am I worthy of being accused like Jesus of being the friend of sinners?

The good news that encourages my heart in all of this, is that the same compassion that God pours out to those far from God, he gladly provides to me as I continue to make my journey to become like Jesus in every way. Like Jesus’ first ding-a-ling disciples, you and I are also recipients of God’s patient, transformative love and power—at work in us to make us more like Jesus in word and deed.

Please consider leaving a comment and let me know how this theme registers with you. How and why are you challenged in being a friend of sinners?

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One Little Look

Aaron, Tim and I spending quality time together!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently I came across the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42. I read and reflected on this epic narrative while on a priority and planning retreat with my wife, Jill. The glaring contrast between what I will call the two postures of contemplation, became a source of practical conviction for me. I am generally diligent to live a focused life. But I have grown increasingly aware that with the barrage of technology that I have embraced in recent years, I can more easily than ever get distracted. Just one little look can lead to big distraction.

Consider the story:

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What a contrast!

  • Mary – “Sat at Jesus’ feet listening to what he said.”
  • Martha – “Distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”

This biblical narrative powerfully illustrates the two postures of contemplation that I can find myself struggling with at times. Again, this struggle for me has been intensified since the era of smart phones and all they offer. It’s crazy, but while my soul and spirit yearn to sit and listen unhurriedly to the Lord, my mind and flesh are often too easily distracted by “all the preparations” that seem to call out to me with such urgency. Prepare myself for the day by seeing what my family and friends are up to by peeking at social media sites…Prepare myself for what may be going on in the world by just taking one little look at the news…and on and on it can go. And honestly, it can feel like these preparations “have to be made,” like Martha asserted. But who says so? Jesus clearly didn’t agree with Martha’s assessment. Rather than being distracted from Jesus by preparing a meal that he never ordered, Jesus highlighted the posture of Mary as the one that was better and would be lasting.

Sitting and listening. Better and lasting! I like that.

I do not believe that checking in on social media or the news is wrong or unhealthy in and of itself. It actually can be a pretty huge blessing when kept in balance. But when they end up distracting me from being quiet and still in the presence of God, something has got to change!

In the short run, Martha’s posture appears to be more tangibly productive. The felt need to be productive by this world’s standards can be a loud shout against the comparatively quiet and slow-paced posture of Mary.

For me, there are some days and seasons where I find it relatively easy to sit and remain quiet before the Lord. But occasionally, the posture of Martha rises up within me, even in the midst of experiencing the rich presence of God. Is it the devil? Addiction? Maybe both? I don’t know, but I hate it. All my constant connectivity to social media, email and the news have often proven to be successful at pulling my eyes and heart away the true Source of life. Sadly, on some mornings, I don’t even get to my intentional time with God before I am engrossed in the comparatively pointless chatter of my “wordy world” (A Nouwenism).

In light of all this, I’ve resolutely committed to resisting “one little look” at anything other than the clock and the coffee maker before hanging out with God in the morning. It was surprising to me that this commitment has not been that easy to follow through on. But I’ve committed this morning routine to the Lord, announced it to my wife and a few friends, and now recorded it for all to see on my blog. And while I know that Jesus doesn’t love me any more for making this resolution, I sensed his pleasure that I have “chosen the better thing.”

If you find yourself too easily distracted by this “one little look” syndrome, I want to encourage you that it can be overcome with spiritual discipline and accountability. The benefit this freedom brings to your spiritual and relational life make it more than worth it. May the Lord bless you as you experiment with ways to bring the use of technology into a healthy balance.

And please leave a comment if you have implemented some disciplines into your life that have proven to keep technology in check. What’s working for you?

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Making Disciples Requires Making Friends!

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Have you thought about a resolution or goals for this new year? I know I have. Among other things, I want to lose 10 more pounds, exercise daily, and get into a more consistent rhythm of writing several times a week. Perhaps more than all of these, in 2018 I want to more fully embrace a Great Commission lifestyle in the power of the Holy Spirit that results in seeing many of the lost and broken people in my sphere of influence begin to follow Jesus

If that last goal of mine interests you, let me share with you one thing that I have learned that is absolutely essential — To make new disciples of Jesus, you must make new friends with not-yet-believers.

This morning in my normal time set apart with God I came across a revealing example from the lifestyle of Jesus that speaks to this principle. In Luke 9:11 we are told that crowds of people were following Jesus. Then Luke adds; “He welcomed them and spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.”

Notice the progression:

  • Welcome
  • Proclaimed
  • Healed

The Kingdom principle that we learn here is that to engage the lost and the broken effectively with the good news of God, one must actually be among the lost and broken. Jesus had a lifestyle of welcoming such people. His life and heart was open and hospitable to the religiously marginalized among the masses.

Today there is a renewed interest among many Christians to proclaim the gospel in relevant ways to pre-believers. A few are even trained and able to pray for the sick. Yet most are seriously lacking the discipline and lifestyle of welcoming the lost and broken as Jesus did.

To make disciples as Jesus commissioned us to do, we have to first make friends with pre-believers through cultivating a welcoming heart. Here are a few things I have learned that are helpful in cultivating authentic friendship with non-believers:

  • Identify the pre-believers in your neighborhood and networks.
  • Begin praying for them.
  • Go and be where they are as led by the Holy Spirit.
  • Utilize or develop mutual areas of interest with those far from God.
  • Discover and exercise relevant ways to eat, drink, play and generally hang out with them.
  • Invite those who eventually become spiritually curious to connect with your interesting friends who follow Jesus.
  • Develop a pattern of welcoming not-yet-believers into your home and into your life.

These simple ideas are consistent with the exhortation that the apostle Paul offered the believers at Colossae where he wrote;

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5,6).

Welcome proceeds proclamation and other forms of ministry. When you get this order right, proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel will be more naturally/supernaturally within your reach. Kingdom ministry happens best from an environment of relational relevancy.

If you are interested in taking some practical steps in cultivating a lifestyle of relational relevancy with non-believers, take a few minutes to consider the following questions:

  • Who are the pre-believers in your neighborhood and existing networks? List them.
  • How and when can you go and be where they are?
  • What mutual areas of interest do you share with people far from God?
  • Who could you soon invite into your home, or to share a cup of coffee or a hobby with?

Before I sign off, I want to ask you to consider doing a couple things for me:

  1. If you were inspired by this post, hit the “like” button and/or leave a comment.
  2. Forward this post to others you know who you think might be interested.
  3. Consider connecting with a few friends and talk through this post, and specifically the “Questions” listed above.
  4. In the comment section below, share with me your “next step” in cultivating friendship with not-yet-believers in your sphere of influence.

May you and I see many not-yet-believers discover Jesus and the life that he has made possible in the year to come. That would make it a truly Happy New Year!

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The Door of Hope

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Because of God’s grace, there is always hope. Therefore, I will watch this day for every open door, and with God’s gracious hand upon me, I will embrace all that is possible on the other side!

“Behold, I have left an open door before you that no one can shut.”
– Revelation 3:8

 

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Obedience to Jesus — Just Do It!

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Why is it so easy for so many of us to put off being courageously obedient to Jesus’ call to live on mission? Several contributing factors likely come to mind that have been rehearsed in many books dealing with this subject. But one common excuse that I have run into numerous times over this past year is, “We are not sufficiently prepared for such a task. We need more training” I’ve heard this from individuals and teams in the U.S., and in several international missional contexts.

Don’t get me wrong—I believe in the importance of equipping the saints! Much of my ministry is focused on just that. But what I’m seeing is a not so subtle use of “training, training and more training” as a demonic strategy for procrastinating obedience to the simple and clear commands of Jesus.

  • Do you really need another book or podcast on inner healing to know that you should ask the Holy Spirit to help you forgive the person who has offended you? No, Just Do It!
  • Do you really need to attend another workshop on supernatural healing before you will develop the habit of asking the sick and wounded you come across, “May I pray for you?” No, Just Do It!
  • Do you really need another training event where you will fill out yet another workbook on what it looks like to live on mission before you will act on it? No, Just Do It!

Recently, after a missional team leader that I coach was struck with the multifaceted ways the Lord was setting the table for him to spearhead the launching of a new expression of church, he said, “Hey, maybe we should arrange for so and so to come down and facilitate another training.” I looked at him and asked, “Seriously?” Soon we both were laughing. Yet, this instinct to delay taking action for the sake of “getting better prepared” has been a movemental stumbling block to this team (and many other individuals and teams I work with).

Of course we need to take serious the call to pray and prepare! (In fact, in some settings where disciple making movements are flourishing, the critical need is for more intentional leadership development to sustain the harvest.)

But praying and preparing must never become an excuse for the fear based tendency to procrastinate obedience to Jesus.

My question: What has God already asked you to do via his Word and whispers?

My encouragement: Just Do It!

What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Mentoring Stories: Nathan Edwardson

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Nathan no doubt wins the prize for being the emerging leader who I have spent the most time with, drank the most coffee with, laughed the hardest with, been the most frustrated with, had to ask forgiveness from the most, and who has leveraged what I poured into him more than anyone else I can think of. When Nathan and I first connected many years ago I quickly discerned his potential for impacting the advance of God’s Kingdom. Though not maturely formed or tested, he was clearly gifted, eager to learn and ambitious to serve. And so began the decade-plus discipleship relationship that I believe has shaped and transformed both our lives for the good. Today Nathan is a world class communicator and an extra-ordinary visionary leader who is literally impacting nations with the good news of Jesus Christ. Now hear our story from Nathan’s perspective:

Fifteen years ago, God brought Bill & Jill Randall in our lives. As my wife, Erica, and I began our young journey with God, the Randall’s very quickly became some of the most significant, encouraging, and prophetic voices in our lives.

For years, we gathered weekly, along with many other young adults, in Bill and Jill’s living room. They taught us, equipped us, challenged us, and empowered us to follow Jesus in every way possible. They have helped us to hear God’s voice, discern God’s leading, take risks, and dream boldly with God. They carry such a beautiful and authentic heart to see the next generation go further, faster, stronger and longer.

Bill and Jill have also walked with us through the most painful seasons of our life. They have helped us to face pain, to deal with discouragement, to forgive others, to embrace forgiveness, and to pursue healing and wholeness in the broken places of our lives. They have given us permission to weep, to feel, to fall apart, and to find God in all of it. They have shown us again and again, ‘It’s ok to not be ok,’ which has freed us beyond imagine.

Nine years ago, the Randall’s empowered us and commissioned us to plant a new church, the Stirring, in Redding CA. Our desire, more than anything, was to reach young adults, to see them come alive in Jesus, to encounter His wild love, and to live with courage the dreams God has placed within them; offering to this next generation what Bill & Jill so generously offered to us. Years later, the Stirring church has grown into a healthy and progressive expression of the kingdom in our city and beyond.

I am beyond grateful for Bill & Jill Randall, leaders and even more so, spiritual parents, who not only believed in us, but also took a great risk to invest their lives so deeply into ours. I can truly say, no couple has a deeper and more lasting impact on our lives than the Bill & Jill. We are profoundly grateful.

Nathan Edwardson
The Stirring Church
thestirring.org
WE LOVE | WE MAKE DISCIPLES

Question: What do think are the essential ingredients to an authentic discipleship relationship? Leave a comment!

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From Programs to Rhythms of Life

Time to Change

For the sake of contributing to movements of the gospel, the body of Christ needs to resolutely transition from developing more leader dependent, consumer driven programs to that of establishing organic rhythms of life that form and sustain the fruitful life that Jesus made possible. In simple form, here are the rhythms of life that each believer must creatively establish in order to authentically flourish as a follower of Jesus:

Rhythms of spiritual formation that create space for the abiding presence and power of God.

Rhythms of connecting with an intentional community that create space for developing healthy, collaborative, reproducing disciples who together serve to advance God’s Kingdom.

Rhythms of missional living that create space for every disciple to authentically connect with not-yet-believers so they can discover and begin following Jesus.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

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Mentoring Stories: Andy Ashworth

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Andy & Julie Ashworth, Glasgow, Scotland

In the following mentoring story, you will hear from my friend Andy Ashworth who is the worship leader at Re:Hope Church in Glasgow, Scotland. I have had the privilege of coaching Andy for several years, and have had two fruitful and fun on-site visits.

I first encountered Bill and Jill Randall whilst attending a missionary conference in Mexico. They were teaching together on the topic of “physical healing” – and I remember being struck by their humility, wisdom, experience and depth. Later on that year, whilst watching Bill’s DVD series on “Inner Healing” as a church staff, the Holy Spirit nudged me to contact Bill and ask if he would be my mentor/coach, which he was happy to do even though we had never met!

In the two years since then, we have been connecting regularly via skype and also in person on a few occasions when their travels brought Bill and Jill to the UK. Bill has been instrumental in bringing inner transformation to my personal life, walk with the Lord and ministry over this time. His constant encouragement has been life-giving as he gently and persistently calls me back to a life centered on the love of God and my identity in Jesus.

The areas of life and ministry that have been particularly impacted by Bill’s ministry are:

  • Vision and direction
  • Ministering in the power of the Spirit
  • Spiritual formation
  • Self-leadership

Finally – one of the most transformative aspects of working with Bill is his ability to see what God is doing in our lives (my wife, Julie, and I) – to believe in us and the Kingdom work that God is releasing through us and calling us into. To have a couple like Bill and Jill by our side, cheering us on, equipping where necessary, listening when needed, speaking always with wisdom and insight, has been one of the greatest encouragements that the Lord has brought to our lives.

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Learn more about Re:Hope Church on their website at: http://www.rehope.co.uk

 

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Mentoring Stories: Stuart Sutherland

The following mentoring story is from my creative and courageous friend, Stuart Sutherland. We dared to dream huge together about what kind of Kingdom initiative could make the greatest impact in the City of Shasta Lake. Along with reading Stuart’s story below, check out the Heritage Roasting Company website. It’s awesome!

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It was almost everything we wanted.  In the Spring of 2006 I completed my BA at Simpson and was already headlong in a career with a local architecture firm.  Sara and I were raising our two daughters, bought our first house, and we just got a dog.  Life was finally settling in and we were content.

Our comfort was disrupted about a year later as the Lord very clearly called us to the mission field.  As we obediently followed, we discovered a huge gap in what God was asking of us and what we felt we were capable of doing.  Sara and I grew up with an understanding that we were quiet people looking to obediently follow Jesus in small tangible ways.  We were not planning to be leaders of much, or create anything new.  We just wanted to find our niche in the Church to quietly and obediently serve.

As a requirement of our missionary candidate process I began to attend classes at Tozer seminary.  I took a couple classes taught by Bill Randall and instantly there was a connection in what he taught and what I needed to hear.  Bill along with his wife Jill were able to walk with Sara and me through our pursuit of God’s call.  Their discernment and wisdom soon found that I was living under a very truncated perspective of myself and of my heavenly Father.  I can be a quiet person, but also a very apostolic, and entrepreneurial person.  For the first time in my life I was given permission to dream, create and implement outside of the paradigms that trapped me in fear.

There was a gap in who we thought we were, and what God called us to do.  Under the leadership, teaching, and friendship of Bill and Jill we were able to grow in an understanding of who we were and who’s we were.  Out of that identity we have been able to step up to the Father’s call and find freedom.  We have been able to create a business, community center, and missional community that is transforming an entire city.

Sometimes we wonder what life would look like without the influence of Bill and Jill and it’s impossible to know.  What we do know, is their obedience to the Father placed them exactly in the perfect time and place to empower and equip us for Kingdom ministry.  We are very grateful to these two: our amazing spiritual parents.

Heritage Roasting Company website: http://www.heritageroasting.com

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Mentoring Stories: Tim Kayser

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The following mentoring story is from my good friend, Tim Kayser, who followed me as the lead pastor of Risen King Community Church after Jill and left staff to become missionaries with CRM (Church Resource Ministries). Tim is a very gifted communicator of the good news of Jesus, and one of the smartest people I know. He served the church with excellence as my executive pastor for many years. I counted on him big time in many of the huge transitions in the life of our church, especially in our move to our new facility on 50 acres in Redding, CA. Now, as the lead pastor of Risen King, Tim is leading and shaping other future leaders as I had the privilege of doing with him. May there be a mentoring movement across the body of Christ for the sake of the Kingdom!

From Tim Kayser:

I recently was asked who has had the greatest positive influence on my life and why.  Along with a couple of other mentors, I talked about Bill Randall.

Sixteen years ago, Bill hired me to work as a pastor at Risen King Community Church in Redding, CA.  This was my first pastoral job, and I learned so much from Bill about what it means to be a pastor.  I learned the importance of keeping one’s own spiritual walk vital; I learned the importance of vulnerability and authenticity, even for those in primary leadership roles; and I learned that it is possible to lead a church staff as friends.  Bill walked me through my first funerals and weddings and gave me feedback on my preaching.  He really helped me learn how to “do the stuff” of pastoring.

From Bill I gained a greater passion for seeing the Kingdom of God come.  In Bill, I found someone who was able to clearly articulate what I intuitively felt should be the case: that we can be passionate and committed to the truth of God’s Word, and be eager to experience the tangible presence and power of God’s Spirit.

I can honestly say that no one person has had a greater positive influence in shaping me for ministry than Bill, and I am so grateful for that.

To learn more about Risen King, check out their website at: www.risenking.org.

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