A story: Child of Promise

It seems that wherever we turn at present, God is doing amazing things.

Yesterday we held a baby shower: here’s the story behind it.

Shama is a new Christian from a Hindu background. She and her husband had been trying for a baby for several years, but with no success. When they finally consulted an OBGYN, tests showed she would need surgery before conception was possible, but with the various things going on in their lives, they knew they would have to delay.

One evening this last January, when Shama was feeling especially despondent about this, she flipped open her Bible and said., “God, I’ve no idea if you speak into this kind of situation, but will you show me something from your Word?”

Her Bible fell open at a passage in 2 Kings 4–not a passage that a six-month old believer usually reads. In this story, a Shunammite woman has prepared a small “prophet’s chamber” for Elisha. When Elisha asks what he can do for her in return, his servant, Gehazi, suggests that he prays for her to have a child. They call her in, and as she stands in the doorway, Elisha tells her, “Next year at this time, you will be holding your son in your arms!”

This verse was a huge encouragement to Shama, who took it very literally. She brought it to the church that meets in our home, and everyone prayed for her using this verse as the basis.

One Friday in April, Shama came back to church looking very solemn. The only sign that something might be going on was that her husband was holding a video camera. We usually start our times together by asking what the Lord has done in anyone’s life that week. Shama started. “Do you remember how three months ago, I read to you that passage about Elisha?” she said. “I’d like to read it to you again.”

She read the passage, very solemnly. I remember thinking, “Oh no! She’s past the time when that verse could be fulfilled.”

Then all of a sudden, she bursts out with a huge grin, “I’m pregnant!!”

Pandemonium broke out in our group as we realized that the Scripture was going to be fulfilled literally. One year from the Lord giving her that passage, Shama will be holding her son (and yes, it’s a boy!) in her arms.

Praise God.

Photo Credit: Etolane (Creative Commons)

The easiest way to plant a house church

It’s probably not what you think!

Most Christians, especially those from a more traditional form of church background, assume the obvious way to start any kind of church is to invite a few Christians to their home for fellowship. As other believers join them and the group gets large enough, they will multiply out into two churches and so on.

This is not the best way for several reasons:

  1. The Christians will bring all their preconceived ideas about church with them. It will be more of a challenge to think in the fresh, out-of-the-box ways that simple/organic church requires. The temptation will be to do “Honey, I shrunk the church!”
  2. It is more difficult to be missional–existing believers tend to focus on the gathering. Many Christians don’t have non-believers within their sphere of influence.
  3. You are trying to create community where a natural one doesn’t exist. Yes, there is a “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” with all other believers, but as you add people to a group, it will take time for people to share their everyday lives together outside of meetings.
  4. Multiplication usually occurs very, very slowly.

It is far easier to make disciples of those who don’t yet know the Lord, and to work within their existing sphere of influence. As their family and friends find the Lord, multiplying churches are the natural result. The advantages:

  1. The problems and issues that come up are those of life, not theology or ecclesiology.
  2. Community already exists and their shared lives will continue outside of the meeting context.
  3. New disciples have a natural mission field all around them and evangelism follows spontaneously along relational lines.
  4. It’s easy to create a vision and expectation of multiplication.

What has been your experience?  Can you think of other reasons to primarily work with not-yet-believers?

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How to find a simple/organic/house church in your area

One of the most common communications I get is this: “I live in ——. Do you know of a house church in my area?”

It can be difficult to find a simple/organic church. We don’t put a sign outside our house saying “Church Meets Here.”  We’re not listed in the Yellow Pages under “Churches.” Contact usually happens by word of mouth.

The best way I know to find a simple/organic church in your area is via House2House. It has a “find a church” map where if you type in your zip code it will list the simple/organic churches near you. If you already have a church, why not submit your church’s information?  You’ll find people contacting you who are looking for fellowship.

But I think there’s a better way.

Most of the people who contact me with that request have been Christians for years. They don’t need to find a simple/organic church where their needs will be met and where they will be well taught. They are mature believers. They have much to give. Why don’t they pray about starting a church themselves?

Don’t know how to start a church? Go to one of CMA’s Greenhouse conferences. Or go through this online 6 week church planting course. The House2House site is full of useful resources and are always ready to help anyone who contacts them.

Anyone interested?

 Photo Credit: Arty Smokes (deaf mute) (Creative Commons)

Is your glass half-empty or half-full?

Do you want to be happy or sad?

While there are some people who are unhappy because they need emotional healing from a broken heart, others choose to be pessimistic, to look on the negative side of life.

There are a couple of very interesting verses in Proverbs 15. Verses 13 and 15 say this:

A glad heart makes a happy face;  a broken heart crushes the spirit.

For the despondent, every day brings trouble; for the happy heart, life is a continual feast.

The impression, especially from verse 15, is that we can choose what kind of heart we have. Are we going to choose to be glad, or sad? Some people perceive the same event as a negative; others as a positive.

Do we choose to see the glass half empty or half full. It makes a big difference. In general, people prefer to be around someone who is encouraging and has a joyful outlook on life. Jesus was “anointed with gladness more than his companions” (Hebrews 1:9). If we want to be winsome to those who don’t yet know the Lord, we would do well to have a joyful attitude towards life.

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How do we respond when life gets tough?

The part of ourselves that controls our reactions to life has a huge impact on us.

According to 1 Thessalonians 5:23 we have a spirit, a soul and a body. Our body is physical and receives stimuli through our senses. Our soul is generally thought to consist of our mind, will and emotions. Our spirit is that part of us that is made alive when we become followers of Jesus. We can choose which part of us we live from.

Some people choose to live from their body. They are dominated by their appetites–for food, sex. bodily comfort etc. Others choose to live from their soul. Their emotions dominate their lives, or sometimes their intellect. (I don’t feel like praying. It’s not logical, therefore I don’t believe it.)

We are supposed to live from our spirit. How can we tell if something comes from our spirit? It will be Scriptural, and it will be accompanied by the fruit of peace. The vehicle it comes through is our soul–frequently our thoughts.

A (heartfelt) example: You’ve been on an international trip and you’re suffering from jetlag. Yet you have a busy day ahead. You can decide you need a nap and tune out for a period of the day leaving others to carry your workload (living from the body). You can allow yourself to become crotchety and make sure everyone around you knows you’re suffering from a sleep deficit (living from the soul). Or you can choose to be thankful and trust God to help you through your day (living from the spirit).

As you willingly choose to live according to Scripture, even if you don’t feel like it, you will find your attitude changing. To live from the spirit brings life and peace (Romans 8:5-11)

(If you are interested to read more about this, you can download my e-book on hearing God by subscribing to this blog by email)

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Guest post by Bruce: One line conversation starters with not-yet-believers

I have a job in a very busy, very intense human services setting. I often do not have more than 10-15 seconds to talk to a person. I always have a brief ‘teaser’ line that might elicit interest, and a quick follow up line that gives more info that can lead to a conversation.

Sometimes I say that I am a writer, and that my materials help people understand God a little better. I have a short booklet that I wrote about Jesus that I keep copies of to give out, and people are often interested in something that I wrote myself.

I often get prophetic words for co-workers, and that itself leads to conversations. Or I tell them that a lot of my time is spent helping people get closer to God. Or that I pray for a lot of people, and see God doing exciting things. I offer to pray for anyone, for anything.

My rule of thumb is to have a handful of very short ‘one liners’ and a matching follow up line that an interested person can follow up on later. This has worked well for me.

Sales people are trained to give their ‘elevator speech’.  We should be trained to give, not necessarily the gospel in 15 or 30 seconds (though that has its uses) but a 5 second comment that can give us an indication of who might well be approached later for more specific questions or comments, as a possible person of peace.

My teaser line is a way for almost anyone (even one as naturally timid as me) to ‘safely’ feel out the territory without being (or feeling) overtly or blatantly ‘religious’. The follow up might be a more definite comment or a question about spiritual beliefs.

Long ago, a friend from the South, when asked “How are you?” would often say, quietly and sweetly, “I’m blessed.”  That line, never heard in the region where I live, usually raises an eyebrow when I use it, and can give an indication of interest.I usually save that one for people that i suspect of a spiritual interest.

David Watson once blogged that he would say something like, “I feel like God may have spoken to me in a dream last night.”  or, “I recently realized something really powerful, that i never saw before.” and just let it sit, without another comment. If the other person didn’t say a word, he would not follow up with another word about it.But if they did, he gently followed up with comments to the level of the person’s interest, but never beyond it.

Just saying “God bless you” when finishing a brief conversation and watching reactions can also show who to follow up on.

Offering prayer about a personal situation shared in the workplace often leads to grateful responses, and lots of openings to share the goodness of God later on.

Bruce teaches church planting principles, working in many countries where security is an issue.

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Principles or techniques?

Which work best: principles or techniques?

This past weekend I had the privilege of speaking at a Momentum conference in San Francisco. (If ever you have the opportunity to attend a Momentum conference, I highly recommend it. It was warm, inviting, participatory with plenty of time for the Holy Spirit to lead–and he did, in extraordinary ways.)

One of the speakers was Ross Rohde, author of  Viral Jesus: Recovering the contagious power of the Gospel  who blogs here.

Ross shared about the danger of turning success into a technique. Someone listens to the Lord, obeys him and sees outstanding results. Others, seeing their success, assume that if they copy what that person did, they will get the same results. The problem is, all they have done is copy a technique without listening to the Lord, who may have a totally different strategy for their situation.

Principles, on the other hand, apply in any context.

An example: you hear about someone who has great success starting a church in their local Starbucks.  It’s easy to think: here’s the answer to our group’s problem with reaching out.  Everyone in our home church should spend time in a coffee house.

It may or may not work–I’ve come across wonderful churches that have started out of the harvest when the Lord told a group to change the place where they get together to the local Starbucks. The technique is in always using the local coffee house for evangelism.

The principle is that if you want to see people become disciples, you have to get outside your Christian ghetto and into a world that so desperately needs Jesus.

How do you avoid techniques? The answer is to listen to Jesus and do what he says.

 Photo credit: pierofix (Creative Commons)

 

 

Guest post by Tony Dale: Lowering healthcare costs

Simple church life is about living for Jesus 24/7.  We listen to Him and we do what He says.  Could this have anything to do with keeping our healthcare costs down?

Sixteen years ago, as a result of an accident to my knee (that will teach me to try to keep up with the kids on a basketball court!), I needed surgery.  I was so shocked by the bills, that I challenged them all and to my amazement everybody pretty much asked me, “What are you willing to pay?”  Felicity was asking the Lord what we could do to help support ourselves in a country where our medical licenses were not recognized, and out of this came The Karis Group. Our company has since negotiated hundreds of millions of dollars in medical bills for individuals, insurance companies, and for the various Christian health care sharing ministries that have grown up across America over the past 25 years.

By working with these Christian groups, and watching the incredible job they do, we found ourselves wondering how we could promote this sharing costs approach to the wider body of Christ. Most Christians are not even aware that such groups exist. But as I spoke with various ministries and churches about the huge cost savings that they would see by working in this environment, the reply was always the same,  “We love the idea behind these groups, but does it really work for a big group like ours?  Can they handle the challenges of all of our staff and any pre-existing conditions that they already have?”

At that time, the answer to those questions was not really clear.

But things have changed, and The Health Co-Op is the answer that has emerged.  Built around the foundation of what Samaritan Ministries, by far the largest of the Christian health care sharing groups, has done, we have pulled together a collection of services that mean the Christian world now has a serious, non-insurance alternative to classic major medical insurance.  We have taken our 16 years’ experience and created a service that slashes costs while enhancing and improving the way that your medical bills are paid.  The typical family or Christian group that we are helping is able to cut their medical costs by upwards of 50%.  And all of this is done is an environment that glorifies the Lord by literally helping Christians to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal. 6:2

I believe that the moral and ethical issues involved in health care are some of the key issues that American Christians need to grapple with.  Do we want a system that few can afford, and that does little to nothing to reward godly/healthy living?  Do we want our dollars being spent to provide for services and procedures that we actually stand against?  It is hard to say I am pro-life, and then pay into an insurance plan that puts my money towards paying for other people’s abortions!  It is to the Catholics great credit that they have been willing to challenge the way health care law is trying to shape modern medical practice in a way that is profoundly anti-Biblical.

So come and have a look at what we are doing.  You can not only probably save a lot of money, but you can do so in a context that shows The Health Co-Op providing quality answers to a challenge that may otherwise bankrupt this country.

Jesus, A Theography

When I received my advance review copy of Jesus, A Theographyopy, I was excited to delve into it.

Jesus told the Pharisees, “All Scripture points to me.” We think we know the Jesus of the New Testament, but do we really believe that he can be found throughout the pages of the Old Testament? And what difference does an encounter with him there make?

Jesus, A Theography, is a panoramic sweep of the Bible, exploring how Jesus can be seen throughout its pages. With meticulous attention to detail, and copious footnotes, Len Sweet and Frank Viola rehearse the Old Testament in light of the New, demonstrating Jesus over and over again in the stories, pictures and symbols that are found there. The research and scholarship that have gone into this work are awe-inspiring.

I’ve been reading the book for just over a week now, Bible in hand. Every so often, I’ll think to myself, “It can’t say that–surely I would have noticed that before.” I check the footnotes and references and sure enough, it’s plain to be seen. I’m thrilled to be discovering aspects about Jesus’ life that are “new” to me, delighting in aspects of his character that I’m seeing in a fresh light.

I have a shelf of classics in my library–books that are timeless in their relevance and teaching. This book will join the others on that shelf.