Prayers for the Church: Fruit

We bear fruit when we stay connected to Jesus!

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit” (John 15.5a, CEB).

We can’t produce fruit on our own. We produce fruit by staying connected to God. Jesus said, “you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me … Without me, you can’t do anything” (John 15.4,5b).

Jesus’ words also include a strong warning …

He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit … If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. (John 15.2,6)

Thankfully, God does everything possible to help us bear fruit. Jesus said, God “trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit” (John 15.2). Jesus also said, “My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples” (John 15.8). Fruit pleases God.

O God, thank you for all you are doing in and through your Church all around the world. Thank you for inviting us to participate in what you are doing!

Thank you, Lord, that you do not leave us to do the work in our own power. We rely on your power because without you, we can do nothing of eternal significance. We cannot bear fruit unless we stay connected to you!

Lord, we want to be a fruitful Church! Please help us to stay connected to you, to be faithful to you, and to follow the leading of your Spirit. As we do so, help us to bear much fruit for your kingdom, and for your glory! Amen.

(Here’s a list of things I’ve been praying for the Church: awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, health, compassion, action, unity, power, favor, endurance, trust, discipline, courage, vision, provision, humble & hungry, patience & persistence, unpredictable & uncontrollable, receptive hearts, growing disciples, and movement).

Cultivating a Movement: Pursue Holiness!

Last month, I found myself saying, “I don’t just want to pastor a church; I want to lead a movement!” That sentiment has shaped my first sermon series of the year: Cultivating a Movement. So far, I’ve talked about Surrender and Rely on God’s Power.

Another area that’s vital to being a people God can move through, a church God can use, is holiness. It was certainly a central part of the beginnings of the Methodist movement. Wesley described the mission of the Methodist movement as spreading “scriptural holiness over the land.”

In prayer, I often use a phrase from Psalm 24.4. The phrase comes in response to the psalmist’s own questions in verse 3 …

Who can ascend the Lord’s mountain? Who can stand in his holy sanctuary? Only the one with clean hands and a pure heart … (CEB)

God, give us clean hands and a pure heart!

The writer to the Hebrews states it pretty bluntly: “Pursue the goal of peace along with everyone—and holiness as well, because no one will see the Lord without it” (Hebrews 12.14, CEB).

Pursue holiness! No one will see the Lord without it!

When I talked about relying on God’s power, I used a vessel to describe what we are to be. Paul put it this way in his letter to Timothy …

In a mansion, there aren’t just gold and silver bowls but also some bowls that are made of wood and clay. Some are meant for special uses, some for garbage. So if anyone washes filth off themselves, they will be set apart as a “special bowl.” They will be useful to the owner of the mansion for every sort of good work. (2 Timothy 2.20-21, CEB)

Some translations use the language of a “vessel of honor” instead of “special bowl.” Being washed and set apart makes us useful!

But what I also love about holiness in the Wesleyan tradition is that you can’t talk about holiness without talking about grace and love.

Love grows where God moves!

In the Wesleyan tradition, we describe the multiple facets of God’s grace, using terms such as prevenient (or preventing or preparing), justifying, and sanctifying, among others (convincing, convicting). The bottom line is, God’s grace is always at work in people’s lives, no matter what stage of the journey we are in!

The value of sanctifying grace is that God’s grace doesn’t stop when we are justified (or saved). God keeps working IN us on a lifelong journey of transformation!

In Wesleyan theology, holiness is closely tied to love—love of God and neighbor. As we pursue holiness, and experience greater and greater transformation, we also grow in our love for God and our love for others!

Means of Grace
Today, we commonly talk about spiritual disciplines. But I love the language Wesley used—“means of grace.” Spiritual disciplines are ways in which God chooses to work in us!

Wesley talked about the means of grace in two areas—works of piety and works of mercy. God works through us in works of mercy. God works in us in works of piety (e.g., prayer, searching the scriptures, holy communion, fasting, and participation in Christian community).

We pursue holiness as we engage in works of piety and work of mercy!

Cultivating a Movement: Rely on God’s Power!

I’m working through a sermon series at Centre Grove called, Cultivating a Movement (which was the focus of my latest prayer for the Church).

I want to be part of a movement for God. My working definition for a movement is simply a people God can move through, a church God can use!

I started with Surrender. Next is “Rely on God’s Power!”

I will always remember my second sermon at Centre Grove in July 2008 when I challenged people to be contributors rather than consumers. Picking up with that imagery, consumers are like containers. They hold onto what they have; it’s all about filling the container. But contributors are like vessels, with the purpose of being used by God and passing on what they receive.

Vessels rely on God’s power. And, God moves through people who rely on his power!

The New Testament talks an awful lot about power. That has especially grabbed my attention in recent months. Here’s a small selection of verses from the Bible (all from Common English Bible; emphasis added) …

  • Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside. … They were all shaken and said to each other, “What kind of word is this, that he can command unclean spirits with authority and power, and they leave?” (Luke 4.14, 36)

  • The whole crowd wanted to touch him, because power was going out from him and he was healing everyone. (Luke 6.19)

God’s power flowed through Jesus. That same power ought to flow through followers of Jesus. Luke, who uses the word “power” more than the other gospel writers combined (not to mention Acts), writes …

  • Jesus called the Twelve together and he gave them power and authority over all demons and to heal sicknesses. (Luke 9.1)

  • Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power. (Luke 24.49)

  • But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1.8)

One of the first passages that grabbed my attention a few months ago was 1 Corinthians 2.4-5 (see Under the Influence of the Spirit and Preaching With a Demonstration of the Spirit). Paul writes …

  • My message and my preaching weren’t presented with convincing wise words but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. I did this so that your faith might not depend on the wisdom of people but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2.4-5)

  • God’s kingdom isn’t about words but about power. (1 Corinthians 4.20)

Paul emphasizes God’s power in the midst of a prayer for the Ephesians (see Ephesians 1.17-23). In Ephesians 3.20, he adds …

  • Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us.

Finally, I love the prayer the early disciples prayed after getting into some of their first recorded trouble with the religious establishment. In Acts 4, the disciples conclude their prayer …

  • Now, Lord, take note of their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with complete confidence. Stretch out your hand to bring healing and enable signs and wonders to be performed through the name of Jesus, your holy servant. (Acts 4.29-30)

I especially love the result Luke reports …

  • After they prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking God’s word with confidence. (Acts 4.31)

God’s power at work through his people. When God moves, places are shaken. And, God moves through people who rely on his power!

With Acts 4.31 in mind, I have made a couple of lines from the Newsboys’ song, “God’s Not Dead,” part of my prayer for a movement. I invite you to do the same …

Let heaven roar and fire fall. Come shake the ground with the sound of revival!

Amen.

2014 Bishop’s Retreat

We just returned from the 2014 Bishop’s Retreat for Our Clergy Family, which was held in Lancaster, PA. The retreat is for pastors and their families from our conference.

Tracy Radosevic, this year’s presenter, is a storyteller, and she was excellent. Tracy spoke often about, and from the perspective of, the Network of Biblical Storytellers. She said their goal in storytelling is 75% word accuracy (with the biblical text) and 95% content accuracy (the gist of the story, maintaining the integrity of the text).

Tracy told several biblical stories and also presented tips on the process of preparing to tell stories. Tracy’s storytelling was nourishing and replenishing. And her teaching provided some helpful tools for storytelling and sermon preparation.

Tracy talked specifically about storytelling (i.e., telling the biblical story), her teaching can also be applied to general sermon preparation. She talked about “MULLing the text” (MULL is an acronym for Master the text, Understand the text, Live with the story, and Link personally with the story). She offered some practical tips for each area.

I will work on incorporating MULL into my 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation, which have some similarities. I should also be able to improve the way I mark up the text during sermon preparation (see my post, Sermon Prep With iAnnotate, for my current process). And, I am especially looking forward to getting better at “mastering the text” (which does NOT mean memorizing the text).

This was the sixth retreat that Joleen, Ethan (who’s 6), and I have attended, and it was Sarah’s fifth (she’s almost 5). This was also Joleen’s and my first full year on the planning committee for the retreat.

The retreat includes four sessions—Monday evening, Tuesday morning and evening, and Wednesday morning. We like to arrive a day early for extra downtime Sunday evening, Monday morning and afternoon, in addition to the built-in free time on Tuesday afternoon. The kids enjoy child care during the four sessions, but their favorite activity is the children’s indoor water playground during free time (see photos below).

Interestingly, Tuesday was a snow day, as a major snowstorm moved through the region. Below, you can see a photo of our car halfway through the storm, and one from my ill-advised drive around town late Tuesday afternoon (the worst part was driving on secondary roads that didn’t seem to be plowed)!

All in all, it was a great event and a good few days away for our family!

Prayers for the Church: Movement

Last Sunday, I began a sermon series called Cultivating a Movement. It’s a series designed to help us put ourselves in a place where God can move in and through us.

The series will last several weeks. It won’t be an exhaustive list, and it’s certainly not intended to be a formula, because I don’t know the formula. But I began with Surrender because I believe movements begins with people who are fully surrendered to God!

O God, thank you for all you are doing, and for inviting us to participate in what you are doing in the world! Thank you for rescuing us from sin and death and for involving us in your ongoing rescue mission to save the world!

If your people will humbly pray, seek your face, and turn from their wicked ways, then you will hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7.14). O Lord, please do something unpredictable and uncontrollable. As we humble ourselves and seek you, you will move in and through us!

Lord, please use us. Use us to make your name great! We are here to serve you. We have entered into the ministry of Jesus, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, on behalf of the world!

As we serve you, help us to rely on your power. As the Newsboys sing, “Let heaven roar. Let fire fall. Come shake the ground with the sound of revival!” (“God’s Not Dead”). As that happens, may we truly be a people among whom you can move. We thank you, in advance, for all you will do. May it be done all, and only, for your glory! Amen.

(Previous prayers for the Church include: awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, health, compassion, action, unity, power, favor, endurance, trust, discipline, courage, vision, provision, humble & hungry, patience & persistence, unpredictable & uncontrollable, receptive hearts, and growing disciples).

Cultivating a Movement: Surrender!

As I wrote previously, I just started a sermon series at Centre Grove on Cultivating a Movement. The series began with a focus on surrender.

The word “surrender” has mostly negative connotations—on the battlefield, in the political arena, on the sports field, and in life, in general. But in the spiritual life, surrender is essential. It’s also essential for cultivating a movement. Movements begin with people who are fully surrendered to God!

God gives us the greatest example of surrender. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …” (John 3.16, CEB).

Jesus modeled surrender …

he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2.6-8, CEB)

In Jesus’ final hours, he prayed, “Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, not my will but your will must be done” (Luke 22.42, CEB).

In Philippians 2, Paul challenges readers to “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus” (2.5, CEB). But before that, he writes …

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. (Philippians 2.3-4, CEB)

When we surrender ourselves to God, we live for God. We also live for God on behalf of the world. That’s why I love the statement I learned nearly ten years ago from Dr. Stephen Seamands …

I have entered into the ministry of Jesus, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, on behalf of the world.

This statement is always a great reminder for me; it helps me stay focused and, hopefully, surrendered!

I also think our willingness to pray dangerous or risky prayers is a sign of surrender (most prayers from a fully-surrendered life are dangerous!). One such prayer is Wesley’s Covenant Prayer …

I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Surrender involves giving ourselves completely to God. When we do, God is free to move in and through his people, thus creating a movement (i.e., a move of God).

My one verse for the year is 2 Chronicles 7.14, which is also about cultivating a movement …

if my people who belong to me will humbly pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. (CEB)

Movements begin with people who are fully surrendered to God!

How do you stay fully surrendered to God?

Cultivating a Movement

I just started a new sermon series called, “Cultivating a Movement.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote in an email to church leaders and prayer partners, “I don’t just want to pastor a church; I want to lead a movement!”

Now, that may not be the most theologically-accurate statement. By nature, a church is a movement. But churches drift if they’re not intentional about staying on course. Churches that drift from God’s mission are not movements; they’re clubs. Clubs hinder God’s mission. Movements change the world!

My phrase, “pastor a church,” alludes to simply going through the motions, maintaining the status quo, and trying not to ruffle feathers or rock the boat. I’m not interested in that. I want to lead a movement!

I began the series saying we need to settle the question: Is faith just a noun or is it also a verb? Faith as a noun is the content of our faith; it’s what we believe. The noun matters (a lot). But, faith as a verb is our faith lived out. The verb matters, too; in fact, it’s essential!

Faith is BOTH a noun and a verb. But too many followers of Jesus live as if it’s just a noun. Faith is also a verb, something to be lived out. In fact, when James wrote, “faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity” (James 2.17, CEB), he was essentially saying that the noun without the verb is dead!

How we answer the question about the nature of faith determines what kind of church we will be, whether we will be a movement or a club. A church that focuses only on faith as a noun will be a church of consumers, a club. But a church that focuses on faith as both a noun AND a verb will be a church of contributors. And, contributors create movements!

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing some specific ways we’re trying to cultivate a movement at Centre Grove. It won’t be an exhaustive list, but I hope it will helpful!

I’d love to hear from you. What kinds of things do you think help to cultivate a movement? Please add a comment!

Prayers for the Church: Growing Disciples

The Church requires followers of Jesus who are growing in every way more and more like Jesus!

One of the passages of Scripture that drives my understanding of ministry is Ephesians 4.11-16. In this passage, Paul describes church leadership in terms of equipping God’s people for ministry, and includes a phrase that I have come to love …

growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. (Ephesians 4.15, NLT)

That’s our goal, to grow in every way more and more like Jesus!

O God, thank you for loving the world so much that you gave your only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. Thank you for revealing your Son Jesus—the way, the truth, and the life—to us. Thank you for the gospel—Good News!

Forgive us for taking you for granted, for not being intentional about our relationships with you. Please forgive us for not growing more like Christ! And, please forgive those of us who are leaders for not forming and equipping your people for your work!

Help us to be intentional about our spiritual growth. With great discipline (being a disciple requires discipline!) help us to practice those spiritual disciplines that will enable us to grow in every way more and more like Jesus. Help us to simply put ourselves in a place where you can mold and shape us through your grace!

Thanks you again, O Lord, for inviting us to be in relationship with you and for all you are doing through your disciples! Amen.

(I invite you to pray with me for the Church. Previous prayers include: awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, health, compassion, action, unity, power, favor, endurance, trust, discipline, courage, vision, provision, humble & hungry, patience & persistence, unpredictable & uncontrollable, and receptive hearts).

Moving From ASAP to ALAT!

One of my favorite books is The Circle Maker.

That should come as no surprise. I’ve written seven posts about the book (last one here, with links to the previous ones).

In the book, Batterson writes …

Maybe one of the reasons we get frustrated in prayer is our ASAP approach. When our prayers aren’t answered as quickly or easily as we would like, we get tired of circling. Maybe we need to change our prayer approach from as soon as possible to as long as it takes.

Batterson blogged further about this

You know the acronym: ASAP. It means “as soon as possible.” While I was writing The Circle Maker I realized that I was automatically attaching an ASAP to all of my prayers. Zero patience.

The biggest transformation in my personal prayer life has been to a totally different mindset: ALAT. What does it mean? As long as it takes … it involves raw determination. Zero quit.

Few qualities in prayer, and in life, are more important than patience, endurance, and perseverance. Let us learn to pray with zero quit. ALAT. As long as it takes!

My One Word and One Verse for 2014

There’s been a movement in recent years to focus on one word for a year. Jon Gordon has written a book called One Word That Will Change Your Life (see also getoneword.com). Gordon was on the NBC Today Show on New Year’s Day discussing the power of one word (you can watch it here).

Last year, my word was cultivate. That’s always my word for leadership. This year, I chose the word CHASE.

I posted my one word on Twitter, and I love the response from the @getoneword folks …

The word developed over the last few weeks. Just before Christmas, I wrote in an email to church leaders and prayer partners (I call them “Movers & Shakers” because they are) that I don’t just want to pastor a church, I want to lead (or be part of) a movement for God! That phrase has stuck with me!

In recent months, we’ve been using the image of a boulder on a mountain to describe momentum. When you’re trying to generate momentum, it’s like pushing a boulder uphill. As momentum develops, it’s like nearing the top of the mountain, and the pushing gets lighter. But once you begin going downhill, momentum develops, and it’s like chasing a boulder downhill!

I think that’s where we are at Centre Grove UMC. This year, I’m expecting to start chasing the boulder downhill. We’ve leveled off, and we may be near a tipping point (the point at which pushing turns to chasing)!

I haven’t said much about it on the blog, but I’m extremely grateful to be part of what God is doing at Centre Grove. And, I look forward to being part of whatever God is going to do in 2014!

One final thing: on New Year’s Day, YouVersion, makers of The Bible App, challenged readers to name one verse for the year.

Along the lines of my one word, I have decided to focus on 2 Chronicles 7.14

if my people who belong to me will humbly pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. (CEB)

There will be no chasing without God’s favor!

I don’t just want to pastor a church. I want to lead, or be part of, a movement for God, one that’s experiencing God’s favor and chasing the boulder downhill!