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Obedience… When it Doesn’t Make Sense

It is our belief that God is calling us to multiply disciples and churches. But how can we participate in God’s multiplication activity in the world today? This is part three in a series on Jesus’ multiplication teaching from the most remarkable multiplication story in human history: the feeding of the five thousand in Matthew 14.
 
In the first two articles, we established that multiplication starts with you and me, followers of Jesus, being motivated with a burden for others and then responding to Jesus’ call to do something about it by bringing Jesus what we have, no matter how meager or inadequate our resources may seem. According to Matthew, when the disciples saw the hungry crowds, Jesus commanded them, “You give them something to eat.” “But we only have five loaves and two fish,” the disciples responded. And Jesus replied, “Bring them here to me.”

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Who Says It’s Not Enough?

As you likely know, multiplication is a key word that we use in LCMC to illuminate what we believe God is calling us to do with disciples and churches. Last month I began a four-part series on what Jesus has to teach us regarding multiplication from one of the most remarkable multiplication stories in human history: the feeding of the five thousand as recorded in Matthew 14.
 
We began learning the lesson that multiplication starts with you and me, followers of Jesus, being motivated with a burden for others. When the disciples saw the hungry crowds, Jesus commanded them, “You give them something to eat.” This month, we pick-up right where we left off: Exasperated, the disciples respond to Jesus, “But we only have five loaves and two fish!” In other words, the disciples took stock of all of the food resources that they had at their disposal and determined that it was not enough.
 

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Multiplication Starts with YOU and ME

Recently, I received an email from one of our pastors that challenged my thinking in a good way. Here in the Texas District, we talk a lot about our mission to Multiply Disciples and Churches. He affirmed that we indeed should be talking about multiplication, but questioned whether we might be missing the heart for the strategy. What this pastor meant is that we can have the best of intentions that are indeed consistent with God’s desire and plan the best strategies for how this can happen, but if people (insert YOU and ME) are not captivated in our hearts to share the Gospel, multiplication will never happen.
 
I have to agree: Multiplication can only ever begin when followers of Jesus (again, insert YOU and ME) are moved in our hearts to share Jesus with others in ways that are natural and happen regularly as we go through our everyday lives. We are sorely mistaken if we wait around for someone else to do this multiplication work.
 

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Seismic Shifts

2020 has been one heck of a year. Yes, I know, “heck” is just a polite way of saying “H-E-double hockey sticks,” but it seems to accurately describe how many have felt about this year which has been marked by global pandemic, unprecedented job loss, economic uncertainty, and racial, political, and social division. The church and the Gospel mission seem increasingly marginalized–shoved aside as our nation and world endure this cultural earthquake and its devastating aftershocks.
 
When the earth stops quaking and we emerge from our places of refuge to take stock of the destruction and survey the landscape which is forever changed by the seismic shifts that have taken place, we will undoubtedly cry out to God in despair and lamentation for the losses sustained and the suffering we see all around. Yet in the midst of this cultural upheaval, I believe God is at work and is calling the church to continue his restorative work. With the earth still quaking the and the world still shaking, the mission of Jesus in the world draws the faithful to emerge out of hiding and into the chaos to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
 

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Virtually Go Where You Cannot Go

Covid-19 has taken so much from us. So many of our normal routines have been disrupted and cultural norms have been turned upside down. Businesses, churches, schools, civic leaders and servants, healthcare providers and almost every family and household have all had to learn how to adapt. Global mission activity has also been deeply impacted.
 
Short-term mission trips have been a powerful tool to not only do great, kingdom-building ministry around the world, but also to meaningfully engage everyday followers of Jesus in the mission of Jesus while opening their eyes to mission opportunities around them in their own communities. But how can these Jesus’ followers go in a Covid-19 era of travel bans? Recently, a member of one of our churches shared a solution for the countless now cancelled short-term mission trips that had been planned.
 

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Missional Accountability

Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ is in the midst of a significant transition: Our Board of Trustees is in the final stages of identifying the next Service Coordinator to lead our church body as Mark Vander Tuig retires after ten years in that role. As a part of the transition, leaders from across the association gathered for an assessment guided by Bob Logan of Logan Leadership. In this assessment, several keys for the future of our association were identified.
 
For me, the most significant takeaway was our need to develop our “missional accountability.” What does this mean? As an association, we have four core values: Free in Christ, Accountable to one another, Rooted in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, and Fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission to go and make disciples. While each of the four core values are important, the last identifies our purpose. And what Bob Logan helped us recognize is that while we hold one another accountable to Scripture, theology and morality, we have had little to no accountability for our mission to go and make disciples.
 

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What Are We Devoting Ourselves To?

The Day of Pentecost is upon us this year on May 31. Each year we pause to celebrate the birthday of the church and the day when the Holy Spirit was made manifest in powerful ways in and through the followers of Jesus as recounted in the second chapter of Acts. It is a day to remember that the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through the followers of Jesus today in small and mighty ways and to pray for God to revive and renew the Church through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It is indeed my prayer that the Day of Pentecost is a beautiful celebration and that Holy Spirit once again moves with power in and through followers of Jesus the world over.
 
But perhaps even more important than the activity on the Day of Pentecost is what happens next. In Acts 2:42-47 we read about what the followers of Jesus were up to after this glorious day: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. … They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

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What Business Are We In?

A colleague recently sent me a thought-provoking article entitled “Leading Beyond the Blizzard” by Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard. The article posed important questions for businesses and organizations to consider in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The authors suppose that this crisis that we are currently in will significantly reshape culture like nothing anyone alive today has seen before. They forecast that we are not in a blizzard (like many first thought) during which time we hunker down to wait out the passing storm, nor is it a bleak extended season of winter in which we long for spring to eventually arrive, but rather that COVID-19 is perhaps ushering in the beginning of an ice age that could endure for years to come.
 
Whether or not the result of this crisis is a long winter or the beginning of an ice age, the authors suggest that organizations, including the church, need to redefine our business as COVID-19 has shut us down: “If your nonprofit organization depends on gathering people in medium or large groups – and it is truly daunting to consider how many do, whether for fundraising banquets, afterschool programs, or in the case of churches for corporate worship – you are not in the same business today. And this is not just a blizzard that you can wait out.”

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The Church is ___________ ?

When I have the opportunity to preach, I enjoy engaging the congregation. Sometimes, I’ll bring along a beach ball and play a game. I’ll pass the beach ball around the sanctuary and whoever catches it completes the sentence, “The church is _________.” I find this to be a fun way to get to hear all sorts of thoughts or images about the church before launching into my sermon.
 
I’d like to share with you a new way I’ve begun to think about the church: The church is more than a Sunday gathering. As the COVID-19 Pandemic systematically shuts down life in America as we know it, we are quickly having to adjust ministry in response to this new reality. I understand the frustrations that so many have, especially in remote small towns and rural places that feel so far removed from the problems of the more densely populated urban and suburban cities. You may be asking, “Why do we have to adjust our ministry when we feel safe?”

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More Than Counting

Imagine having the opportunity to get to know people in your own community in a non-threatening way. Just think about what you might learn if you could go door-to-door through neighborhoods and ask basic questions of the people who live there. Now envision getting paid while gathering this information that will help you lead your congregation to better minister to the people who live all around you.
 
Every 10 years, the United States Census Bureau hires part-time, temporary census workers to work in their own communities. Personally, I can’t think of a better opportunity for Christians to take a fresh look at the people who live around our churches than to participate in the Census. And good news: you can still apply! Schedules are flexible to work around your life, but typically require 20 hours per week of evening and weekend work, May to July. Employees are paid for training and reimbursed for travel in addition to a generous hourly wage. To learn more and apply online, go to 2020census.gov/jobs.

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Recipe for Community Ministry: The Left Out

In over four years here in Texas serving as a mission coach, I have often been asked what a church can do to revitalize its ministry and grow? I firmly believe any congregation can by responding to God’s call to engage in the kind of ministry Jesus did and reach out to the least, the lost, and the left out. Jesus gives us this recipe for community ministry in Luke 15 through the stories of the lost coin, the lost son, and the lost sheep.
 
In Luke 15:4-7, Jesus engages his listeners in a little story about sheep: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” Commentators will often note that a shepherd wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine alone, but with other shepherds and often in some sort of safe enclosure or pen. And I believe this points to the scandal in Jesus’ story: that this shepherd leaves the 99 in the open and vulnerable in order to rescue the one who is lost. For me it begs the question, “who would do that?” The answer: Jesus.
 

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Recipe for Community Ministry: The Lost

What can your church do to grow? I believe God is calling every congregation to engage in the kind of ministry Jesus did and reach out to the least, the lost, and the left out in your community. Jesus gives us this recipe for community ministry in Luke 15 through the stories of the lost coin, the lost son, and the lost sheep.

In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells a story about a son who does the unthinkable and asks his father for his share of the inheritance while his father is still very much alive! Worse yet, this son goes and squanders all he was given in “foolish living.” He literally financially bankrupted himself pursuing a morally bankrupt life! He hit rock bottom and found himself longing to eat the food he was feeding to pigs. He decides to return home and confess his sin and ask his father for mercy and to hire him. As Jesus tells the story, while the son was still a long way off, the father sees his son, runs to him, throws his arms around him and kissed him! He throws a party to celebrate the return of his lost son and welcomes him back in the family. Oh, the love of the father!


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