Monday, March 5, 2012

Seasons of church planting: season 1, preparation of the church planter

After 6 years of being on this field of ministry God has sent and assigned us to, I am beginning to see things a bit clearer. For one, I can see where we have been and how God has led and is continuing to lead us. Secondly, I am seeing the seasons of church planting that God has brought me through and wondering if that is the way He desires to lead all church planters...or maybe just me...maybe some CP veterans can help me out here. But,here is what I see:

Church Planting is much like farming and planting crops. There is a lot of work to be done before seeds are ever placed in the ground...yet we (I) just did not see that truth in 2006 when we moved to Troy. Fresh out of seminary, 11 years experience w/inner-city ministry, combined with the fact that I was born and raised in the community God sent us to, I thought we had all we needed to hit the ground running. And we did just that.However, as I now see, fallow (raw, unused, uncultivated) ground needs to be worked and broken up before seeds can be sown.And that is precisely the season we (me, my wife, and children) have been living in...a season of preparation and breaking up fallow ground. During this time God had been preparing us and pereparing the soil of this mission field for planting. We have led a few people to Christ and have baptized a few, but for the most part this has been a season of connecting woth people and building relationships...real,authentic realtionships, which will serve as bridges for the gospel as God continues to prepare the church planter anbd further prepare the ground for the next step or phase.

Seasons of church planting: season 2...sowing seed

Matthew 13 (New King James Version)

3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth.6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!...18 “Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he whoreceived seed by the wayside. 20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:3-9; 18-23) NKJV

I have read this parable and studied it many times...always seeing it from the same perspective; that of the receivers of the seed, and with good reason, because Jesus mentions the receivers and the various spiritual conditions or states they are in when the seed is sown.

But what about the sower? what is his responsibility? in the parable, the sower is the one who scatters seed, which is the word of God. The Bible also says that God's word does not return void...but shall prosper in the thing for which I have sent it (Isa.55:11). So, the sowers are those who deliver God's word through the ministry of evangelism. Four scenarios are spoken of here by Jesus, but only the fourth/last scenario is a fruit bearing one...when the seed (word of God) falls on good ground, and is received, and the one who receives it goes on to bear fruit (makes more disciples). The other three receive the word, but there is no fruit. Is the sower responsible for where he scatters seed?

Relating church planting to farming is a clear way for me to see, from a Biblical and practical perspective, how the process of making disciples moves forward.

Would a farmer just scatter seed anywhere, even on ground he knows has not been prepared properly for producing crops? As spiritual farmers, do we do the same? Just scatter the seed of the word anywhere...hoping that the Holy Spirit will do a miraculous thing and disciples will just pop up like wildflowers? Another side to this argument is that as ministers of the word, we are to just scatter and let the Spirit do His work. Is it ever our responsibliity to be discerning like a farmer and only scatter seeds where the ground has been cultivated enough to grow and produce crops?

I'm not a farmer, but I know a few, and they do not waste seed on ground that they know is not ready to grow crops. They take the time to cultivate such ground, while sowing seeds in fields that are prepared for planting and harvesting. Some ground may need to be broken up, while other ground may be broken up, but needs to be worked with fertilizer and other ingredients before seeds are placed in the gound. Then, once seeds are sown, there is after care that must take place; watering, weeding, feeding, etc.

Back in 2005 I was like a new farmer, having never planted a church before. That's not a bad thing, just that I had (still have) a lot of learning to do. In the very beginning we hit the ground running...sowing seeds in many places, and we had a similar experience as the sower in Jesus' parable had. Many of those we shared God's word with did not understand and the enemy came and plucked it away. Then there were some who did receive God's word and because they had no root, they fell away shortly after....but they did fellowship with us for awhile. And there were some who truly received the word that we planted and did stay and fellowship with us a bit longer...but their lives continued to be consumed with their problems and personal fears and the word of God was choked out of them. And then there were the few who received the word and have gone on to be baptized and are now bearing fruit, because thier hearts were ready (good ground) for receiving the seed.

I believe that Jesus equips us to be discerning, like farmers, and prepares us to know when to scatter seed and when not to scatter seed. Sometimes we need to wait until the conditions of the soil are at a point where crops will grow. But there is still much work to be done in those fields. Those fields are people's hearts which are not prepared by us, but by the Holy Spirit, as we, by faith, go to those people and love them and serve them the way Jesus did and commands us to. The only way to know a person's heart is to spend time listening and ministering to them. Disiplemaking, like farming takes effort and time and God will let us know, as we spend time with people, sharing our lives with them, when the time is right to share God's word with them.

Just my thoughts from my own great commission experience...would love to hear yours!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Do Not Worry

Matthew 6:25-34

Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day isits own trouble.

Came across this Scripture passage in my devotions today, and it couldn't have come at a better time, my God is so awesome. For the first time in our 18 years of marriage, my wife and I are experiencing some financial difficulties. My wife is so good at managing our finances and does a great job of keeping it all in check. But there comes a time when the bills start piling up and there just isn't enough money coming in to pay everything that is due, on time. So with much prayer and communication, we have learned to place our worries in God's hands. We have tightened our budget, and still have some work to do, but I am confident that we will get through this period of difficulty in our lives, without letting it stress us out.

Paul wrote,
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. (Phil.4:12)

So we are learning how to be content with what we have and are, with the Holy Spirit's guidance, developing the discipline of stewardship. And the end result will be that God is glorified in our lives...especially in the one area that tends to cause the most stress within a

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

idk:what is God up to?

Got to admit, 2011 turned out to be a year when I had no clue as to what God is doing...for the most part anyway...speaking of myself and my own life, that is. Can we ever truly know what God is up to? (rhetorical question)

Have you ever felt like that?

In 2010 we spent most of the year at the Troy YMCA, using their community room each Sunday for our weekly CORE Church gatherings, but as 2011 approached, and after five years into this church re-plant, my wife and I were tired, warn out from trying to make this ministry work. We felt led by the Spirit to take a break from church planting and we did just that. We still continued to reach out to a few adults and 15-20 students who are still a part of our church family. We began bringing the Jr & Sr high kids to Grace Fellowship's youth ministry gatherings where we have met and befriended youth pastor Jason Coombs and dozens of wonderful adults who serve at Grace, as well as many great students. Additionally, my wife and I have become more involved with serving at Grace and taking part in small groups. In September 2011 I went to the 201 next step class and proceeded with the process of becoming a covenant member of Grace Fellowship. Not wanting to be just a name on a membership roll, I began praying about where I can serve and where me and my family fit in at Grace, and God has opened new doors for all of us; myself, my wife, and my two sons.

Another great and effective door God has opened to us in 2011 is at Matthew 25 ministries' weekly community meal hosted by United Church of Cohoes each Saturday afternoon and led by UCC's own David Stowell. My family and I have become weekly regulars, serving every Saturday along side Mr. Stowell and a great group of volunteers.

So we are looking forward in 2012...still don't always have a clue as to what God is doing, but I know it will always be something good (Romans 8:28) and that what He is doing is made clearer to me through Scripture and through serving in the body of Christ

happy new year = happy new music

I am thoroughly enjoying some new music purchases I've recently made. Thanks to my lovely wife and two great sons for the Christmas gift card to Living Word/Parable favorite place to shop, located in Latham on rt.7...Peter Harris Plaza.

So here is what I'm listening to

Epiphany 2012

I was looking over my calendar for this first week in the new year and noticed that Epiphany is coming up this Friday, January 6th. This is one of those annual events that I know of but rarely stop to think about. Growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I knew this date somewhat well as a boy. I had served as an altar boy from the time of my first communion (age 7) up through my teenage/high school years and had served a few Epiphanies during those years. Maybe it just became another ritual that we observed once a year, like the numerous holy days that popped up each year; a mass, communion, liturgy, prayers, hymns, sit-kneel-stand, readings from the Psalms and Gospel, waving of the incense, etc. All of these things, maybe not in the exact order they occur(ed) in these observances, became plain to me after awhile; common, ordinary, things that we just did because that's what we were taught; religion, tradition, culture, dogma.

Today, January 3, 2012, as I came upon this rememberance of Epiphany on my calendar (Friday, 1/6/2012), I was struck with a renewed sense of importance....not because it is some ritual that I used to observe or should observe, but because of what it really means. Check out the definition below. What ideas or images come to mind?

For me it is the coming of our Savior and the visit of the Magi...the kings/wise men who came see the Christ-child and brought gifts of gold, and expensive spices and incense which were gifts given to kings and princes.

In the definition given below, there are enough ideas and images to stir up a month of sermons.But more importantly, to impart the significance of the coming of Christ; not just a ritual to observe, but to bring us into relationship with the living, triune God; to repair and restore what was lost through Adam. Romans 5:12-21

So give it some thought and let me know what you think, and you too can experience Epiphany in your daily life


noun, plural -nies.
( initial capital letter ) a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to thegentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.
an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity.
a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality oressential meaning of something, usually initiated by somesimple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.
a literary work or section of a work presenting, usuallysymbolically, such a moment of revelation and insight.

Monday, January 2, 2012

giving out grace:what does it look like?

Grace is a word I hear alot in Christian circles and it is a major theme throughout Scripture. Grace is what God pours out on us through the finished work of Christ on the cross. Grace is God's undeserved, unmerited favor. God's mercy means that he withholds what we do deserve and His grace is His extending to us what we do not deserve. We deserve an eternal existence in the flames of hell but instead, God lavishes upon us the gift of eternal life. He has redeemed us through the shed blood of Christ...He has forgive our sins.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.(Ephesians 2:8&9)

So grace is God's love demonstrated toward mankind. Because we are all sinners, we need God's grace. we cannot save ourselves, so He did it for us, once for all time, by sending His Son to take the punishment for sin and to pay the price that the sin of the world demanded. Because of this we have grace from God. We did not nor can not earn His grace. It is freely given at a great cost.

We who believe in this finished, redemptive work of Christ become the recipients of God's grace. Grace is a hard thing to grasp; especially the idea that God loved us while we were still sinners. And even in our sinful rebellion He loves us and never lers go of us. He knows that we are human...that we make mistakes and that we are limited in our knowledge of Him and inable to live up to His holy standard. So, in His mercy He had overlooked our past sins, not holding them against us, and in His grace He grants us eternal life and an inheritance that is immeasurable in value.

There is the Biblical definition of grace. So what am I to do with it? As I walk this earth in this body of flesh, born again of the Spirit, forgiven of my sins, knowing what awaits me at the end of this life, will I keep it to myself, or will I reach out to others with this same love God had poured out on me? And what does that look like on a practical level?

It means forgiving our debtors, as God has forgiven us. It means not holding grudges or harboring ill feelings towards those who may have wronged us.It means recognizing that all humans are imperfect and that things happen in the lives of others that we often don't know about or consider, which may be contributing factors when they did us wrong. It means realizing we all make mistakes. The one who dod me wrong os no more perfect than I am. God shed His grace on me, a sinner. Therefore, as the recipient of His free gift of love, my response id to extend this same grace to others; especially those who have done me wrong.

With the HUGE debt I owe to God gone, I have no room or reason to hold onto the sins others have committed against me. God's command to us is to Him with all our being and our neighbor as ourself. God is asking us to give out to one another what we have received from Him

Matthew 18:21-35 (New King James Version)

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”