God’s not so big plans for your life…

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I remember the chapel like it was yesterday.  In a college gymnasium, surrounded by thousands of students, I sat on what was usually an uncomfortably hard wooden bench.  But on that day, my body did not squirm for comfort, because on that day my complete attention was on the charismatic Christian speaker in front of me.  His sermon was well-crafted, his stories were funny, and all his applications of scripture were convincing.  And with the Bible in his hand and deep conviction in his heart, he proclaimed with prophetic boldness words that spoke to my soul….”God,” he said, “has big plans for your life!”  But his sermon did not end there.  No, he then went on to give us the really good news: “God has bigger plans for your life than you could ever imagine.”

And thus began my season of despair…

Looking back, the problem was two-fold. One, at the time I could imagine some pretty big plans for my life. Once, when reading an article about a Billy Graham crusade, I saw a black and white photo of Dr. Graham preaching to a crowd of a million people.  At the time it was the largest evangelistic crusade in history.  With complete seriousness, I looked at that picture and prayed, “God would you use me to preach to two million people?”  And, truth be told, at that time I could have imagined myself preaching to three million— if God needed me to.

Of course some will respond that I misinterpreted the speaker’s use of the phrase “big plans”.   And I could not agree more.  But this only illuminates the second of the two problems. Often, when well-meaning Christian teachers and preachers say these kinds of things, they never think to define what they mean by the term “big”.   And so students, or chapel listeners (and, let’s be honest, even pastors) are left to define the term on their own. The problem is when most American Christians begin to imagine and dream about what it could mean for God to have “big plans” for their lives, their dreams often start to look like a Christian version of the American Dream.  Tell a college student today that God has “big plans” for their life, and they’ll think God is going to use them to save the world, or at least “their” world—whatever that might be.

There was another chapel speaker that year who talked about God’s plans for your life. His sermon was also well-crafted, his jokes funny, and his scriptural applications convincing.  But there, before a gymnasium full of college students, referencing Tolkien’s famous “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy, he spoke (what I now consider to be) truly prophetic words: “You are not the hero of the story. You are not Frodo. Rather, in the great battle of life, you are more like elf #351. But that is significant, because you are in the story.”

I have come to believe that God’s pleasure is often not in creating “big plans” for our lives (at least not the American kind), but rather in giving significance to the sometimes seemingly small plans He has for us.

Often there is nothing glamorous, nothing inspirational, and nothing “news-worthy” about the work Christ calls us to. Often we are simply called to be obedient and to follow wherever Christ leads.  Most of the time these actions do not seem big at all— but they are significant.  In Christ we are free to give up fantasies of American grandeur and instead rest in the knowledge that our lives are significant, no matter what we do, because it is Christ who gives significance to all of our life. The good news is that our stories are forever intertwined with His story.  And so whatever we do, whether it seems big or small, it is a part of His grand eternal story, and that is significant.

In heaven I imagine we will meet missionaries who gave their lives to the work of the gospel while living in total obscurity.  We will meet pastors who never published a book, never spoke at a conference, and never started a network, but did quietly and faithfully fulfill their calling to shepherd a flock. We will meet businessmen and women who never climbed the corporate ladder, but did live simple lives of kindness, and integrity.  And there in heaven, I imagine we will see for the first time how Christ used every one of these lives and their actions to magnify His presence on earth.  And there, before the throne of God, I imagine we will stand in awe of those once obscure and un-glorious people, and together with all the saints, we will praise God for their significant lives.

Have you ever heard someone tell you God has big plans for your life? What did you think when you heard that? Does the difference between “significant plans” vs. “big plans” resonate with you at all?

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Discipleship as Worship

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

The goal of discipleship is worship– whole-life worship as described by Jesus in Mark 12:30:

“…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

According to Carson’s and Beale’s, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (which by the way is awesome), the following is true:

To love God with your Heart = Loving God with your moral choices/character

To love God with your Soul = Loving God to the risk of one’s life

To love God with your Mind = Loving God with your thoughts

To love God with your Strength = Loving God with your possessions

Now look at the words Jesus uses to call people to be His disciples:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(John 8:31-32)

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”… Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:16, 21)

In each of case (and many more like these) Jesus is simply calling people to live out Mark 12:30.  That is to worship Him (as God) with all their Heart (choices), Mind (thoughts), Soul (life) and Strength (possessions).

For those of us in leadership positions our goal is the same, to lead people to the joyful worship of the Triune God– this is true discipleship.

How do you lead people in whole-life worship of God?

Overcoming The Intimidation: 3 practices for ministry volunteers

Students haning out

There’s nothing more intimidating than walking up to students, as a new volunteer.  No matter who you are, students won’t introduce themselves, they won’t make you feel welcome, and they will likely avoid you.  And when this happens your first temptation will be to go find the nearest group of adults and talk only to them.  Fight that temptation.

God has called you to help students grow closer to Him,  and thankfully there are a few things you can do to overcome the intimidation and allow God to work through you:

Pray
Pray that you would be sensitive to God’s leading
Pray that God would lead you to the students He has for you
Pray that Jesus would make Himself known through you

Commit  
Commit to knowing a small group of students (5 or less)
Commit to learning their names and listening to their stories
Commit to praying for them

Share
Share things you like with them
Share why you’re there
Share stories of God’s work in your life

It may take some time,  maybe a lot of time, but whether you’re  a new volunteer, or one that’s been around forever, when you  Pray, Commit, and Share,  God will show up in your life and use you to change the lives of others.

If you’re a youth leader or volunteer, what other practices have you found helpful?

The Four Tasks of Discipleship

In the church we hear a lot about “discipleship”, but for many people the idea of discipleship seems overwhelming. We still have questions like:  How do I disciple my kids ? How do I disciple people at work or at school…is that even possible?  How should I as a pastor disciple people at church? How do I know if I am doing it right? There are many great resources for one or more of these areas but few resources give us a paradigm for discipleship that can happen in any context, and at any time.

The Four Tasks of Discipleship

Discipleship is a big topic, with libraries full of books devoted to it (and justifiably so).  But that said,  there are basically four overarching tasks of discipleship.  And if you prayerfully ask God to lead you in these four tasks you will make disciples.

Reach Out– Take the initiative to Pursue others.

God loves to pursue others, He’s been doing it now for awhile (Genesis 12:1-4).  God reaches out even in the face of rejection (John 1:11). And He does it with the heart of a servant (Philippians 2:5-8). Discipleship making starts when we ask God, “How can I reach out to others? Who should I pursue?”

Bring InInvite others into your life and God’s family.

In the Old Testament God formed the nation of Israel, and told them I will be your God and you will be My people (Exodus 6:6-8). It was God’s way of saying to Israel “I have made you to be in relationships with Me.”  Today through Jesus, God continues to give all people the opportunity to be in relationship with Him by being part of His family (John 1:11-13). Our task then is simply to ask God, “Who do you want me to invite into my life that they might through Jesus, become a part of Yours?”

Walk With Guide others as they follow Jesus Christ.

God shares His life with us, not just to hang out, but to walk with us that we might become mature in our faith. He teaches us about Himself and His ways (Deuteronomy 6:4-8).  He calls us to whole-life of worship of Himself (Mark 12:30). And  He prepares us to do what He does (John 14:11-13).  As we walk with others our questions to God simply need to be “ How can I be a guide?  How can I teach them about Who you are and what You do? How can I lead them to whole-life worship of You? How can I prepare them to do what You do?”

 Send ForthSend disciples into their world (home, school, work, community, and beyond) to pursue, invite, and guide others.

God the Son declared “make disciples all of nations” (Matthew 28:16-20) and then gave us God the Spirit to make it happen (Acts 1:8). We make disciples when we allow ourselves to be sent, and to be senders. We do this when we ask God “Who do You want to send?” and “Where do You want to send them?”

Discipleship may be challenging  but it shouldn’t be overwhelming. God wants to use you to make disciples. And He wants you to be able to do it anytime and any place. You don’t to read a library worth of books to do it well (though don’t let me stop you), you simply need to do what God does: Reach Out, Bring In, Walk With, Send Forth. When you prayerfully pursue these four tasks, you will make disciples.

What’s your nut?

What’s your nut? What is the thing in your life that you try to protect or hold onto at all cost? What is the thing in your life that you are most of afraid of losing?

The good news of Jesus is that you are his “nut”:) I know that sounds weird, but the truth is, Jesus has taken great pains to hold on to you, to protect you and ensure that you are with him always. He is not afraid to lose you because, because if you belong to him then no one and nothing can take you away from him (Romans 8:39)

So relax and know, that no matter what craziness comes, Jesus will never lose his nut.