Category Archives: season of prayer

What Does That Even Mean?

So…I don’t know if you’ve heard, but all over the country students and teachers are returning to their regularly scheduled programming. Among other things, at our house that means no more staying up until 9pm watching a movie, or sleeping in to ridiculous hours like 7:00 or 7:30am.

Apparently, this is also our cue to once again light up the Facebook with “like and share if you’re against the war on religion in our schools.”

There are certainly places in this world where there is a war on religion. I have a friend from Nepal that was hunted down and nearly killed because of his Christian beliefs. There are people who gathered for worship Sunday knowing full well that if the government found out they could be arrested or worse…yet they gathered all the same. We have some other friends who have just left to serve as missionaries overseas. They received training on what kinds of things not to say on the phone when they called home, because someone will be listening and there will be repercussions.

Christianity may be losing SOME of its privileged and protected status in our culture, but a) that isn’t the same as war and b) that may not be such a bad thing.

I’m concerned with our tendency to make a big fuss over things like the removal of Christian prayers from the morning assembly in schools – and somehow equating that with the removal of prayer from school.

One of the Facebook guilt trips shows a picture of a little girl, apparently praying to the American flag with the slogan “Like and Share if you support prayer in schools.” And of course, the poster adds the obligatory, “not all of my friends are brave enough to post this…”

What does that even mean?

I’m just old enough to have grown up in world where we still had these prayers over the PA system – in class, before football games, at some large school assemblies – and I gotta tell you…if that’s what we’ve lost, we haven’t lost much.

Do you remember those prayers? At our schools they were perfunctory, white-washed, civil religion speeches with an “Amen” at the end. From conversations with others, I think I probably had the better experience since ours weren’t typically xenophobic judgmental tirades against the godless infidels (you know, democrats and foreigners).

Even in places where these public prayers were amazingly rich, deeply meaningful expressions of worship…did they represent the full life of prayer for our Christian students? I surely hope not. If they didn’t, then would their removal constitute a removal of prayer from the school? A teacher friend recently reminded me of the saying, “as long as there are math tests, there will be prayer in schools.”

This issue of naming everything as a “war on religion” is ridiculous and we need to stop it.

As I hinted earlier, it belittles the fact that today there are people engaged in an actual life-and-death struggle because of their faith.

It also makes us look incredibly insecure, combative and fearful – none of which are characteristics of Jesus’ disciples. In fact, regarding the prayer issue, Jesus told people to get out of the spotlight and into their closets to pray anyway.

But the dangers here go beyond how others perceive us. We are being shaped by our rhetoric…or actually, we’re being misshaped. We are communicating to our children – and to one another – that our prayer life is controlled by our access to public platforms. We’re basing our religious freedom on the right to force non-Christians to listen to us pray… and expecting secular institutions to lead us in these prayers.

We’ve turned prayer – and our faith – into reality television.

What if, instead of focusing all of our attention on battling the Supreme Court – or school board – about the placement of a plaque listing the 10 Commandments, we turned that energy toward not coveting our neighbor’s stuff?

What if instead of lobbying for legislation, we focused on sitting down with the outcast and showed them a little compassion in the midst of an otherwise crappy day?

What if our teens and children made it their goal each day that, as long as they are present, nobody eats alone, plays alone or gets bullied without someone to stand up for them?

What if we encouraged them to look for the dark places in their school and to work together (with one another, and with God) to be light?

What if they didn’t need special recognition of prayer time and instead saw each moment as sacred and worthy of being lifted up to God?

You know what? Forget “what if” – this is who we must be. Now. Today.

And it isn’t some idealistic pipe dream. I know some kids that are living this way, and I’ve seen the impact it can have. If you tried to tell these kids that “they” have taken prayer out of the schools these kids would look at you like you’ve lost your mind.

Nobody has removed God from our schools, our nation or anything else. God doesn’t need permission to love God’s creation. God is in the schools, the abandoned places and the market places. And the people of God should have eyes to see. We are called to see the darkness and to see the ways that God is dispelling the darkness.

So long as the people of God are fully present, there can be no removal of prayer, no lack of mercy, no shortage of compassion, no extinguishing of light, no destruction of hope.

Because we are more than conquerors – we are something much greater than combatants – we are the Body of Christ in this place. We are ambassadors of a kingdom where the captives are set free, the naked are clothed, the hungry are fed, the oppressed are lifted up and the forgotten are called out by name.

If these things are not taking place, there’s no need to accuse the government, the secularists, the atheists or anyone else…we need to ask, “Why are the people of God not fully present?

We don’t need to throw a temper tantrum and pass new legislation. We need to see the good we ought to do and do it.

If we want to engage in a war, then let it be the war within – the war against apathy, indifference, and fear.

No more hiding behind our religiosity and sense of entitlement. It is time to live as a signpost of the kingdom that is already among us.

God is already in this place… Are we?

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Affirmation of Discernment, continued.

This post is continued from yesterday. I hope you hugged a preacher…

The decision to potentially pursue a ministry position with an established congregation would most likely mean moving out of the area – possibly out of Texas, yet again. We didn’t like the idea of moving away, but if the job didn’t come through with MWF, I didn’t really see what options were left. I’ve learned that you can do just about anything for a season – if it is important enough. But we all have limited energy and resources…and mine were tapped.

In late February we received the news that the MWF’s paperwork would not be finalized in time for the March grant deadline. It could be another year or more before the position would be possible (in fact, it is now May and the paperwork is still pending). It was time to initiate plan B.

Damn.

Putting together a resume was not half as difficult as getting my heart and mind to a place where A) any church would be interested in hiring me and B) I would be faithfully entering a new situation without bitterness and reservation.

I really believed that just making a decision to move forward would bring a semblance of peace. Isn’t that how it usually works? Even if it isn’t the outcome we’d hoped for, just the removal of wondering is typically a relief.

It wasn’t… at all.

The truth is, I felt fairly confident that if we accepted a position, I would throw myself into the life of that community…but it still seemed wrong somehow. This was when I started doubting just about everything in a significant way. How could I feel so strongly about what it was God had called me to and yet not be able to do that? It was as if Paul had received the vision about the man from Macedonia calling them to come help only to find that someone had extended the Great Wall of China right across their path.

An answer that seemed increasingly reasonable was that God hadn’t called me to anything, I was just making it all up in my clearly “nuts” head.

The day I sent out my first batch of resumes I had an experience which brought me more sadness about leaving Burleson and caused me to question everything all over again. Then a couple days later, I had another one (you can read about that here).

So I talked it over with Rachel and we decided to do something that neither of us wanted to do again – a path we’d even rejected in choosing to put together resumes. We decided to continue pursuing conversations with any of the churches that contacted us from the first round of resumes, but to hold off on sending any more until we tried one final round of fundraising.

Fundraising…ugh.

From conversations with MWF I felt confident that within two years I could have a full-time position which would allow to continue in our church planting work here in Burleson and also work to equip others to start new faith communities, as well as lead established ones in missional renewal. If I could just hang on for a couple more years.

At this point the “are you nuts” questions started bubbling up again.

Nuts or not, I put together a packet of fundraising materials. I posted them in pdf form here on this website, and started contacting churches in hopes of setting up a meeting to discuss our request.

I didn’t get any takers. That wasn’t really surprising – I’ve done fundraising before and I know how long it takes to get any traction with churches and missions committees. I wasn’t discouraged by the lack of folks jumping at the chance to support us…though I was starting to get a little antsy at the lack of any response at all – not even a “we’ll get back to you.”

I forwarded my material to lots of people, including several who I knew would be good at offering a careful evaluation and suggestions for how to improve.

One of those people was Larry Duggins, the executive director of the MWF. We were working together on a website project anyway so he asked if I’d like to stay a little longer in order to talk about my fundraising material.

In the two days before our meeting two separate churches (neither of which in or near North Texas) contacted me saying I’d made it past the initial “resume culling” and was invited to pursue further conversations about their ministry opening. Both asked me to fill out a questionnaire to help the search team get to know my theology and philosophy of ministry. Honestly, just trying to fill them out was difficult.

There was a (mostly) unconscious part of me that was rebelling and wanted to subtly undermine my chances of further interviews – easy enough to do. There was a more conscious part that just wanted to curl up in a ball. But I knew that if this was the door that God opened then I’d better get my head and heart into it – both seemed like good churches and if I wasn’t going to commit then, well…they deserved better than me and I needed to stop pretending like I care about following where God leads.

So I committed. I responded carefully and honestly (without being so in-your-face that they’d run in fear).

The day after both had been sent, I met with Larry. I was looking forward to some helpful insights on the fundraising process. Instead he said, “We looked over your stuff. We’d like to offer to pick up the amount you’re seeking to raise and have you start working full-time for MWF effective immediately.”

I think I was accepting the job before I’d even registered that it had been offered.

I’d like to say that my calm acceptance and conversation was simply an example of my awesome professionalism. But really, I was simply blindsided and in shock…in a good way for once.

I didn’t start shaking until the drive home.

Back to the discernment issue. If we hadn’t carefully and prayerfully made plans – and then stuck to those plans – there’s little chance that we would have been in place long enough for this to all play out. Sure, most of the plans we made didn’t pan out the way we anticipated. It was frustrating and exhausting.

In retrospect I can see how most of what we attempted over the last three years either taught us something significant about this approach to missional life and church planting (you should hear some of my stories of 2 am conversations with fellow security guards) or they kept us going until the next temporary phase came along.

In the moment it didn’t make sense that my prayers and processes of discernment lead to the perceived response of “I’ve called you to this, do it faithfully.” How? How could we keep going when the doors to support kept slamming shut? And yet, we never missed a payment.

That part really didn’t make sense. According to our budget and financial records, we should have run out of money MONTHS ago. But at the end of each month everything worked out. Every month.

I don’t think that our plans give God something to laugh about. Our plans, if they are developed through prayer and discernment, keep us moving forward when we can’t see where the road is headed. Our plans are one part of why we were still here to see God’s miraculous provision come to pass. Without prayerful planning – and sticking to our commitments even when conventional wisdom said to cut our losses – we most likely would have given up and moved on to something else entirely. Had that happened, I am confident that God would have still found ways to use our lives for his Kingdom, but we would have missed out on that which I believe God has been carefully and thoroughly preparing us. By sticking it out, we are more convinced than ever that we are doing precisely what God has called us to do.

And I wonder about those two interviews. The timing was very interesting. Was this a situation like Abraham on the mountain with Isaac where I was being given a chance to see for myself just how much I trusted God’s leadership? I don’t know if it was or not…but that’s precisely how it has impacted me.

I’ve been trying to write this post for a couple weeks…but I’ve been speechless.

Obviously, it was a short-lived affliction.

For the past 17 days I could feel the implications, lessons and reflections rolling around in my head, but they wouldn’t surface. Dan Bouchelle wrote a post recently on the danger of journaling and writing for us wordy types. I think he is absolutely correct. I needed to be silent before God in thanksgiving and praise before trying to share this story.

My role has expanded considerably within the MWF and I’m already tackling some new challenges – not the least of which being the very enjoyable task of getting to know the students and leaders who participate, serve and lead in the Epworth Houses and New Day communities. One of the aspects of my job which I anticipate bringing me great joy is coming alongside to support and encourage these folks. Their holistic approach to life, faith and ministry is inspirational and, let’s face it, somewhat nuts.

I can appreciate that.

Affirmation of Discernment

A lot has happened since I started working on my Bare Minimum series of posts. I haven’t forgotten about that, I’ll come back to it very soon. However, after a couple weeks of vacillating between dazed and frantically busy, I need to post some thoughts about a huge development in our lives.

I’m needing help processing a particular feeling. I’ve heard of it before, I’ve even known people who claim to have dealt with it, but the very concept has always been absolutely foreign to my life experience. So, I’ll need some coaching from those more accustomed to this (for me) uncharted experience of being rendered “speechless.” Who’d have thought such a thing was even possible?

Of the spiritual disciplines I’ve sought to cultivate in my life, perhaps none has been more transformative (particularly to the way I make decisions) than the practice of spiritual discernment. Sure, I grew up in a tradition and in a family that valued praying about matters, big and small, to ensure that we were submitting to the will of God in our lives. And sometimes, not always, this got translated into a low view of planning and thinking ahead. After all, “our planning just gives God something to laugh about.”

This wasn’t always the mentality, but it certainly cropped up – usually when someone was tired of thinking, didn’t know what to do or was frustrated by rapidly changing circumstances and unpredictable developments.

Several years ago, as I began digging more deeply into the classic spiritual disciplines, someone commented on the “lost art of discernment.” The comment was made that “the only planning which is a pointless, human endeavor is that which is pointless, human planning.”

What if, instead, we viewed the process of planning as an act of prayer and discernment. To spend time with God in silence, listening deeply. To listen, meditate on scripture, bring what you feel you’ve heard back to a discerning community and “compare notes.” And then to allow our decisions, plans, etc to grow from this intentional process of listening, rather than praying over what we’ve decided…could be cool right?

Actually, as I already suggested, its been transformational. Ridiculously so. So what do you do when you’ve submitted something to prayer and discernment repeatedly, and in community with others, consistently hearing the same thing…only to have outside factors block the path over and again? What do you do when your heart, your prayers, and your praying community all agree, but other issues seem to be demanding a different conclusion?

Well, I don’t know what you do, but apparently I begin to lose confidence in whether I have ever actually been led by God at all. It isn’t an “all at once” kind of deflation, but a gradual, life-draining, slow-acting toxin which little by little even erodes one’s basic convictions about their relationship with God…I must not be walking too close if my messages are getting this crossed.

For quite some time people have been telling me I’m nuts. They’re right, of course. However I’ve always felt they had reached the correct conclusion on wrong evidence.

When I left a well paying, relatively stable (shocking in its own right, given the history) preaching position in order to pursue church planting, some said the decision was inspirational – others said it was nuts.

When we chose to do so in 2008, on the verge of a national economic melt-down, most people said we were nuts – a few said it was inspirational…but even some of them seemed to wonder if at least the timing was nuts.

When we decided that our efforts in church planting would focus on the slow, non-salary producing connection to cynical de-churched folks and the suburban poor, people rightly asked how we’d pay the bills. My response that God had called us into this and wouldn’t leave us stranded received a nearly unanimous “you’re nuts” even from those who thought it was inspirational.

When I accepted that the bi-vocational approach was necessary some believed I was starting to see the light. But when we realized that my skill set and training don’t exactly translate into many “secular” career opportunities – and certainly few that would allow us to continue church planting, even I began to think I was nuts.

When bi-vocational became multi-vocational (sometimes as many as 6 different part-time and full-time jobs simultaneously) I started thinking that “Nuts” should be printed on my business card.

Throughout this time we continued to pray and discern with others. Perhaps relocating to a new area for church planting would provide other opportunities – both for support and employment. But over and again the closest thing to an answer I felt I was receiving (and having confirmed by others) was “I’ve called you to this, do it faithfully.” It didn’t seem to matter that I was increasingly convinced that I had no idea how to do it.

I tried working in sales for both a roofing company and a security company. It was not good. I prayed with a few people as we put new roofs on their house – that was great. I had some very significant conversations about the Way of Jesus with a couple contractors. But at the end of the day, I wasn’t a good salesman…which sort of defeated the purpose.

I tried taking my experiences and education and translating them into an organization – Missional Monks – which could provide the financial support we needed. I still think that is a good idea, but it became very apparent that I would need one or both of the following to grow Missional Monks into something financially sustainable: time and money. I had neither.

According to our budget and conversations with some of our financial supporters in church planting (without whose partnership we could not have held on this long) we expected that our situation would no longer be sustainable after August/September of 2011.

But then another possibility arose. Last year I helped to launch The Academy for Missional Wisdom – one of three ministries operated by the Missional Wisdom Foundation (MWF). I was able to integrate my work with the Academy with the completion of my D.Min. project and dissertation – which I believe improved my efforts in both.

We began conversations about the possibility of a full-time position with the MWF around the beginning of 2012. Unfortunately, it seemed as though the timing was going to be a little late. We began praying that if this was the path forward that God would not only provide for our needs in the meantime but would also give us the courage to push through.

September came and went and somehow there was still enough money in the bank to pay the bills. Seriously, Rachel is fantastic with budgets and stretching a dollar but she said plainly, “I don’t understand, there shouldn’t be anything left in there.”

In November we learned that there were some IRS bureaucracy log-jams impeding the MWF’s progress toward getting the grants necessary to fund a full-time director. The job was still a possibility, but things were looking shaky on the early 2012 timeline.

Meanwhile, even those who’d been our strongest supporters began asking subtle questions like, “So…what’s plan B?” I insisted that I wasn’t interested in plan B until I had clear evidence that God wanted me to abandon plan A…and I’m pretty sure I heard “you’re nuts” in the subtext of my friends’ replies.

Others asked, “At what point do you decide that all of this is the answer to your prayers for discernment? Maybe the answer just isn’t what you want to hear.”

That one rocked me a bit. For the first time I began wondering if my friends were right in their conclusion of my mental state.

After more prayer we decided that if the paperwork for the MWF didn’t come through in time for the grant deadlines then we would begin pursuing the dreaded plan B…we just had to figure out what that was.

I’ve worked a lot of jobs these past several years and I’ve learned a few things about myself in the process. It’s not just that I’m trained to equip disciples and teach others about God, I’ve been called to do so. I know that because I’ve tried doing a lot of other things, and this is the only stuff that makes sense…and it is what I want to spend all of my working hours devoted to. This isn’t about not wanting “a real job” or only wanting to do what is pleasant – if you think differently, I’d be happy to compare time-sheets and job lists.

A line from the movie Gladiator has always resonated with me, “Sometimes I do what I want to do, the rest of the time I do what I must do.” I will do whatever I must do in order to continue doing what God has called me to do.

But if a sustainable bi-vocational situation wasn’t possible – and working a crazy assortment of random jobs was no longer sufficient, what would I do in order to continue doing what God has called me to do?

We determined that if plan B became necessary then I would once again pursue a position as a minister with an established congregation. We would pray that God would direct us to church that was seeking to equip the congregation for missional life in their community. Perhaps I would even be able to find a situation where we could work to equip and support the planting of new churches and the formation of missional-micro communities from within the congregation.

It shouldn’t be the case, but so often serving in leadership for a church is not very conducive to connecting with people who aren’t Christians. There is so much “stuff” that gets in the way of the very thing you feel called to be doing. I know its fun, and more than a little humorous, to make jokes about preachers getting paid to play golf all week. There are probably a few for whom this is accurate, but I don’t know many personally…and I know a lot of preachers. It is a rewarding job, but it is frustrating, exhausting work that comes with an oversized target as part of the compensation package.

If you’ve never served as a full-time minister or an elder for an established congregation, stop reading this, go find one and give them a hug. I’ll finish the rest of this post tomorrow, after you’ve had a chance to do so…

Seriously, at least send them an email…

Prayer for Friday, June 10

Scripture for Friday
20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
 21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders[a] for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
 26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

Prayer: Fruitfulness in Our Own Lives
Lord of the Harvest, we know that it is from the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks. We pray that you will continue to cultivate the soil of our hearts so that our lives will produce much fruit for you. We desire to be the change we hope to see in this world; we long to live as citizens of the kingdom that is at hand and which we anticipate arriving in fullness. Only the Almighty God can bring about this kind of change in our hearts. When we’ve tried to produce this harvest ourselves, our efforts have been exhausting and fruitless. We turn to you, O Lord of the Harvest, as the one who brings growth. We call on you, the Faithful One, to do what you’ve promised. And we pray with confidence, knowing that you desire this more than we do.
—–

Final Thoughts
Today is the final day of our 7 weeks. I am so grateful that you’ve participated in this process with us. As I look at all that has happened since Easter Sunday, I am once again amazed by our God. As usual, things have not progressed as I anticipated…and as usual, I rejoice that God is at work beyond what I’m able to see in the moment. 7 weeks ago, I expected this Sunday to be the launch of fundraising for Intentional People and had no idea what sort of timeline we’d be working with regarding a new church plant…

Well, we’ve made a lot of progress with Intentional People, but we’re moving the official fundraising launch forward to September, when we’ll be participating in a Missional Church Conference in St. Louis. Yet, our new church plant, The Gathering, has already begun! The Christ Journey community encouraged us to move forward and three families decided to join us.

Since then, Brandy, a friend I met at Denny’s nearly 3 years ago (who was quite uninterested in “church” at the time), has also joined us. Several months ago she moved to Fort Worth and with her work schedule hasn’t been able to be part of our worship gatherings. However, Ron and Shandy Stogsdill (participants in The Gathering) were able to offer her a job with better hours and she told me yesterday, “Just so you know, I’m in.”

Rachel Elder, another member of our community, invited her friend Paula to join us for a swimming party for the kids a couple weeks ago… This past weekend Paula made the comment, “I’ve never enjoyed being part of a church service like I did today.” She was one of the first to sign up to bring food for our meal this Sunday… Thank you for your prayers, I believe God is hearing them.

Prayer for Thursday, June 9

Scripture for Thursday
1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. 4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5 There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6 But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the gospel.

Prayer: Fruit for the Poor and Oppressed
Lord of the Harvest, if our service in your name isn’t good news for the poor in our community, then it isn’t good news. You are the God who declares freedom for the captives, deliverance for the oppressed and hope for the hopeless. Almighty God, we pray that you will take our meager offerings and multiply them so that no one among us will go without. We pray for the faith to give generously and sacrificially and we pray that you will direct us to the places and people who most need to feast on the fruit that you have provided. Lord of the Harvest, we pray for you to send out workers into your fields; we long to be counted among those workers and we eagerly anticipate the new co-workers in your kingdom that are even now being prepared to serve alongside you with us.

Again, for weeks now, we’ve prayed for the poor and oppressed in our community. What have you learned from this process? What opportunities have arisen…were you able to respond? In the past month and a half my family has witnessed our son raise over $1000 for people in Japan; we’ve seen a young single mother get a new computer and a new job, a struggling family get a new car, hungry people receive food, thirsty people receive cold water…and each of these gifts came from regular people who would not normally consider themselves wealthy (at least by US standards). 

Prayer for Wednesday, June 8

Scripture for Wednesday
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
 27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
 30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
 34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
 39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[a] and praising God.
   Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.


The Global Community as a Harvest Field
Lord of the Harvest, as often as we overlook the harvest field in our own back yard, we are often even more unaware of how you are moving in distant lands. We confess that too often our focus in too narrow, our vision too clouded by our supposed limitations. Open our eyes Father, to ways that we can partner with others who proclaiming the good news of new life “over there,” just as we are doing here. God, we pray that these connections will serve your advancing kingdom and that they will also serve to remind us that you are not a regional God. You are the Lord of the Harvest, at all times and in all places. We worship you as such.


During the last few weeks, we’ve been encouraged to connect with different resources and groups operating around the world. Have you taken the opportunity to communicate with anyone? If so, would you share their story with us? I plan to challenge The Gathering to partner with someone financially, to encourage them regularly and pray for them often – I challenge you to do so as well.

Prayer for Tuesday, June 7

Scripture for Tuesday
Acts 10:9-23

9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
 17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three[a] men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
 21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
 22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.


Tuesday Prayer

The Local Community as a Harvest Field
Lord of the Harvest, we thank you that in the midst of your concern for all creation you do not forget to respond to the cries of individuals. God, we confess that the same is not true for us. We allow ourselves to be consumed with our own drama or we become enthralled with stories of more exotic places. Father, if your kingdom can break in anywhere, it can break in here. We believe, forgive our unbelief. Holy God, open our eyes to the people who live across the street or who drop their children at the same school as ours; people who we have seen but not truly seen. Lord of the Harvest, give us eyes to see as you see. We pray that your name will be proclaimed in Burleson; we pray that the hopeless will find reason to rejoice and those in darkness will see your great light.

What does the gospel have to say to your neighborhood? For 6 weeks I’ve been asking you to look around with intentionality. What have you seen? WHO have you seen? What is the next step that you need to take in order to engage more fully as an ambassador of a kingdom that can literally change everything for those who will embrace it? Participants in The Gathering have already invited some “dechurched” friends to share life with us (and have already seen God producing fruit from those actions) – will you pray for us to continue living with this kind of intentionality?


Prayer for Monday, June 6

Scripture for Monday
1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
 4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
   The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
 7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
Prayers for a Fruitful Church
Lord of the Harvest, we pray that your church will be fruitful. We do not want to be like the fig tree that didn’t produce. Our desire, O God, is for church to be vibrant and healthy; an organism that is growing and reproducing as you designed. Lord, as we begin the process of cultivating a new church, planting the gospel in our neighborhoods and community, we pray in faith knowing that you desire to bring about growth. We ask for the courage and faithfulness to serve as workers in your harvest field and we pray those you are even now preparing to send out as well. God, we pray that Intentional People will produce fruit for your kingdom as well. We pray for those with whom we will come into contact. We offer our lives and our efforts to your kingdom for the purpose of cultivating and equipping disciples who engage more fully in your mission. We desire, O Lord of the Harvest, to be a beneficial resource to your church. God, we offer ourselves to your service, use us as you see fit.

Our new house church met together for worship and a meal yesterday. 10 adults and 9.5 kids spent nearly 4 hours hanging out, discussing faith and what it means to be faithful, eating mountains of lasagna, studying Genesis…and going back for more lasagna. Afterwards a friend that was visiting with us made the comment, “I’ve never enjoyed being ‘in church‘ like I did today.” We made the decision to call our new church, “The Gathering.” We are harvesters and we are fruit from the harvest – God is gathering us together and we in turn are sent out to gather others in the name of Christ. Would you spend a few minutes today praying specifically for The Gathering? Pray that God will continue to produce fruit in our lives and that our growth in discipleship will be a compelling witness to our friends and neighbors.


Season of Prayer, Week 7

Scripture Passage for Daily Reflection
Thoughts for the Week
I have heard it said that “God didn’t call us to be fruitful, only to be faithful.” I understand the sentiment behind that statement – it is easy to get caught up in a competitive game of justifying ourselves by counting “converts,” increases in giving, attendance and other numbers games. The true measure, according to those who make this statement, is whether or not we (individually or corporately) are faithful to God and the way of Jesus. We plant the seed and care for the soil, but it is God who brings the growth.

And yet, we could look back to the beginning of the Bible and notice that God’s command to the first people was, “be fruitful and multiply.” I think a case could be made that while that text is speaking about the need for Adam and Eve to have children and populate the earth, it is also a prophetic text speaking forward to the mission of God’s people (don’t be satisfied keeping the blessing of relationship with God to yourselves – invite others into this life with you).

However, if we choose to stick with the claim that we should first pursue faithfulness rather than fruitfulness, we must be careful not to create a false dichotomy. There’s no need to see these two matters in competition with one another. Indeed it is God who brings the growth, and both scripture and experience testify that God is quite interested in bringing about this growth. If we are faithful we should expect to see fruit. We’ll see it in our own lives and the lives of those with whom we come into contact – Jesus said that fruit is the evidence of a healthy organism (whether its a fig tree, a disciple or a community of disciples).

Remember Jesus’ statement in Luke 10 – the harvest is plentiful, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his field.

For the church, fruit and harvest represent BOTH continually maturing lives of discipleship among the faithful AND introducing new people to the life of faith (those whose hearts the Holy Spirit is already at work preparing). If new people are “joining” the church but discipleship isn’t taking root in their (and our) lives, this should be an enormous red flag for the community of faith. However, we should also be concerned when months and years pass while the same group of people sits around looking at each other wondering (or not even thinking about) why nobody else seems drawn the message we’re proclaiming.

This week our prayers focus on the harvest and bearing fruit. I am convinced that if we are committed to living out the matters we’ve spent the last 6 weeks praying; if we live with gratitude, wisdom, faithfulness, courage, intent on discipleship, seeking partners, focused on God’s mission, then God WILL bring about fruit and growth in our lives and in our community. If we turn our attention to these matters in the church, in our local community, in the global community, among the poor as well as in our own lives, the Holy Spirit WILL bring us into contact with people who are searching for God even if they aren’t aware of it yet.

Certainly it is possible to put the cart before the horse in regards to “growth.” That is part of the reason we saved the theme of harvest and fruit for last in this season of prayer. However, in both our church planting work and in the ministry of Intentional People, we are engaged in serving others because of the work of Christ – the work of remaking creation and inviting all people to take their place around the table with Jesus.

Prayer for Sunday – The Lord of the Harvest

Lord of the Harvest, we praise you for your concern and compassion for all people. We rejoice that you have done all these things so that people everywhere may seek you and find you, though you are not far from any one of us. Lord, we give you thanks for the ways in which you have brought about growth in our lives and in our communities. God, we pray that we will continue to live fruitful, productive lives as your disciples; that our love for one another, for you and for our neighbors will be evident to all. We desire these things, O Lord, because we have seen them first in you. You are the God of steadfast love, you are the Holy One who has not stayed far off, you are the Lord of the Harvest. Father, we pray that you will continue to work in us and conform us more fully into your image. You are the only one who is worthy of emulation and you are the only one who brings about new life.

We began this season of prayer by focusing on gratitude and joy for what God has been doing, and we begin this final week with gratitude for the fruit and harvest that God has already brought. So…where have you already seen evidence of God bringing about growth in your life?  For what do you need to express gratitude to God as we begin this week?

Prayer for Friday, June 3

Scripture Passage for Daily Reflection
Acts 13:1-3 (New International Version)
 1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Friday – Our Place in God’s Mission
Missionary God, your Story is majestic and captivating. We pray that you will bless us with the ability to see how our story fits into your Story. Jesus promised us life to the full and we want to claim just such a life. It is our prayer that you will reveal ways in which each of us can find meaning and fulfillment through joining in your mission of reconciliation. Father, so often we struggle to see the ways you have gifted us to serve your kingdom, and we confess that even when we do see, we are often bound by our own fear and lack of faith. May the character of our church be one of active discipleship, where we are regularly poured out for your kingdom and your mission. We pray that you will use Intentional People to open our own eyes as well as the eyes of others to the simple, tangible ways we can join you, the Missionary God, as you are remaking creation. 
The Kingdom of God is at hand and you and I (and everyone who has ears to hear) have been invited to not only live as citizens but also serve as ambassadors of this renewed community. Look around, everything you see is part of your Father’s creation – some of it has been restored, some is in the process of being restored and, sadly, much is resisting. I challenge each of us to look at the world through fresh eyes today. How would the “normal” things you encounter look differently if you viewed them as a representative of the true, loving King? Would you share one specific example?
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