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2017: The Year of Sharing

I know.

I see it too. I read the headlines and see the trending topics. Apparently, 2016 marks the worst year in the history of mankind.

Breathe a little, people. Remember the Emmanuel, God with us, we worship this time of year? He is still here.

Call me pollyannish, but I’m convinced God lives and moves and cares still. I do think it’s vital for Christ-followers to preach the gospel to ourselves more today than ever. We have so many false gospels bombarding us: false gospels of hope and despair. We  can easily be overwhelmed by information and sidetracked from our mission.

That’s why I’m calling 2017 something other than “the year that is not 2016.” My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, after all. For me–and it’s ok if it’s only for me–I’m calling 2017 The Year of Sharing. Here are some things I want to share:

(1) The gospel. I want to share Christ more faithfully, lovingly, boldly, and effectively than ever before. I also want to help others share Christ more effectively. I want to share Jesus with those who don’t know him, but I also want to share Jesus with those who do to help them (you?) share him as well. We live in a freak out world, and we have the good news for such a time as this.  That’s why I have never been more excited about a new book I’ve written than the one releasing this year called Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out: Evangelism the Way You Were Born to Do It. No, I don’t think my books are the greatest ever written on the subject, nor do I think they will help everyone. But I meet a lot of Christians–a LOT–and I’ve written a real book for real believers in a real world. It’s a little 115 page work with eight practical lessons. Don’t believe the negative headlines, folks: studies show and my personal experiences affirms that people remain very open to having spiritual conversations. I want to help normal folks move from learning a rote presentation to having gospel conversations with people. It you are interested you can pre-order the book HERE. If you do order a copy know that any proceeds I make go to help a child–My Grandson Lincoln :-).

(2) Joy. Last year I read Greg Forster’s fine book Joy for the World. In it Greg argues that when the church has been at her best in history she not only proclaimed the gospel, she brought joy to civilization. I want to bring joy to those I meet: the server in the local restaurant, my students, our local church, random strangers, and so on. I’ve found the more I focus on bringing joy to others the more joy I experience myself. Focusing on bringing joy sure beats being outraged all the time.

(3) Freedom from “more.” A TV commercial just now makes fun of people who reject “more.” I want to share with people the freedom we have not to embrace the “more is better” philosophy of our consumeristic culture. We don’t have to: eat more food, have more stuff, work more hours, play more video games, or whatever. I’m not advocating laziness or sloth. I’m arguing a good week is not one where you did more than the week before but a week where you grew closer to God and served others. Too many of us don’t take time to pray and read the Word as we should because we are so busy pursuing “more” other stuff.

(4) A hobby. What do I mean? For a long time I was such a workaholic I had no real hobbies. That’s fine in the short term but not good for the long haul. Michelle and I have a nice little 12 acre farm we bought an hour north of us at Kerr Lake. Yesterday I spent time doing carpentry work. I LOVE CARPENTRY WORK. It’s therapeutic. It’s a source of joy. And, I like seeing the results. Let’s face it, a lot of times in ministry you can’t immediately see the fruit of your labor. When I build something I can.

These are mine. The first matters the most of course. But all matter, and are related. What about you? Would you join me in making 2017 the Year of Sharing? It sure beats the Year of Whining, which seems to be most popular!

Published on by Cassie Littel.

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Life Is a Mission Trip – Take It!

 

Have you ever been on a mission trip? If so, did you ever take such a trip to another country? Imagine for a moment your church gathered this coming Lord's Day as usual, but this day would be anything but normal. Today the entire congregation is loading buses following the final morning service. Passports in hand, you head to the airport and board as a group. Why? Your entire congregation is heading to a city in Asia where the gospel has never been proclaimed. You have decided as a congregation to do something adventurous, something quite revolutionary for your church.

Upon arrival your church begins to team up with nationals and missionaries to begin loving and serving the city, sharing Christ at every opportunity. Children are loved, lives are helped, communities are changed, and the good news is heard. After three wearying but gratifying weeks, your entire fellowship boards a jumbo jet and heads home, exhausted, jet lagged, but amazingly fulfilled.

Fast forward to Christmas season. Through video uplink, your morning services telecast live the leaders of the church you helped to birth in that Asian city. For the first time in the history of the world, a group of Christ followers wishes your church a merry Christmas from that city. Never in the history of man has this happened from this city, and you were a part of making this happen. Don't you think that would energize your church? No doubt many lives would be changed.

Here is the amazing news. Tomorrow morning your church can do the same thing. You do not need to board a plane to Asia to go on a mission trip. Every day believers across the United States awaken and step into the fourth largest unchurched nation on earth. We are a mission field.

Mission trips are a wonderful thing. I have been on many across the U.S. and around the globe. But what if you thought of life as a mission trip? What if you and I and every believer in the West took the posture of a missionary, and began to raise our children, approach our jobs, and look at our neighbors from the view of a missionary? It could be revolutionary.

Life is a mission trip. Take it! Cultivate that vision in your people and watch them begin to function like missionaries. And relive the book of Acts in your very lifetime. It will take a movement like that not only to reach the world, but also to reach the West.*

*Taken from Alvin L. Reid, Evangelism Handbook: Biblical, Spiritual, Intentional, Missional. Nashville: B & H, 2009.

Published on by Cassie Littel.

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Planes, Trains, and Missionary Aims

 

On the east coast of North Carolina, a windy spot named Kitty Hawk faces the Atlantic Ocean. On that site about a century ago two brothers named Orville and Wilbur Wright made a discovery that has radically changed my life and most likely yours as well. On a cold December day in 1903, these brothers tested what became the first fixed-wing flying machine in history. Their efforts marked the tipping point of a movement leading to global air travel, which has become a staple of culture now. A century later, in Atlanta alone, numbers equivalent to a small city pass through Hartsfield Jackson airport, traveling literally all over the world in a matter of hours.

Airplanes have not changed travel in its essence―i.e. the movement of people from one geographical location to another. But the means and speed of travel have changed dramatically. From boats, to trains, to cars and planes, travel has become accelerated and enjoyed by more than ever.

From the earliest days of the church in Acts until now, the Great Commission has not changed in its essence. But the approach to the missionary enterprise of taking the gospel to the world has changed dramatically. Peter and Paul had ink to pen their writings, but no blogs or Twitter feeds. Those of us who live in the West and in particular the United States must recognize the nature of the world we live in, the world which is the mission field we pray for and send missionaries to.

The United States has become the fourth-largest mission field in the world. Across our nation, in most (if not all) of the following contexts, you will find more people who do not follow Christ than who do:

  • Public schools and universities
  • Businesses
  • Subdivisions and apartment buildings
  • Government offices
  • Hospitals or prisons

In virtually every place not explicitly deemed “Christian” like a church or Christian school, you are almost guaranteed to find more who think they do not need Christ than who walk with Him. We live in a mission field. Children grow up in a place of great need for the gospel. For many of us who walk with Christ and in particular involve ourselves with students, this means a fundamental shift must take place:

  • Pastors must continue to teach the Word but also see themselves increasingly as missionary strategists helping to shepherd their flock to think and live as missionaries. This includes student pastors. To do that, ministers must think of themselves as missionaries in their own communities as well.
  • Church planting must continue to have a high profile, especially in the major cities, and particularly aimed at the unchurched.
  • Families must take a more intentional role in the missional preparation of their own children. It’s simply not enough to help our children avoid evil; we must help them to advance the gospel and model that to them.
  • Student ministers must recognize more students today are lost without Christ than ever in history, and the “market share” of students active in church is shrinking.

The gospel does not change, but we live in a time as revolutionary as the Renaissance and Reformation, a time when the stakes will not allow status quo Christianity to continue unchallenged, if any season ever did. Unrest does not equal change, but it does offer an opportunity for change. We who lead must help believers to view life as a daily mission trip we get to take together for the glory of God and our own good.

Count Zinzendorf

About three centuries ago another man depicted a Wright-brothers approach to his day. Count Zinzendorf led a Moravian prayer movement that saw multitudes go to the mission field, opening up a new day of gospel advance in his time. “Preach the gospel. Die forgotten,” was his mantra. What about you?

Published on by Cassie Littel.

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A Moment Of Prayer

The church was birthed out of a prayer meeting.

Not a denominational think tank.

Not a seminary class.

Not a TED Talk, Elephant Room, or a leadership retreat.

A prayer meeting.

How much of your ministry was birthed in prayer? How many initiatives, plans, strategies, came out of a prayer meeting?

After His resurrection Jesus told His disciples to wait and to pray (Acts 1:4). And they did. For ten days. Following that, the Spirit came and thousands were saved (Acts 2).

Next, Peter and John went to the time of prayer when they met a crippled man (Acts 3). The man was both healed and saved. As a result of the gathering crowd, Peter preached and now over 5,000 men were saved (Acts 4).

After that persecution came. What did the church do? They prayed (4:23-31). And what did they pray? They prayed the gospel:

To a sovereign God,

Who created everything,

Whose creation is fallen and essentially gone mad,

But Whose plan of redemption was accomplished.

After acknowledging that, they asked of God. What did they ask? For boldness to proclaim the gospel. Not ease. Not deliverance.

I can only think of two times in the New Testament where someone prayed for things to get easier, and both times they were told no: Jesus in Gethsemane, asking the Father to remove the cup, and Paul with his thorn in the flesh. No, these early believers would not pass as  typical American Christians.

Matthew Henry has been famously quoted in one form or another that when God begins a fresh work of His Spirit, He sets His people to praying.

The story of movements of God is the story of movements of prayer.

The story of remarkable missions expansion is the story of prayer. One example:

Over a century ago a man named John Hyde went to India. He prayed so fervently and so faithfully he became known as Praying Hyde. In 1904 he and others developed the Punjab Prayer Union. Five questions stood at the center of their ministry:

  1. Are you praying for quickening in your own life. . . . your fellow workers, and in the church?
  2. Are you longing for greater power of the Holy Spirit . . . . Are you convinced that you cannot go on without this power?
  3. Will you pray that you will not be ashamed of Jesus?
  4. Do you believe that prayer is the great mean for securing this spiritual awakening?
  5. Will you set apart one-half hour each day . . . to pray for this awakening . . . ?

Many were reached and testimonies of revival came from Hyde’s ministry; he attributed it to prayer.

The question is not, do you believe in prayer? Most people do. The question is, do you pray believing? Or maybe more pointedly, are you?

Published on by Cassie Littel.

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True Witnessing

Witnessing, someone said, refers to a conversation between two people,
both of whom are nervous. How do we who love Jesus and believe the gospel
share His love with others in a world decreasingly aware of Him? How can
our evangelism‹personally and as a community of faith‹be more contagious?
Jonah Berger teaches at the prestigious Wharton School at the University
of Pennsylvania. His bookContagious: Why Things Catch On examines when one
idea, product, or trend seems to spread virally while others simply flop.

Berger offers six principles to create contagion in the marketplace. Each
of these can help us as we think about effective evangelism in our
time. Disclaimer: my application of the following points stands on the
conviction that the gospel is the power of God in salvation and the Spirit
brings life. We are gospel ambassadors, not salesmen. That being said,
Jesus showed us ways to communicate in a contagious manner (using water
with the Samaritan woman, asking pertinent questions as with Nicodemus and
the Rich Young Ruler, etc). Note also that Jesus was not afraid to see
people turn away from His claims, nor should we.
Knowing that evangelism is spiritual work, we can yet learn helpful,
practical ways to communicate the amazing gospel to a lost world. Here are
Berger¹s principles and my application to our witness:

Principle 1: Social Currency: Most people would rather look smart than
dumb, rich than poor, and cool than geeky. . . . what we talk about
influences how others see us. It¹s social currency. As believers we help
our gospel witness when we can step outside our subculture and speak with
unbelievers about things in culture with insight. We don¹t have to be
hipster philosophers, but we do need to have a clue about things that
matter to people in the culture, to be able to talk with regular folks
about regular things with insight. I often talk with people about movies,
for instance, and discuss common plotlines and themes, and as I can show
how they relate to the biblical storyline. I have on several occasions had
neighbors and friends remark they had never seen that before.

Principle 2: Triggers: How do we remind people to talk about our . . .
ideas? Triggers are stimuli that prompt people to think about related
things. Peanut butter reminds us of jelly and the word "dog" reminds us of
the word "cat" . . . People often talk about whatever comes to mind, so
the more often people think about a product or idea, the more it will be
talked about.² Being able to communicate our faith in ways that trigger
gospel ideas is critical. The church I serve, Richland Creek Community
Church, has done this in some ways. Several times a year we offer "Free
Pizza Friday" as a way to serve the community. We¹ve served thousands a
free meal with no strings. We want folks to think of the Creek as a place
that loves our community. Maybe in some cases ordering a pizza can trigger
that. We also have an exploding special needs ministry. We want
conversations with families of special needs children to be triggered to
think of our church. We are doing similar things with the Young Pros
ministry I lead. We recently had a reach week where all our small groups
went to restaurants with gifts for the servers. We want these young adults
to think of our church when they think about God. What are triggers your
church creates in your community?

Principle 3: Emotion: When we care, we share. So how can we craft
messages and ideas that make people feel something? Naturally contagious
content usually evokes some sort of emotion.² Here is a simple takeaway:
we need to live life with emotion, with passion, and when we talk about
our faith do so passionately. Movements are led by the passionate, not the
passive. We talk about what we really believe. In the Jesus Movement of
the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of young people came to Christ not because of
intellectuals, but because a lot of young believers shared Christ with a
passion.

Principle 4: Public: Can people see when others are . . . engaging in our
desired behavior? The famous phrase "Monkey see, monkey do" captures more
than just the human tendency to imitate. It also tells us that it¹s hard
to copy something you can¹t see. Making things more observable makes them
easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular.
Followers of Christ have in effect gone into the closet while others have
come out. We need to be public, open, and gracious with our faith. Jesus
said, 

Let your light shine before others, so thatthey may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in
heaven.² (Matt. 5:16)

Principle 5: Practical Value: How can we craft content that seems useful?
People like to help others, so if we can show them how our products or
ideas will save time, improve health, or save money, they¹ll spread the
word.² People should believe in God because He is Truth. But, while
Christianity is not mainly a how-to manual, it does in fact work. We need
to show this in marriages, community, ministry, and service, even as we
speak of Jesus. Most people live on this practical level; showing them how
the gospel works can help us to show them that it is true.

Principle 6: Stories: What broader narrative can we wrap our idea in?
People don¹t just share information, they tell stories.² The great Story
of the gospel (viewthestory.com) is the greatest Story of all, and the
Story that makes sense of our stories. Let¹s regularly tell the stories of
faith: specific stories of God¹s faithfulness, stories of our own frailty,
and most of all, the great Story of Redemption.
Does one of these ideas help you to think of being more contagious and
less cantankerous in your witness? Let¹s be contagious in our
relationships with others.

Published on by Cassie Littel.

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