After two whole months we have finally finished reading our first book of the month. Some of you may still be catching up if you haven't finished already, and I hope that as you finish you begin to have a better idea of what you want you life to look like as a disciple of Jesus. I had watched a video series that Jeff Vanderstelt had done on everything covered in this book, so in some ways I felt as if none of the information was new. And yet, being familiar with the material didn't lessen the impact it had on me while reading these thoughts for the second or third time. After I watched the videos (about twenty-five in all) I remember thinking, "How can I get every person in our church to watch these videos?" It is such good stuff, but with each video being twenty minutes long it would take quite a while for an individual or a group to get through it all. This book helped answer my question.
After reading the entire book I can wholeheartedly say that this is a wonderful and helpful book. It is a somewhat condensed summary of the best parts of that video series and so I am very happy to be able to recommend the book for those who don't have enough time to watch the videos. I hope that many of you read, but if not, please pick it up and take some time to take in the content of this book.
The final part of the book, The Everyday Stuff, was by far the most challenging for me personally. So many stories were shared that were both moving and unsettling. The commitment that the people in Jeff's missional community (ie. small group) had was really something that at times made me feel uncomfortable. I had to ask myself a number of times why I was feeling that way, and it may come down to the fact that we just don't see people living that sacrificially and that on mission very often. When we do, they almost seem like they are in a cult or something. When I read about what Jesus had done through ordinary, everyday circumstances I was definitely affected. I hope that you all were too.
When we follow Jesus, everything matters and everything counts. The small parts of how you live and the large parts of how you live. It can all be a tool for taking the good news of Jesus to others. It doesn't need to be a spectacle. You don't need to be amazing. You just need to be willing to do to others as God has done to you, loving them with the truth of Christ. What I appreciate is that Jeff tells us what we all know, and that is that this will not be easy. He writes:
By the way, this “everyday life on mission” stuff can be unpredictable or messy. I often share that if it isn’t messy here and there, you are likely not yet on mission. If you are becoming friends with people who don’t yet know and love Jesus, you are going to be invited into experiences that may be very different from what you’re used to.
Is it worth it though? Is it worth it to be so intentional about your schedule, money, time, etc? Is there something bigger than just our own day-by-day life maintenance that we do, trying to hold on to what we have? The answer to these questions is yes, but it is hard to move forward. Do we live in a way that demands a "Jesus explanation" as Jeff writes? Are we being lights in a dark place, not just because of what we say, but because of what we do? These are all questions that these last chapters have brought up in my mind.
We need others around us to help us to live this way in the world. I don't think it would hurt if our small groups had covenants that they made together regarding how they want to live, who they want to serve, and who they want to reach. I don't think it would be a poor use of time to spend more time together eating, celebrating, praying, and serving. Even the idea that these communities (small groups) have a laid out mission plan for a specific people is a great idea. It is far too easy to just become internally focused and saturated by each other rather than do both that and saturate the lost with the message of Jesus.
There are a lot of obstacles that we face that would keep us from really living lives for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel. How do we do this with young kids? How do we do this when all we do is work, work, work? What about "me time"? What if I'm an introvert and seeing people all the time would wear me out? These are all valid questions, and yet I hope that we can apply to faith to all of these obstacles and believe God for the things he wants to do through normal people like ourselves. There may be things we have to say no to in this world in order to say yes to God, but much of our lives can probably still exist.
Even the idea of living the normal Christian life with other believers and bringing unbelievers into your world has ramifications. It will create awkwardness, and it may even make some of you feel like you can't be yourselves. Remember, we want people to see and experience Christ through us, and we can do that through typical things. We don't need to do extravagant things together. We need to learn to follow Jesus and help one another to do that. If an unbeliever is a part of that, who knows what God could reveal to them through your little group?
As we wrap up here, I want to quote Jeff a few more times and end with his words:
...now is the time for us to get serious about Jesus’s mission together, and we need all ages in this game. Church has to stop being about us. It’s time for us to get back to what Jesus lived and died for. We need everyone in the game! If not, Jesus saturation will not happen. Can you imagine what would happen if all those in retirement who know and love Jesus were to partner with the younger generation in this? Think about the thousands of missional communities that could be started all over the United States and around the world—and the thousands of people who would come to know and love Jesus as a result! Stop and consider your life. How will you spend it, and for whom? Please take Jesus’s call to make disciples seriously. What are you going to do with your life? It’s never too late. Don’t waste it. I hope you’re open to stepping out into what I believe Jesus is calling his church back to—Jesus communities on Jesus’s mission, disciples who make disciples, together, not alone, in every place and in all of life...
...Too often, we focus on the spectacular activities of a few prominent Christians, leaving many people feeling as if what they do in everyday life doesn’t really matter. But the everyday stuff, done with gospel intentionality in the name of Jesus, changes lives as well. I have found that when we love and serve people like Jesus loved and served us, it gives great evidence to how powerful the gospel is to change lives. Then, when we proclaim what Jesus did in serving us, people who hear also see Jesus serving them through his body—through us, his church. They see normal people on Jesus’s mission getting to experience extraordinary life together!...
...Surrender to Jesus. Devote yourself to his mission. Remember and live in light of your new identity. Get on mission with a small group of people. Covenant together to sow seeds to others in the everyday rhythms of life, and watch the movement ripple out of your life until the whole earth is saturated with the good news of Jesus.
I look forward to what the Lord wants to do with this book for those of us that read it, and I hope that the heart of it spreads through our church. We may not do missional communities in the exact way presented in the book, but it's important to look at the principles behind it all and say together "this is what we want."
If you are interested in using the Story of God that Jeff mentioned in this final section you can find that here.
We will begin the next book in July, and I think it's going to be a helpful one. More information to follow.
Making disciples. It's the call that Jesus has placed on his church. But how does it look? What does it really mean to make disciples? In part 3, Jeff Vanderstelt explains what he has found discipleship to be, and how the church can do it in everyday life. Here is a short summary video of chapters 7-10:
The word "discipleship" can be a loaded word for some people. It can mean many different things, and the definition isn't always as concrete as we would like it to be. I know that I have viewed discipleship a certain way for most of my Christian life, that is until I watched some videos that Jeff Vanderstelt put together about being on mission while in community. When I thought of discipleship I though of one on one meetings, reading the Bible together, etc. But to be honest, I didn't really have a clear definition of what I was hoping to accomplish in those times. What was the point of discipleship anyway? I appreciate Jeff's explanation in chapter 7:
That is what discipleship is all about. It is the ongoing process of submitting all of life to Jesus, and seeing him saturate your entire life and world with his presence and power. It’s a process of daily growing in your awareness of your need for him in the everyday stuff of life. It is walking with Jesus, being filled with Jesus, and being led by Jesus in every place and in every way.
It's about submitting all of my life to Jesus. That's an incredible statement, and it forces me to answer the question, "Do I really want to submit to Jesus?" Honestly, I like to be my own authority. I think I know best. It's easy to pay lip service to Jesus but at the end of the day, am I really submitting to him as my lord? This is why discipleship is so important. I need to first take my own life under the lordship of Christ, not expecting others to do all the hard work for me. Jeff writes:
...you have to shift from the passive idea that it is someone else’s responsibility to grow you up to be more like Jesus. You need to take your own discipleship seriously. If you love Jesus, trust Jesus, and have Jesus’s Spirit, you can start to grow up in following him and becoming more like him yourself.
I want to take my own discipleship seriously, and in doing so I will be more equipped to help others do the same. At the end of chapter 7, Jeff gives a succinct sentence on what this looks like, followed by a summary of what he means by "all-of-life discipleship":
Read, listen, and obey—then pass it on....All-of-life discipleship—learning to follow, trust, and obey Jesus in the everyday stuff of life—requires submitting to and obeying God’s Word in three key environments: life on life, where our lives are visible and accessible to one another; life in community, where more than one person is developing another; and life on mission, where we experience making disciples and, while doing so, come to realize how much we need God’s power.
Briefly, lets take a look at each of these three areas.
We live in a culture where we are spending less and less time with others. We spend most of our day working, then we come home and spend time with our families. Occasionally we will meet with other believers for our "once a week" meeting and then meet up with them again on Sunday. We may even spend some time with our neighbors, but that is probably not very often either. We are tired, busy, and so adding "discipleship" into the mix can seem like another burden in a week of other burdens. But is this how our life is supposed to be? How can we do as Jesus commanded and make disciples if we don't see each other very often? How can we know one another and be known if we seclude ourselves to our homes? The truth is, we can't. And when we seclude ourselves, it gets easier and easier to not submit to Jesus and to put on some sort of facade when we do see other believers. But Jeff points out in chapter 8:
God sees. He knows. And he is not satisfied with the cover-up. He wants to restore you to his original design. That is what discipleship is about—making you truly human, just as Jesus is the perfectly complete human. His means of restoration is others in your life who are committed to bringing your brokenness out into the open and bringing the gospel of Jesus to bear on it. The layers with which we’ve covered ourselves have to be pulled back, and we can’t do that kind of work alone. We have to get close. We have to be seen and known. This is what we call life-on-life discipleship—life that is lived up close so that we are visible and accessible to one another, so that others can gently peel back the layers and join us in our restoration.
This is uncomfortable for us, I think. When you are with others you notice brokenness, flaws, experience conflict, etc. Exposure of who we really are is not something that we naturally want to experience. We can think, "If people really knew what I was struggling with or who I am, it would be a disaster." This thinking is pushing against discipleship. You can't possibly grow if you aren't being pruned and cultivated, and God puts us in community so that we can do just that. Jeff writes:
Jesus lived life with his disciples. He was close enough to really know them. He observed what they believed by watching how they lived. He became closely acquainted with their brokenness so that he could see their wrong thinking, wrong believing, and wrong acting. They were exposed. And as they were exposed, Jesus helped them to be restored....If we are to be disciples of Jesus who are being re-formed and restored to become more like him, we need to have people in our lives, up close and personal. We need people who can see where we do or do not yet believe the truth about Jesus and what he has done for us. Then, when the layers are pulled back, we need people to speak the truth of the gospel to our needs. Sometimes we just need a reminder of what we already know but have forgotten. Sometimes we need a bit of new information about Jesus. And there are times when we need a direct rebuke.
This is challenging on so many levels, but it is what we need. We all need restoration and we all need to be reminded about Jesus and what he has done. Again, we can't do this alone. Growing in Christ is a community effort and just spending a few hours together each week almost certainly won't cut it. I've found in my own life that the more time I spend with people the more my sin rises to the surface. I just want my own time, or I feel inconvenienced, or I feel misunderstood. Fill in the blank with how you have felt when you spend a lot of time with people. As an example, think of how refining it is to be a part of a family. Whether you are married, have kids, or you are one of the kids, being together most of the time is as challenging and sharpening as anything I can think of. This is where discipleship thrives, in regular life. It doesn't have to be some formal event, and it may not be as effective it is. Discipleship is an all of life endeavor, as Jeff points out:
Discipleship can happen at any time—while applying putty on the side of a house, cleaning up a yard, hanging out at a party, playing board games (the brokenness is pretty obvious for those of us who struggle with being overly competitive), enjoying a vacation together, watching sporting events, or cooking a meal.....Life-on-life discipleship often happens in the midst of relational conflict.
Have you thought about discipleship in these terms? I remember reading another book where the author wrote that if you want to learn humility, play golf. I can personally say that he was right. My golf game reminds me over and over again how much anger I have brewing inside of me. That is just one example of how all of life really can be an opportunity for us to understand and apply the gospel more. Jeff also mentions conflict, a word that may even cause a physical reaction for some of us.
We don't like conflict, and we don't like trials. Yet, it is in these things that God produces the most growth in us. I have had a lot of conflict in my life, and will have a lot more, but I have learned to be thankful for it and not run from it. Nothing seems to bring out my own harsh, selfish, arrogant spirit more than conflict, and I have learned to use it as an opportunity to grow in Christ. Jeff says something similar:
Most people have been trained to believe that conflict is a bad thing. But we have found that conflict pushes what is already in the heart to the surface. Therefore, it often serves to remove the facade. Living life closely together does this because you can’t keep the front up forever.
Have you noticed this in yourself? Has your sin been revealed in conflict with others? Life on life discipleship will produce conflict, but out of that time together, hashing things out, working through challenges, maturity will occur if you keep at it. But again, this isn't just about you, this is about the community growing in submitting their lives to Jesus.
In chapter 9, Jeff points our the importance of meeting together, operating as the body of Christ. Each of us has been wired by God to be of benefit to others around us in the church and outside of the church. It is in these differences that we are most able to disciple and make disciples.
One way that he tries to accomplish community is through what he calls DNA groups. This stands for discover, nurture and act. The point of these groups is for a few people to get together and very intentionally help each other to use the word of God together to see sin, fight it, work through challenges and then determine how to act upon what they have learned. I appreciated the push for reflecting on God's word, genuine repentance, and moving forward. It is so easy to get stuck in one place and to hear the gospel and feel nothing. These groups seem to be a way to counteract that in a healthy way. I personally am thinking of trying to start one of these groups with a few other men in hopes that it would be beneficial for all of us. I would encourage you to think about doing the same.
Our discipleship has to be intentional, as Jeff writes:
This kind of discipleship can’t happen in isolation. It also can’t happen just by hanging out with Christians. It requires us to be on mission together.
Of all the chapters in this section, I feel that this is the most important. We spend so much time talking about things and not actually doing them. Mission is especially an area where we can plan and talk about it all day long and never actually do it. However, the point of chapter 10 was not mission in and of itself, but how being on mission together is a form of discipleship. Many of us don't know how to be on mission, at least not practically. I think that this is because we don't have any real life training. Jeff points this out as well:
We should take the development of disciples—and disciple makers—as seriously as we do preparing doctors for surgery. The residency training we have to offer is the people of God on the mission of Jesus together. To grow toward being a disciple maker in all of life, you need on-the-job training, and that’s what life on mission is about. This is what Jesus did with his disciples. He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). He didn’t say, “Show up to class and I will train you.” Nor did he say, “Attend synagogue and that will be sufficient.” No, he called the disciples to join him on the mission (“Follow me”), and while they were on the mission with him, he trained them to be disciple makers (“I will make you fishers of men”)....The best training for mission happens while on mission.
We need to be on mission together if we are ever going to grow in being on mission in general. A few years ago we made an effort to ask all of our small groups to have an external focus as much as they have an internal one. Honestly, I'm not sure that we have been very focused on that. It is far too easy to just become about hanging out together and studying the Bible when our groups can be a training ground for front line missions, and not only a training ground, but a force to be reckoned with on the filed itself! The problem is we never get out there, and yet that is the best place for us to learn about ourselves and about Jesus. Jeff writes:
The mission itself is God’s tool for forming us. Jesus knew this when he called his disciples to join him on his mission. He knew that the best way to develop his disciples was to send them out on mission. It was while they were on mission together that they realized how little they knew, how little they trusted God, and how selfish and prideful they really were....Mission brings you back to Jesus over and over again because, after all, it is his mission. He will build his church, and therefore his mission is completely dependent on him.
Isn't this what we want? Don't we want to be with Jesus, walking where he walks, engaging with the people he would engage with? I think it is a wonderful thing that following Christ is active. It means that the Christian life is never boring. If you are on mission with other brothers and sisters your life will be exciting, interesting and full of God's work. If you are just hanging around hoping to experience the presence of God and mature in Christ, it will probably be slow going or never happen at all. I love what Jeff says toward the end of chapter 10:
I’m amazed at how often Christians want to experience the presence and power of God apart from the mission of God. I’m also surprised at how many people believe they can grow people up toward maturity in Christ apart from getting them involved in the mission of making disciples. This stuff can’t happen in a classroom. It does not happen in one-on-one meetings. And it does not happen if we just hang out together as Christians all the time. We have to get out on mission in order to fulfill the mission of being disciples who make disciples. I used to think we should take people out on mission trips once or twice a year. Now I’m convinced we need to help people see that they are on mission all of the time.
It's clear to me that discipleship is much larger and all encompassing than I had originally thought. I need the church in all its brokenness and it needs me. We all are part of something amazing, and it would be foolish of us to ignore the call to make disciples when it is one of the most life giving aspects of our Christian life. I hope that these chapters were helpful and that you see the importance of making disciples and how you can be a part of that.
This week we will read part 4, New Identity which is chapters 11-14. This book will take us halfway into June, so we will read a shorter book for the last two weeks of June. I hope that you are finding this helpful!
I've noticed lately that it is harder to remember things than it used to be. I don't necessarily think it has as much to do with age as it does with the fact that there is just so much to think about right now. Family, friends, work, hobbies, politics, culture, the list could go on and on regarding things that my mind is being saturated by every day. Given how much information we are bombarded with, its no wonder that we try to take control and handle everything on our own. Its only natural that it will be harder and harder to remember Jesus and the good news that was given to us. But, we need to remember and we need to know that no matter how good we think we are at the things we do, Jesus is better. This is where Jeff Vanderstelt begins in part 2 which is simply titled, Jesus. Here is a brief introduction video to part 2 of the book.
I have said the same words before about being Jesus. It sounds correct doesn't it? If we are living in a fallen world we should be Jesus for those around us right? Apparently not. Jeff points out that we can't be Jesus to the world because there is only one Jesus and we are not him. When we try to be him we try to take on the role of savior or counselor or king, but that is not ultimately our job. We certainly play a part in those things, but we are not and will never be Jesus. This is heartening because of how often the burden to love others and care for them can weigh us down. This happens because we are trying to be the game changers, the ones who bring about something amazing in a person's life, but that is Jesus' job. Jeff writes in chapter 3:
Our job is not to be Jesus. Our job is to believe Jesus, depend on Jesus, and submit to Jesus working in and through us to accomplish his work. We are not meant to carry the weight of the world or the mission of Jesus on our shoulders. Jesus came to seek and save. He doesn’t expect us to become the saviors.
I'm so thankful to have read that and I believe that it is true. Instead of trusting in the power of God and power of the gospel message I trust in my own power and my own ability to share the message. When I do that, it's fair to say that things never really quite work out. I need to believe that the gospel is the "power of God for salvation" and think about how that gospel affects my past, present and future. Jeff writes:
God wants to save us from the penalty of sin—salvation from what we’ve done; the power of sin—salvation for what we’re called to do today; and the presence of sin—salvation for our future. It is a past, present, and future salvation. And it’s all available to us by faith. We come to experience the effects of God’s salvation by believing the gospel.
Is this the gospel I am resting in? He goes on to ask the following questions and statement:
If we’re going to be effective in seeing people and places saturated with the good news of Jesus, we first have to know and believe the gospel. We need to be saturated with the truths of the gospel before Jesus saturation can happen through us. Do you know the good news of Jesus? Do you believe it? Do you live as if you believe it? We all need the better Savior. Jesus is that Savior, for he did better than us, he does better than us, and he will make everything better than we ever could.
He then takes the next three chapters to address how we have been saved, how we are being saved, and how we will be saved.
Much could be said about this chapter but the crux of it is that we are all sinners in need of a savior. Our brokenness is profound in our lives and we see it in the lives of others. One problem with sin is that we try to hide it so that others won't know that we are struggling or that we won't be embarrassed by what is going on inside of us. Jeff writes:
Where are you tempted to hide or cover up? Do you still believe you have to perform well for God in order to receive his loving acceptance? Do you believe God loves you more when you obey and less when you disobey? You don’t need to look elsewhere. God the Father, the Creator of the universe, receives and accepts you in Christ Jesus. If you believe this, you can rest. You are loved. You are accepted. You are already significant!
Something that I have noticed to be true for most people is that when they sin, they feel the shame and guilt of that sin for hours, days, months or even years. Taking what Jesus did for us on the cross and applying it to our sin is hard for us. We feel like we have to make amends, that we have to earn back whatever we lost by sinning. And yet, we can't. What we must do above all else is look at that sin and then thank God for the cross of Jesus. In Jesus' death we find forgiveness. We can look at our past sins and move forward as repentant people who are Christ's once and for all time. Jeff writes at the end of chapter 4:
Have you trusted in Jesus’s life and death yourself? Are you still trusting in it? Do you believe that what he did was sufficient for you? Do you believe Jesus perfectly lived in your place, and that he humbly and sufficiently died in your place? Disciples of Jesus do believe this. We have to. We can’t live the life he calls us to apart from it. Are you striving to gain approval or acceptance? Rest in Jesus’s perfect work on your behalf. Are you living with regret or self-hatred for what you’ve done in the past? Accept Jesus’s payment for sin. Are you striving to do enough good now to remove the guilt of the bad you’ve done in the past? You don’t have to. In fact, you can’t do enough. Instead, believe that Jesus has fully removed all the guilt from your life. We have all sinned, but Jesus did better for us. Because of him, we are forgiven and cleansed. We are loved and accepted by God.
Admittedly this is one area where many Christians have been in error. We have somehow made the gospel only about salvation (justification), but not about becoming more like Christ (sanctification) or our final salvation from this world into the eternal presence of God (glorification). This is why we need the gospel as much now as we needed it the day we first believed. We far too easily trust in ourselves rather than in Christ. Jeff writes:
I was not believing the gospel. I was depending upon my strength, my skills, and my ability to inspire, persuade, influence, and lead. Because of that, I was living the old life and not experiencing the new life Jesus can make possible in me.
But we have to understand that we need Jesus now, and we need him to be working in us in order that he may also be working through us. Our striving to save ourselves or save others by our own ability will get us nowhere. We are, at this moment, experiencing the salvation of the Lord in that he will not let us remain who we once were, but that we would truly be the new creations that he has made us to be in Christ.
In chapter 6, Jeff writes quite a bit about fear. Considering how fearful I can be at times I gave this chapter my full attention. Fear is not always a bad thing, for instance, we know that we are called to fear the Lord. But it is the fear we have of what might be, or what might not be that can cause us to fall into spiritual paralysis. When we think about what motivates us, much of it is fear-based. You may work hard at your job because you are fearful about losing it. You may raise your children a certain way because you are terrified that if you don't they will live horrible lives when the leave the house. It's actually amazing to me how much we do, and continue to do in a specific way, because we are motivated by fear. Jeff writes:
Fear does motivate. It just doesn’t always have the desired result. In my case, fear didn’t push me forward with unbridled resolve. It bound me in shackles.
If we live this way, he points our the result:
We won’t see Jesus saturation happen through us if we are captured by fear. I’m convinced from my experience that people will not step out on mission if they don’t have confidence about the future. Their fears control them.
How true this is. I have had a few conversations recently where we have spoken at length about following Jesus with young children. What should it look like, how risky should be for God, what if something happens to our children? In much of those conversations fear can become a dominating factor. Jeff points this out in regards to mission and children in the middle of chapter 6 when he talks about a couple that home-schooled their children because they were scared of what would happen to them other wise. He writes:
I wonder how often we thing of our children or our spouses or our jobs as idols that we are giving too much weight too because of fear. When we think about what Jesus is going to do, and the wonderful future that he has for us, doesn't it make this world a little less intimidating? I read a quote recently that has helped me to battle fear in my own life, especially in regards to following Jesus no matter where he leads. Henry Martyn was quoted as saying:
I am immortal until God’s work for me to do is done.
What an amazing thought! Until God is done with me or my wife or my children, I can move forward in following Jesus in this hostile world. My future is going to be glorious because of God, and I can take that to the bank. I can fight my fear with that.
At the end of chapter 6, Jeff ends with this, and I hope that we all consider it:
The main point of these chapters was that Jesus did it better, he does it better, and that he will make it better. Our past, present and future is glorious because of Jesus, not because of us. As we seek to move forward towards the future God has for us we must saturate ourselves with the person and work of Jesus Christ. We need more of him, and less of us.
For this week we will read chapters 7-10 on the topic of Discipleship. I hope that you are finding the reading helpful and that you are discussing it with others in your life. There is lots of gold to be found in this book and I'm thankful to be reading it with all of you.
Reading books is helpful. Challenging at times, but helpful none the less. Even reading books that just aren't very good can be somewhat helpful. I don't think this book, Saturate, will be unhelpful at all given what I've read in the introduction and first two chapters. Why do I say that?
Over the past two years I have been thinking quite a bit about the Christian life and what it could look like. Am I really pursuing the things that God would take pleasure in me pursuing? Am I enjoying the Lord as much as I could be? What can I do to be on mission for the Lord? Why is it so hard to simply follow Jesus and have that impact my world? I have asked many more questions than that, but these are ones that have stuck with me. I want to do great things for God, and yet I feel very ordinary and feel as though I need to be something more than ordinary. I think of all the Christian biographies I have read or stories I have heard about men and women of the faith who seem to be conduits of the Lord's will and work, and I find myself wanting that. But at the end of the day, there is just me, a normal, ordinary and unimpressive person who isn't quite sure what it means to have Jesus in and informing every part of my life, and especially, how to be on mission with a wife, four kids, bills, health issues, and various other day to day things that I encounter or have to think about.. That is why I am thankful for books that remind me of the truth and what God has to say about it all.
Who This Book is For
This particular book is not written for the upper echelon of Christian men an women who are doing everything right all the time. (In fact I would argue that no such person exists...) In the introduction to this book, Jeff Vanderstelt tells us exactly who this book is for:
This book is for you—the normal, unimpressive, everyday person, young or old, male or female—because Jesus means to carry out his mission of filling the world with his presence through you. You are meant to do this. The mission of Jesus is yours to participate in. It has always been God’s intention to choose normal, everyday people, and to show his amazing power and glory through them. He’s not looking for the most impressive person because he already is that person.
The mission of Jesus is a glorious mission, and I want to view it that way. I don't need to be impressive and neither do you. What a relief! What I can do though, is follow Jesus and trust him to do the amazing stuff. Then I can just stand back and be in awe of him, rather than think about myself and what I'm trying to do or be.
Participants vs Spectators
Earlier this week I went on a fishing trip with my Dad. It was a great time for me to stand in the middle of a river, in the quiet of Eleven Mile Canyon and reflect on the things I just wrote about. I find it amusing that in the first chapter of this book, Jeff writes that it was during a fishing trip with his father that he came to a realization that maybe he had been thinking about things wrong. He had been leading the youth in his church for years, and saw them go from being heavily involved to being somewhat apathetic as they moved on into "adult church". He realized that they were becoming spectators rather than participants. He explains what he means briefly in this video:
He says it well, all of life has a purpose. Church isn't an event that we go to, it is us. You don't need to be the pastor or a leader to be a participant in the greatest mission every given. I was greatly impressed with the example of Jeff's parents as I read the first chapter. They didn't allow themselves to simply grow older and fall into a pattern of doing what they had always done. On the contrary, they pursued being and making disciples, even to the point of inviting people to stay with them in their home at the cost of Jeff giving up his room so that person would have place to stay so they could be cared for. That is amazing hospitality, and it is challenging to read about. How willing would I be to do that? They were participants, not spectators. And they did it in the everyday life that they had.
A Celebratory Community
Speaking of everyday life, we all eat, and we enjoy eating multiple times a day. It is an important part of our daily lives. I greatly appreciated Jeff's take on feasts and parties in chapter 2, because it takes something seemingly normal and insignificant meals and shows how they can be a time of worship to the Lord. He writes:
At one of these dinners, about three courses into an amazing five-course meal, it dawned on us: “This is a great picture of the kingdom of God!” While immersed in the feast of food and life together, we recalled Jesus comparing the kingdom of God to a feast where everyone is invited in (Luke 14:12–24). Together we started to imagine what the church would be like if we all believed we were a picture of God’s kingdom breaking into the world in ways that felt like a party. One of us said: “If the church believed this, it would radically change what we do and how we live! We would be known as the most celebratory people around. Word would spread. People who wouldn’t normally want to come to a church event would come to our homes. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”
What would it be like for us if this was our life? What would it say about us as believers? Are we so thankful for the gospel and the provision of God that we would be called "celebratory"? I hope we could be! He mentions that Israel had a lot of parties, but they were never supposed to be the center of attention for that party, God was. When we come together celebrate God on Sunday mornings or during weekly Community Group meetings, are we actually celebrating him or are we just following our weekly ritual? Jeff writes:
God doesn’t just want us to feast or celebrate as his people. He wants us to remember him, keeping him central to the party by showing kindness, love, and mercy to all those who lack a reason to celebrate. We are to be the “good-news people” to the world, who show the good news in our lives and invite others to receive it into theirs. The celebration is to be for God. The party is to be about God. After all, it is meant to tell the world what he is like. The Israelites forgot who they were and why they had been called to be God’s people. Their feasts became empty, heartless, ritualistic events. They were partying without the life of the party, celebrating without a reason to celebrate. That led to self-absorbed consumption and heartless activities without love. The same can happen to us if we forget to keep God central. Church becomes an empty, heartless religious event.
Jesus is the center of our events, parties and gatherings. But if we forget him, we have left out the life of the party.
Church is More than a Building
As Jeff points out, church can often seem disconnected from everyday life. We have our "church hat" that we put on and then we have our "everyday life hat" that we put on. But this ins't how it is supposed to be. When we invite people to church, we aren't inviting them to a building, but rather, we are inviting them to meet people. Specifically we are inviting them to meet people who can help them to meet and know Jesus. If the church is people and not a place, than there is no opportunity to wear two or three or four different hats. Jeff explains:
“Some think it’s a building you go to,” I would say as I drew a picture of a building. “Others think it’s the programs and events that happen there [here I would draw circles inside the building, representing activities], while others think it’s mainly the leaders who run those events [at this point, I would add some stick figures inside the building]. They think the job of those leaders is to get people to invite their friends to the building [here I would draw stick figures and arrows pointing toward the building]. They also encourage people to give their time [I would draw a clock], their money [a dollar sign], and their skills and gifts [a gift-wrapped present] to support what happens primarily in the building.” Next, I would draw arrows going out of the building. “Though we might gather together in a building,” I would say, “the church of Jesus is the people of God saved through the person and work of Jesus Christ for his purposes in the world. God’s intent was never to have us define church merely as an event on Sunday. We don’t go to church. We are the church sent out into the world.” Then I would draw stick figures, a clock, a dollar sign, and a present beside the arrows coming out of the building. Then I would say: “Jesus wants us to live all of life fully for his glory in the world—every part and every person. Jesus didn’t live, serve, suffer, and die so we could just attend a Christian event. He lived and died so we could become his people who are sent into every part of the world on his behalf. He wants all people everywhere to see and know about him, and he wants everyone to know that everything is to be done for his glory. We now see our time, our money, and our unique abilities as means to serve both the people who are the church and those in our cities who don’t know the great news of God’s love for them in Jesus Christ. All of life counts and everyone matters.
For those of you who prefer videos, here is one with Jeff explaining the same thing:
All of Life Submitted to Jesus Christ
Something one of our pastors, Mike Bonnell, often says is the words "all in". We have even joked about making him a t-shirt with those words written along the front of it, and maybe the back too! Is your everyday life filled with the purposes of God, or are you wearing many different hats? I can tell you that if it is the latter you will soon find yourself to be exhausted. However, if you go "all in", seeking to follow and worship Jesus in the everyday stuff of life, your life will be full and you will have more meaning and purpose than you ever thought possible.
What to Read Next
This coming week we will read part 2, which contains chapters 3-6. We'll do our summary towards the end of the week. I hope you have found the book helpful so far, and if you haven't started reading it, please pick up a copy on Amazon either on Kindle or in print. I think I remember reading that the average reading time for the entire book is just under 5 hours, so don't be overwhelmed. Also, feel free to comment below on what you have been taking away from this book or strike up conversations about it with others in our community. Talking through it together can be a helpful way to process what we read.
And as a final reminder, as great as books can be, please make sure you are spending time in THE BOOK (ie, the Bible) first and foremost. You could read all of the best Christian books in the world and still starve yourself as a Christian if you never feast on the word of God itself. Take the time, it will be worth it.
Online Giving Options
Planning Center: Online Giving
Planning center also offers text message giving. Text any dollar amount to 84321. You will be prompted to set up an account and find our church. After you set up an account, you can simply text the dollar amount to that number and it will automatically deposit your gift to Summitview Community Church.