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In this FREE 3-hour online conference, you’ll hear from national leaders and local practitioners on some the most current research and best practices in the church today.  We’ll be discussing a variety of topics like… how to build a discipleship culture, the lost practice of class meetings & group life, the power of story, formation through social media & technology, multiplying leaders, discipling the neighborhood, and much more.

Date: March 15, 2016
Time: 11:30-3:30 pm
Event: Missional Discipleship Live!
Topic: MIssional Discipleship
Sponsor: Church Multiplication and Discipleship Division of the Wesleyan Church
Venue: Online
Public: Public
Registration: Click here to register.

5 Tips for a Daily Bible Reading Plan

From Pastor Dave Johnson:

Foundational victories

Every disciple making community I start, begins with this premise. “The foundational victory, upon which all other victories are based, is daily time to read the word of God.” This is a discipline that I have built into my life that has been revolutionary. I challenge those new to the disciple making process to make their first victory one in which they read the word of God on a daily basis. Reading your Bible on a daily basis is a victory of discipline.

When I know a pastor well, I tell them that I want to know about their Bible reading schedule. Sadly, they usually cower in shame only to admit, it is not what it should be. I confess, up until a few years ago, I was a terrible Bible reader. I had every excuse in the book to not read the Bible on a daily basis. However, once I have disciplined myself to be a regular Bible reader, my previous excuses just seemed silly.

5 tips for a daily Bible reading plan

Plan it:
Know what your reading today and what you will read tomorrow. Whether it is just a chapter a day or an Old and New Testament reading, have a regular reading plan. At times I preach more than one time per week, so this has become an invaluable tool. I record my daily readings and reflections on the Evernote App so they are quickly searchable. I have found myself quoting obscure Biblical stories in the middle of sermons because they are things I had just read and fit so well. Have a plan God will use it!

Schedule it:
I have found it best to have a drop-dead time that reading has to be done by. I’m not legalistic about this but in the mornings when my kids wake up, all bets are off for reading (They are still in the ultra-needy stage). I try and have my reading and reflections done by the first 30minutes after getting into the office for the day.

Reflect on it:
It has happened more than one time that I have read a chapter in the Bible and thought, “what on earth did I just read?” It happens to everyone. I suggest a slower intentional reading of the scriptures with reflection. What I know is that God wants to speak to humanity and one of the best ways he does that is with his word.

Discuss it
God’s word was spoken before it was ever read. I once heard a Rabbi say that it should be a sin to read the Torah alone. There is something about talking about the scripture that lends to it becoming a reality in life. After all, I am convinced that words can become flesh.

Account for it
I have a small group of local pastors that I text my daily reading to. It is almost like the good old fashion chain letter, I text one person and they text another and so on. More than anything else, practicing the discipline of accountability makes me read the Bible on days when I’m just to tired or busy, and those are the days I need to hear God’s voice the most.

Effective disciple making begins with a solid daily reading of the scriptures. The scriptures will grow you, transform you and send you on mission with Jesus. I believe that once you have achieved a victory in reading the scripture then that lays the foundation for all other victories. Can you afford to put off developing a daily reading plan?

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Pastor Dave Johnson @reclaimbeauty

Since 2003 Pastor Dave Johnson has served in the capacity as Youth Pastor, Pastor to Families and now as the Senior Pastor of Neighborhood Christian Fellowship in Covina, California.  Dave is passionate about making the Kingdom of God unavoidable in his own life and in the life of the church.  He loves teaching God’s word and leading in the local church. Dave is a frequent retreat and conference speaker and he enjoys speaking on spiritual formation and discipleship. He holds a BA in Political Science and a MA in Christian Education and is Ordained in the Wesleyan Church.  He and his wife Desiree have two beautiful daughters.  Whether it is going to the beach or the mountains, reading or going on a hike, Dave loves to spend time with his family and play with his kids.

What if God was one of us?

incarnationThe popular theologian C. S. Lewis wrote of the incarnation in his book called Miracles:  “They say that God became Man.  Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. . . in the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity . . . down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created.”  Lewis goes on to paint the picture of a deep sea diver who descends in the blackness in order to recover a valuable treasure.  The pressure weighs on the diver and, in the midst of the darkness, he (like all things around him) loses his color.  But through the struggle he eventually resurfaces, that precious item in his hand, to the world of color and beauty once more.  Here we have a word picture describing the deep love of God for humanity – a God who would enter the world of pain, loss, suffering, hardship, and “colorlessness,” motivated by love for what he has created.

In the prologue to the gospel of John, the apostle summarizes this miracle:  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Eugene Peterson paraphrases this to say that the Word “moved into the neighborhood.”  What is implied here is that Jesus is the self-expression of God, God revealed in a real human life.  God, who had revealed himself to the world in many ways before the coming of Christ, revealed himself perfectly then by being embodied in a particular man, and there was nothing deceptive, unreal, or phony about Jesus’ humanity: he was born, he grew up through childhood to manhood, and he died. And as it was, by the word of the Lord that the universe was created, so Jesus is the divinely appointed agent for bringing the new creation into being, first in human life and then on a universal scale. Undoubtedly, some who have grown up in the church and heard sermons on the incarnation all of their lives will allow this idea to grow stale in their minds.  I confess that has happened to me before.  But each of us, when we look deep down inside, longs for a God who can sit across from us and share in our everyday experiences.  We deeply desire the intimacy of friendship with our Maker.

To think of God in such gritty, earthy, human terms seems to demean His holiness, but evidently the God of the Bible doesn’t agree.  Instead we find in Jesus a man who was constantly criticized for his habit of hanging out with what society considered to be losers.  Remember the Pharisees who said: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is– that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).  Remarkably, we find Jesus “infecting” others with his healing and wholeness rather than being “infected” by their filth and sin.  Jesus reversed how the Jews thought of defilement:  the holy doesn’t become dirty by contact with what is unclean; rather the unclean becomes whole and well through contact with the holy!  Sadly, even many Christians today seem to misunderstand this aspect of Jesus’ ministry and, as a result, they seek holiness by barricading themselves from the “wicked” and “evildoers.”  Much of evangelicalism over the decades has devoted itself to creating a “bubble” which is separate from the world for fear of contamination – note, for example, the growth of “Christian” bookstores, businesses, schools, music, etc. – all attempts to create a sub-culture which will shield ourselves from the contamination of the world.

Pastor Greg Boyd reflects on how the incarnation of Christ impacts those who are poor or hurting:  “My experience regarding street-level understandings of God is that the more marginalized and less organized the people are, the more the people will have internalized the dominant ideology of the official transcript.  Many have not heard an alternative voice expressing good news that was convincing enough to win them over to a God on their side.” And, indeed, the fundamental message of the incarnation is that God is on our side, suffering with us and striving to show us a way of life we’ve never imagined before.  This realization is revolutionary not just for the economically poor, but for all people.

 

[excerpt taken from “Merge: Divine Chaos”  by Jeremy Summers and Greg Coates]

The “Truth” Sets Us Free: Formation through the Lens of Language

 

Surveys in the United States confirm that truthfulness is still one of our most highly valued traits. As the new millennium began, for the second time in half a century those polled by Gallup put ethics and morality near the top of the list of problems facing Americans. If these statistics are even close to being accurate, how is it that we do not hear or read more on the topic of truth telling?

It is without doubt that deception is a powerful force. Upon truthfulness much is built, but without it so much can fall. As we have all experienced at some point in our lives, deception can spread and give rise to practices very damaging to human communities and when the practice of truth telling is neglected, we become accustomed to spin and dishonesty, which seem to be all around us. As a result, it is not uncommon to suspect that people are never being completely honest. This suspicion has tainted the work of church pastors and leaders, who are often on the receiving end of a lack of trust in leadership and in our various institutions. This culture of deception naturally brings about defensiveness and consequently, “truth has been displaced by believability”.

Ludwig Wittgenstein once observed, “He lied when truth would have done just as well. Choosing which to tell is largely a matter of convenience. We lie for all the usual reasons or for no apparent reason at all”. While it may be true that our actions might speak louder than our words, they are still very powerful. For instance, “the words associated with deception have declined, or have at the very least become the norm. Therefore, we no longer tell lies, but instead we claim it as ‘misspeaking”, ‘exaggerating’, or ‘exercising poor judgment’. In saying and believing such things, the term ‘deceive’ is replaced with the more accepting word of ‘spin’ or ‘contextualizing’”. In the end, we deceive ourselves.

So, why do we continue to deceive and lie rather than telling the truth?  Ralph Keyes, in a Post-Truth Era, states, “the obvious cause of dishonesty’s rise is ethical decline. From this perspective, moral compasses have broken down. Our sense of right and wrong has gone into remission. Conscience is considered old fashioned. Conviction has been replaced by cynicism”. This post-truth era allows us “to dissemble truth without considering ourselves dishonest. When our behavior conflicts with our values, what we’re most likely to do is re-conceive our values. Few of us want to think of ourselves as being unethical, so we devise alternative approaches to morality”.  A single word by itself is very powerful, and combined with other words is either constructive or destructive; it is “the power of life and death”. Therefore, as a result of this shaping of reality, words either convey truth or communicate a false reality (deformation of truth).

We have all experienced a time in which we have tried to communicate a story or moment in our life, and rather than stating the truth, we fabricate certain portions of the story, maybe making the outcome a little funnier, or not emphasizing a negative incident, all to control the response of the listener. We have heard fine speeches, eloquent sermons, and rhetoric that moves the soul. In truth-telling, what is decisive is not what you say, but how you say it. It is composition, it is expression, that decisiveness and deception is birthed. There is the possibility that something could well be superbly crafted—that it could be perfectly worded; brilliantly formulated; strikingly written, performed, staged, or put on screen—and at the same time, in its entire thrust and essence, be false; and not only false, but out right bad, inferior, contemptible, shameful, destructive, wretched—and still marvelously put together. But at the other end of the pendulum is the practice of truth-telling which negates the self, and embraces the true Word, Christ himself, trusting in the truth spoken.

So, whether at home, in meetings, in sermon, in speech, or in debate, may your language be “life giving”, forming others into the likeness of Christ…the Truth will set you free!

 

 

[Want to go deeper on this topic…resources used in this article: Ralph Keys: Post-Era Truth; Sissela Bok: Lying; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Ethics & Life Together; Jean Vanier: Community and Growth]

Blurred Boundaries: Christians don’t have a monopoly on God

 

People love well-defined boundaries. We love to draw a clear line between the good and bad people. When a nation goes to war, for example, the enemy is often portrayed as evil. And we are always the good guys. Of course, the other side thinks the same thing. Lines like this give us comfort. They help us simplify the world, categorize it neatly in clearly defined packages. But there’s just one problem with the lines we make: they don’t always match up with reality.

The world isn’t as simple as Christians are good; non-Christians are bad. In fact, we Christians often do horrible things, and some non-Christians do good works that put many of us believers to shame. Our lines, we find, just don’t match up with the real world. Reality is more blurry.

In the tenth chapter of the gospel of Luke, Jesus sent out his specially chosen missionaries to carry a message of peace and salvation to the world. “We’re the good guys,” the disciples must have been thinking, “and we’re going out to face the evil people.” But then Jesus said something really weird. As he was giving instructions, Jesus said, “If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him” (Luke 10:6).

“Hold on a second, Jesus. A man of peace? Out there? I thought we were the ones carrying the message of peace! What do you mean that we might find people out there who already have peace?” the disciples must have thought.

Luke used the word peace somewhat interchangeably with the word salvation. It referred back to the Old Testament idea of shalom. This peace was much more than only the absence of war. Shalom meant a harmonious community filled with happiness, security, plenty of food, and cooperation—the way the world was supposed to be. So it’s quite striking that Jesus told his disciples that this shalom might already be out there in the world.

While the disciples had drawn a very clear line between themselves (good) and those to whom they were sent (bad), Jesus was constantly blurring these lines. The Pharisees thought they had it all figured out—God loved those who scrupulously kept all the rules. But when Jesus came, he spoke well of tax collectors, prostitutes, half-bred Samaritans, and sinners. He even told the Pharisees that those “dirty” people were entering the kingdom ahead of them (Matt. 21:31).

Here’s the point: Christians don’t have a monopoly on God.

Did you ever play the board game Monopoly? It’s called “Monopoly” because by the end of the game, if you make it that far, one person has all the wealth and properties. That’s what a monopoly is. In economics, it happens “when a specific individual or an enterprise has sufficient control over a particular product or service to determine significantly the terms on which other individuals shall have access to it.” In short, one person has all the stuff.

The disciples of Jesus always seemed to think that they had a monopoly on what God was doing. So when the disciples saw outsiders casting out demons (“bad” people doing a good thing), Jesus taught them, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).

God is at work in strange and unexpected places. He’s not just the God of the church; he’s the God of creation. He’s not just revealing himself to those who confess the name of Jesus Christ; he’s revealing himself to those who haven’t even heard of Jesus before. John Wesley called this “prevenient grace” which simply means “the grace that goes before us.” In other words, long before any of us ever heard of Jesus or trusted in him for our salvation, he was already quietly at work in our lives.

That should impact the way we relate to the world. Rather than being the know-it-alls that are bringing truth to a pagan land, we can approach nonbelievers in humility, recognizing that they too have God at work in their lives.

So, Now What:

Commit yourself this week to “seeing” God. Lend an open ear to someone who has a story to tell and as you listen, ask yourself if you see evidence of God already at work in this person’s life…and then join him in his transforming love for all!

 

[from Here After, Merge Series, by Jeremy Summers & Greg Coates]

A Love that Transcends Time and Society

 

In light of the church and its mission, I have two convictions and hopes for His Church and her role as His people. First, the church must include and embrace others as Christ has embraced us (Luke 22). Second, the church must live in authentic Christian community where lives can healed, encouraged, empowered, and ultimately, transformed in the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 1:21-23).

The Apostle Paul’s command to the Romans is to “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7). This concept of welcome is what theologian Miroslav Volf identifies as embrace. It is “the will to give ourselves to others and welcome them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, and it is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity.” So, no political party, no government, no race, nor can any culture do what Christ did in welcoming, or embracing humanity. To welcome, as Christ welcomed, transcends time and society. This embracing confronts injustice, deception and ultimately anything that attaches itself to exclusion.

The practice of including and embracing is also seen through the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, and the doctrine of salvation. For the cross and the covenant plays an extremely important part in revealing the truth of welcome. It is on the “cross God renews the covenant by making space for humanity in God’s self, that which humanity has broken. And unlike a contract, the covenant is not simply a relationship of mutual utility, but of moral commitment.” So, through this covenant, God reveals His moral character, which makes space for the other in the self. The ultimate display self-giving, in Luke 22:20, was reveled when the new covenant was made permanent in blood, and was made eternal on the cross. Interestingly enough, the new covenant “is God’s embrace of the humanity that keeps breaking the covenant. And as designed, the social side of that new covenant is our way of embracing one another under the conditions of hostility.”

May we as the Church, truly embrace others as Christ embraces us, creating space where communities and lives can be transformed!

 

Further Thoughts to Consider:

1. Do you find that “embracing” others to be difficult?

2. How might the practice of “embrace” look in your church?

3. When practiced, embrace will transform both the individual and the group. So, how might this practice influence our ministries and how we live missionally?

4. In what ways could you and your church missionally embrace your community?