The Work Goes On

This week, living under quarantine in Italy, we had a meeting with our leader’s team over Skype. We read the book of Philemon where the Apostle Paul sends a letter to Philemon, asking him to welcome back Onesimus as a brother in Christ.

It is a great story of Paul’s attempt to reconcile these two men, although the reason that we read the story was to highlight for the men that are leading the discipleship work here that Paul did this while he was in prison.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul told them to imitate him as he imitated Christ, so I asked the guys to think about what we can learn from Paul and how we can imitate him. Paul was doing this work from prison, and while we are not exactly in prison, we are quarantined in our homes here in Italy.

Here were six things that the team pulled out of the passage that we can learn from Paul:

  1. We can be of use to others in any situation.
  2. We should strive for unity, standing up for unity amongst our brothers in Christ.
  3. We should be bold, as Paul was boldly stepping into this situation between Philemon and Onesimus, yet do all of these things in love.
  4. We see that Paul was evangelizing and seeing people come to Christ, even while in prison.
  5. He is bringing people together, discipling them, and encouraging them, even while he himself is in prison.
  6. Paul knows that he has spiritual authority, and suggests it, but he is gentle in his approach, knowing that he is entering a very difficult and challenging situation.

At the end of the meeting, we each made a commitment to take action from one of these points…something that we can do this week in view of following Paul’s example. How can we continue to make disciples, even while under quarantine?

Jesus Came Not to Give Bread but to Be Bread

For whatever reason, I frequently wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning. Not wanting to actually get up, but instead continue to rest and sleep, I will put a headphone in one of my ears, listen for a minute to whatever podcast is next in line on Spotify, and head back to sleep. Often, it will play through several podcasts and I find that I frequently will wake up to John Piper preaching because I have subscribed to some of the podcasts that his Desiring God website puts out.

This morning, I woke up to the start of a talk that Piper gave, I believe in 2009, at Angola prison in Louisiana to many of the inmates there. Given that I have a little extra margin time due to being quarantined at home here in Sicily, I thought that I would both watch the video in whole and share it here as the message is beautiful.

Piper says Jesus teaches that we should not look to him for what he can give us, in this case the bread, but instead for the preciousness of who he is. I hope you enjoy and will eat of Christ as Jesus calls us to do.

Original article on Desiring God Website: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/jesus-came-not-to-give-bread-but-to-be-bread

From 12 People to 2300 Churches

Our church in Colorado recently sent out a newsletter that included a link to a conference called the Multiply Vineyard Summit. I particularly enjoyed two of the sessions that I saw given by Ralph Moore. His message was directly aligned with the work that we’re doing here in Italy.

Ralph starts with some recounting of his work over the last several decades, and then subsequently goes into the “how” of the work, speaking of disciples making disciples. Hope you enjoy!

From 12 People to 2300 Churches

Disciples Making Disciples: The Key to Multiplication

Praying for Grandchildren – Pt. 3

So as I wrapped up my session talking about birthing spiritual grandchildren (see the previous posts on part 1 and part 2), we moved to Matthew 13.  We read verses 1-9:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Jesus seems to have a clear priority for fruitfulness, but let’s make sure that we have an understanding of what he is talking about here.  The disciples asked him to explain the parable, so later, Jesus provided some definitions:

The farmer:  Someone who is sharing the message of the Kingdom of God.

The seed:  The message about the Kingdom.

The four different types of soil:  The different ways that people might receive the message.

As I read this, I see that there is actually only one type of soil where the message isn’t received or not believed.  That is the first type of soil, and because the message isn’t received, Satan takes it away.

In the second and third types of soil, I see that these people do believe.  They have accepted Christ, but they have difficulties in continuing to grow and be fruitful.

For the second type of person, they are experiencing trouble because of their new faith.  They are afraid of what people are thinking of them, or they don’t believe that this new faith is actually worth the persecution that they are receiving from others.  The root of their newly planted faith doesn’t go deep into the ground, so despite initially believing, they fall away.

The third type of person is similar, but it is because they are prioritizing the things of the world, whether because they think they don’t have enough money and spend their lives trying to make more, or they have enough that they do everything they can to protect what they have.  In either case, they have believed, but their priorities are connected to the kingdom of the world, not to the Kingdom of God, so those misaligned priorities crowd out their ability to be fruitful.

The fourth soil person is someone who both receives the seed and believes, but then goes on to produce a harvest.  In the same way that I remember farmers where I grew up in Indiana planting corn, beans, or other kinds of crops, I know that they put the seeds into the ground in the spring with the intent to receive back a great harvest in the fall, and that is what this type of person will do.  By planting that seed within them, the farmer sees a great harvest come through the planting of this one seed.

So in my talk, I simply asked the question:  Should this parable have any bearing on how we think about our ministry work?  If our time is limited – and it is! – how should we be spending our time?

Clearly, we should be like the farmer, spreading the seed.  I don’t see that the farmer is trying to take his time to figure out what type of soil the person is in advance.  In fact, he doesn’t seem to care very much.  Instead, he is just spreading the seed.

But once we can see which type of soil the seed has been sown into, should there be a priority in our ministry time and work on those who are the good soil?

For example, if I were to tell you that you could invest one dollar in a company, and at the end of one year, you would receive one dollar in return, would you do it?  Of course not.

But if you could invest your one dollar and make $100, my guess is that you would invest that money quickly.

So I believe that this is what Jesus is saying.  Sow the seed.  Find the good soil.  See and help this new disciple become fruitful.

Praying for Grandchildren – Pt. 2

As I was preparing to speak, I had thought of the people that Paul had been greeting in Rome. They were people that he clearly knew, and had been some of the same names that I had read about working in other places while reading in the book of Acts. In short, they were now Paul’s spiritual children who were going on to continue to make spiritual grandchildren by sharing the good news of the Gospel and discipling others as well.

I thought it would be important to go back one generational step and think about Jesus. Did he have a particular method for making disciples? Did he have a vision of what that meant? Was he also thinking about generations of disciples making disciples?

I think that Jesus had been preparing his disciples to make disciples for quite some time. I won’t go into detail on this just yet, but just to make one example, I think that if we look in the book of Mark, starting in chapter 3, we can see that he appoints his disciples and then in chapter 4, he begins teaching them his disciple-making plan. Once he finishes teaching them his plan using the parables of the soils, a lamp on a stand, the sower, and the mustard seed, he tells them it is time to go over to the Gentile side of the lake where I believe he intends to start putting them into practical training.

Jesus teaches them the importance of faith as he calms the storm. He teaches them the importance of walking within the authority and power of Christ with the demon-possessed man, the bleeding woman, and the girl who had died. He even shows them the importance of sharing with others as he sends out the healed Demoniac to the Decapolis cities. And now finally, he sends them out two-by-two to do all of this themselves, to replicate what they had seen Jesus doing. I think this is all training for his disciples to make disciples, just as Jesus had shown them how to do it.

In my talk, I paused on this time that Jesus sent out the seventy-two disciples and focused on Luke 10:2:

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

I wanted to stop here because I always thought that it seemed a bit odd that Jesus would tell his disciples, within the context of sending them out, to pray for more workers. It seemed odd because our application today just never fit within the context of what Jesus was teaching his disciples at this time.

Typically, I think we would respond to this scripture by saying, “OK, let’s pray for more leaders, more pastors, more missionaries who will go to reach others.” But in this time, Jesus and these disciples that he was sending out were all there were – there were no other believers. There were no other believers to pray for that God would send. So why would Jesus be telling the disciples to pray that God would send out workers into his harvest field? Why not instead tell them to pray for new people who will believe in Jesus, or who will enter the kingdom of God, since that is the message that he is sending them out with? They are supposed to tell the people that the kingdom is near. Isn’t that what they should instead be praying for?

I think the answer here is that Jesus isn’t just thinking about new believers. Yes, he wants people to enter the kingdom, but he is telling his disciples to go beyond this in their prayers. He is telling them to not just pray for believers, but for fruitful disciples who will become workers.

The key point here is that they are to pray for these workers from the harvest field. These new workers would come from the non-believers that Jesus is sending them to meet within each of the towns he will soon visit.

Jesus doesn’t tell them to go make more converts. He wants them to go make fruitful disciples. He tells them to pray for workers. Jesus is thinking about generations of disciples, and I believe that he wants his disciples to stay in the house of those new disciples because his intent is that this new home will be the “home base” for kingdom of God in that town, the place that has learned about Jesus the Messiah and will be the new generation of workers within their own town. The disciples won’t be just eating and drinking, doing nothing, laying around throughout the day. They will be talking about what Jesus has taught them and the miracles they have seen, and the people in the house will be learning about the reality and the ways of the kingdom of God.

To me, it already seems clear that Jesus isn’t just thinking about gathering the disciples around him, but instead is thinking about how his kingdom can travel and spread out everywhere, to all people, through the disciples who will be fruitful workers.

To go one step further, though, how do we see Jesus praying? Does Jesus have a desire related to spiritual generations of believers for which he asks God to intervene?

In John 17:20, we can see that Jesus prays for spiritual grandchildren as well. He says:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…

I once asked a group who Jesus was saying that he was praying for. The group responded that he was praying for us! That wasn’t the answer I was thinking of, but it is still correct. Jesus is praying for those who will become his followers, generation after generation. Again, Jesus is thinking about, and praying for, spiritual grandchildren.

So what does this mean for us? Is there a lesson that we should learn as followers of Christ? Shouldn’t we also be praying for workers and not just believers? Would anything need to change in our approach if we were to think about, pray for, and practically prepare the people that we are discipling to become workers? To, themselves, make spiritual children and have spiritual grandchildren?

Prepare the way for the Lord

Tomorrow morning, we will begin to meet as a 3/3rds Group in the large park in Catania called Villa Bellini.  I’m looking forward to having a weekly rallying point that will include a time of thanksgiving and praise, prayer for one another, scripture study and discussion, thinking of how we can put God’s word into practice, and prayer for our friends who do not know Jesus.  Of course, each thing that we do in making disciples has an impact for the future, whether for good or bad, but I have sensed that now is a time in particular where we are setting the stage for the future, where we are “putting our hands in the wet cement”, if you follow my expression.

This week, I have been reading Mark 1:1-8, thinking and meditating on it in advance of our discussion on it tomorrow morning.  I will be trying to facilitate a discussion, not necessarily teaching the passage, but I like to try to think in advance about the passage to consider some of the main things that I can see within it.  Here is the passage:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

As I’ve thought about this passage, here are some simple observations that I have made:

  • Jesus is called the Messiah and the Son of God, which means that he is, himself, God.
  • Mark points back to the prophet Isaiah to talk about John the Baptist, but it seems that the point is ultimately that God is preparing the people to hear about Jesus, initially through John.
  • John would preach a message of repentance. It is a message that the forgiveness of sins starts with repentance, a humble heart before God that admits what we have done wrong.
  • The people of Jerusalem and Judea responded to John’s message. They recognized that he was right and God was moving (actually, literally!) at that time. This “made the way” for Jesus to come and bring the Spirit of God.
  • Despite John’s great ministry and great response of the people, he says that he is nothing compared to the one who would come after him, namely, Jesus.
  • John says that Jesus will baptize them with the Holy Spirit. I believe this means that God himself washes over us to make us clean.

As a primary takeaway, I think this passage is speaking of Jesus coming as the king, a king over the entirety of the world, and John is showing how the king wants to interact with us.  Typically, in our own strength, we believe, and try to show others, that we can take care of ourselves on our own.  We are proud people, and this extends directly into our spiritual interactions with God as well.  We don’t humble ourselves before him because we believe that we can take care of our problems on our own.

But the king is coming, and his herald, the one who will prepare the way, the one we call John the Baptist, is telling the people that they must be prepared for him.  To be prepared for him means that we must come in repentance, in humility and in surrender because we have rejected him before.  But now, he is coming, and he is bringing with him the Holy Spirit, who will spiritually baptize those who have been prepared in repentance and humility for the coming king.

So what does this mean for me, to put this into practice?  Over the last few weeks, we have had a leader’s meeting where we have discussed what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit and what we can do on our part to be ready and prepared for this.  Following teaching that we have learned, we have been attempting to learn what it means to surrender to God’s will and wait on him.  This week, I have been trying to slow down the time of reading in the scriptures and prayer, writing what I have been learning as well, in an attempt to hear more of what God wants to say to me instead of imposing my schedule and steps upon my time with God.  It has been a necessary time for me to chew and digest the Word, attempting to listen to the Spirit through this week.  In short, attempting to come before God in humility to hear what he has to say instead of doing all as I typically do with super-imposed timetables.

God, I pray that you will help me to continue to slow down to listen to you.  You are the energy in all that I do, and without your leading, nothing moves forward.  I certainly want you to use me, but I first want to connect with you, so I pray that you will help me to take the steps to practically do this today and as I go forward.

Praying for Grandchildren – Pt. 1

This last Saturday, I was given the privilege of speaking at a missions camp just outside of Vittoria, Italy.  They gave me two 45-minute sessions, one for a Biblical teaching, and another to introduce our ministry work.  There were about 50 or 60 people in attendance, mostly younger people from around Europe, including Italy, France, Germany, and Sweden.  We even had the great opportunity to meet some people from Pakistan who are doing great work here in Europe.

I thought that it would be a good idea to write down the main points that I spoke about and post them for future reference.

On Thursday morning, our family drove down to Vittoria, in the southern part of Sicily, where we found Camp Bethel.  It is a nice camp with great facilities, including bunk houses, bathrooms and showers, kitchen, meeting space, pools, a small soccer field, and a nice open grassy area for various activities.  The camp was full, so we took three tents with us to accommodate the six people in our family and made our first camping trip in Italy.  It was at the end of July, and it has been hot, so I was expecting to be sweating while sleeping, but the weather turned out to be great at night.  The only rain that we had to worry about was with the camp’s sprinkler system and the heat abated in the evening, making the sleeping comfortable.

As we entered the camp on Thursday morning, the participants were starting their first time of praise and worship for the day.  Walking into the session, I began to think more about what I would say to the group on Saturday morning and sensed that I should share the idea of working alongside, and partnering with, people that don’t really look like, sound like, or think like “us”.  When I say “us”, I was thinking about the generally-white Europeans, along with “us”, the one American family in the room.  Instead, I had a vision in my mind of a mission camp meeting like this in the future that was full of Africans, Far-Easterners, Middle-Easterners, and others sitting alongside Europeans and Americans, truly representing the populations that we were wanting to see become part of the expression of the Kingdom of God here in Italy.

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A time of prayer for one another in small groups at the camp.

As I sat down, I began to think of Romans 16 and the greetings that Paul gives to the church in Rome.  As I opened it, I read the first few verses and greetings:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

Greet also the church that meets at their house.

Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.

Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me.They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord.

Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.

10 Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test.

Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.

11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew.

Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.

12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.

Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.

13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them.

15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them.

16 Greet one another with a holy kiss.

All the churches of Christ send greetings.

As I read this, I began to realize that these people that Paul was greeting were some of the same people that I had been reading about in the book of Acts.  Through his missionary journeys, Paul had gone throughout the areas of Galatia, through Asia, into Corinth and Athens and had sowed seeds of the Gospel, made disciples, and left behind churches.

Now, in this last chapter of Romans, we see that several of these people that he was working with in those areas have, for some reason, moved on to Rome.  They have become disciples and are now workers in the church, or possibly churches, in Rome.

Sitting there in the first session, I was thinking of how great of a legacy and testimony that this represents!  These are workers in the Kingdom of God that have come from being non-believers to not only believing, but who themselves are becoming fruitful by making disciples, even going on to live and work separately from Paul.  Paul discipled and trained them well enough to become workers within the Kingdom themselves.

I can’t imagine that we will ever do it as well as the Apostle Paul, but I certainly do believe that this is the fruit that we hope to see from our work.  We want to start to pray now for our spiritual children who will become workers like those that Paul is greeting here.  Even more, as we will see what Jesus taught us to do, we want to pray and work to see spiritual grandchildren so that the work of making disciples of Jesus will continue generation after generation.  Like those that Paul is greeting here, I believe that this is a vision of the future impact of our work and the legacy that we can leave behind.

Centro Agape Before and After Pictures

At the inaugural ceremonies on Saturday, Marco showed a few Before and After pictures that I thought would be good to share as well.  Even these Before pictures show the building after tons (literally!) of the trash inside had been removed, so it is difficult to get a true picture of the scale of work that our partners have accomplished, but hopefully this is a peek into the work that was done.

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Outside of the building before.  Major water damage, fascia damage, and bad windows and doors.

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Restored exterior, no more water damage!

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Bathrooms before and after (the Afer picture is in the “almost complete” stage

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Two large upstairs rooms.  Can anyone say mooooolllllllddddddd?

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Large upstairs rooms after restoration

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Halways and bathrooms before

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And now…

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The large room downstairs.  Missing from this picture is the floor-to-ceiling filing cabinets full of dusty old social records and dead animals.

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Downstairs meeting room when nearly complete