Category Archives: Discipleship

The Church is outside the walls!

15-08-23 PRAXIS - Church Unleashed.006A necessary practice that will move us beyond theory, is to take time to process how God is speaking to us (and God IS constantly speaking!) With permission, I’m sharing a story, a not unusual day in my life or the life of a pastor, but a day when God “spoke to me.” I was reminded how the church is at work “under the radar” of our usual church-growth metrics. Here is the sermon audio and the written story is below:

[Church Outside the Walls]

I walked into the wake
knowing I couldn’t stay too long
and I didn’t know the family too well.
“Thanks so much for coming, Pastor.”

This new-acquainted sister of mine is a grieving daughter today;
mourning her mother after the heavy weight of caring well;
after the all too short wait for the expected end.
“Pastor, meet my dad.”

Her father looked up with sorrowful eyes.
“Thank you for coming, Pastor,” he said
not knowing me, but so sincere.
I told her, “I can’t stay for the service, but I wanted to stop by.”

I extend hands and hugs to the row of exhausted family.
I’m a welcomed stranger touching the tender nerves of loss.
I turned to leave, 6 radiant smiles of other women from our church.
“Oh, Pastor, so glad to see you!” as though surprised.


I was deeply touched by this moment.
These women have not just “stopped by.”
They’ve been here – for the duration.
They’ve been here – from the start:

listening and laughing;
serving and sistering.

They meet each week – or more
Praying and learning
listening and laughing; serving and sistering.
That’s just what they do.


Now, if the grieving sister were asked later,
“Has your church been there for you?”
I’m guessing she’d say, “Oh yes! My whole band of sisters
has walked beside me every step!”

“And, by the way, a pastor called and prayed and stopped by.”
But I wonder how many scores of people felt Jesus’ touch
through these women, that day and beyond?
Precious-to-God people who may not be entering a church building any time soon?

Come to think of it, only half of these women from our church were able to be “in church” the next Sunday.
I was having a grand Epiphany! A moment of beautiful clarity.
Known well in theory; but again now in Praxis:

The Church is outside the walls – going at full speed – unleashed!
This day’s liturgy is truly “the work of the people.”
A long vigil; a Holy Day of caring.
Spontaneous worship; teaching on the run; prayer without ceasing. 


Ever since the widow gave her tiny, extravagant coins;
and Lydia’s thriving purple business, financed an infant church;
and Priscilla and Aquilla, tent-makers and disciple-makers
taught young triple A Apollos more complete doctrine in their home…

The Ordinary Ministry – has been notoriously underrated;
The Body’s work – often undocumented;
at least by the “experts;”
but NOT unnoticed by Jesus, the Head.

The One who measures true “success.” 


Lord I want to be available, to be your hands and feet today;
How are you speaking to me
Where are you at work?
How do you want me to join you?

OR in the words of one of our ‘senior saints:’

“Good morning, Lord!
What are you up to today?
How can I be involved?

OR like the child Samuel (and Mary, mother of Jesus)

“Speak, Lord; your servant is listening.”

The Why (and How) of Solitude + Silence

Neil's "frenzied heart" - now  settled!
Neil’s ‘frenzied heart’ – now settled!

Our Executive Pastor, Neil Botts, just preached on “Loving Others Better Through Solitude and Silence.” Inspiring and intensely practical! You can listen here. Be sure to download his great resource, Practical Steps into Solitude and Silence.  Here is a summary from Neil…

We are bombarded daily with the demands and expectations to be “productive” whether at work or at school or at church. As a result, our sense of worth and identity are often entangled with a frenzied pursuit to “produce.” Add to that our skepticism that we can be truly known and still loved apart from what we “produce,” we then fill our lives with busyness and activity which hinders our ability to be present with people and to hear God speak into our loneliness. The spiritual practice of solitude and silence is a gift from God that opens the door to a new way of being productive and fruitful in relationships and in life. We are better in community (and for our community) when we are regularly in solitude.

Do our lives have Authority?

-cloud-syncIn our series, Ordinary People, Radical Kingdom, we examined Mark 1:21-28 and asked the question, “By what authority?” Why was Jesus’ authority so obvious – and what, if any, authority do we have as his modern day disciples?

Jesus demonstrated his authority, not only in his teaching, but also in calling the 12, casting out demons, healing the infirm, eating with ‘sinners,’ and more! He also delegated his authority to his disciples and we today have authority when we speak and pray and embody the Kingdom ‘in His Name.’

The personal challenge for us is whether our lives have integrity. Does what I say I believe sync with how I live? Do my principles and my practice match up? Do I embody (like Jesus) what I announce?

You can listen to sermon here.

Ask yourself: “What is one place where the authority of my life is being compromised?” Let God’s Spirit bring you into step with Himself! (Galatians 5:22-25)

Three Ordinary Radicals

Carlson pic TimeIn our series, ALL IN! we come to the 8th Commandment against stealing. I called it, Who are you Robbing?  which you can access here. We highlighted three doctors – ordinary servants of Christ – who have freely given their lives out of love for God and their African neighbors. Their stories teach us the depth of what it means to not waste our lives and to live with radical generosity.

This month is the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Paul Carson, Evangelial Covenant missionary, in the Congo in November 1964. He became known as the “Congo Martyr” – killed by insurgent rebels. The story was featured on the covers of both Time and Life magazines. His tombstone, bears the inscription “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  Shortly after Carlson’s death, his wife, Lois and others formed the Paul Carlson Medical Program with the goal of raising money to support the hospital and local economy. Since 2000, it now operates under the name Paul Carlson Partnership out of Chicago with a mission that focuses on investing in health care, economic development, and education in Central Africa. Read more here about this remarkable life and the on-going work in Congo.

FAST FORWARD to Afghanistan, April 2014.

umanos-follow-up-241x300Dr. Jerry Ulmanos was a pediatrician, a life-long member of a Covenant Church, who was one of three Americans slain by a member of the Afghan security  force in Kabul. His widow, Jan said, “Jerry always wanted to serve underserved populations. Afghanistan was just one of them. He always had a desire to be the hands and feet of Christ. He was always a light for Christ, and he had a love and commitment that he expressed for the Afghan people because of that love for Christ.”

She added, “We would really like for all of our friends and family and anybody else to please honor Jerry’s memory by opening up your heart to the Afghan people as well as any other populations around the world that need to see Christ’s love.

One of Jerry’s heroes was Dr. Paul Carlson. His story motivated Umanos to pursue a career in medicine and in missions. On his medical school application, Jerry wrote: “In conclusion, I want to underscore clearly that my desire to be a medical missionary is not some command of God against my wishes…On the contrary, I believe God wants me to serve him and has left the manner by which I do this up to me. And becoming a doctor and a missionary is what I truly desire. Dr. Umanos embodied what it means to be an unreserved disciple of Jesus Christ. You can read more of his story here.

Nancy WritebolFINALLY – on the front lines of the Ebola crisis in Liberia

Dr. Nancy Writebol was the first Westerner to contract the Ebola virus this July. She is a missionary doctor who was serving in Liberia. Read her story reflecting on why “Risk is Right,” in an interview from Nov. 8th. It is a powerful read! 

I ended the sermon that included these stories – with an excerpt from Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poem (1993 I)

Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes…

Every day you have less reason
not to give your life away.

Day 6, A Must-read on Fasting

Icon of John Chrysostom  - Community of Jesus
Icon of John Chrysostom – Community of Jesus

Fasting is not well understood today. It can become an exercise in missing the point! Listen to some excerpts from a wonderful sermon by the 4th century John Chrysostom:

Fasting is the change of every part of our life, because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins. Therefore, whoever limits the fast to the deprivation of food, he is the one who, in reality, abhors and ridicules the fast. Are you fasting? Show me your fast with your works. Which works? If you see someone who is poor, show him mercy. If you see an enemy, reconcile with him. If you see a friend who is becoming successful, do not be jealous of him… In other words, not only should the mouth fast, but the eyes and the legs and the arms and all the other parts of the body should fast as well.    Read more of the sermon here.

Scriptures to pray with:
Psalm 47 – “God is King over all the earth!”
Deuteronomy 9:4-12 – Moses was 40 days and nights on the mountain not eating or drinking, which must have been in the mind of Jesus, the New Moses, as he was preparing for his public ministry.
John 2:13-22 – “My Father’s house is not for trade but for prayer!”

Are my spiritual practices helping me to ‘distance myself from sin?’

A Prayer for the road:
Jesus, You are my King


[Join us for these 40 days of “Spiritual Spring Training,” as we journey through Lent. You can visit the blog each day. You can also follow me on Twitter which will have the links as well. I will post each day leading to Easter, except Sundays.]

Day 2 – Choose Life!

The Jesus Way 3Our readings for this second day of Lent are not fuzzy. God calls his people to choose. Choose the path of the blessed man. Choose God who IS your life! Choose Jesus’ way of saving your life – the way of the cross – DAILY.

Read these powerful passages and be reminded of what it means to be fully human and fully alive!

Scriptures to pray with today:
Psalm 1 – “his delight is in the instruction of the Lord…yielding fruit”
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – “choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him…”
Luke 9:18-25 – “If anyone would come after me…”

Our Response:
“I need Thee every hour.”

A Prayer for the road:
Empower me to choose Life – to choose You!


[Join us for these 40 days of “Spiritual Spring Training,” as we journey through Lent. You can visit the blog each day. You can also follow me on Twitter which will have the links as well. I will post each day leading to Easter (April 20th) except Sundays.]

It’s time for ‘Spring Training!’

Everyone is ready for spring! Of course the Red Sox have reported – – to Florida!

March 5th begins the 40 day Journey known throughout much of Church history as Lent. It could be called the Christian disciple’s “Spring Training!” (Lent means “spring”)  It’s getting ourselves more fit and strong and disciplined for the “regular season” of following Jesus. This journey is an invitation to prepare ourselves to experience The Great Story of the passion, cross, and resurrection of Christ through deeper disciplines of prayer, fasting, and acts of compassion. (Matthew 6:1-18)

NOTE: if you are new to, or have a bad image of “Lent,” I’d encourage you to read my post, “Rediscovering and Unstereotyping  Lent.

During this season I will be blogging daily from a wonderful book of readings I’m working through called God For Us. Our Sunday sermons will cover the second half of Mark’s Gospel (chpts 9-16) We’re calling the series, “What is God Up To?”

It all starts this year on Wednesday, March 5th.  We encourage everyone to join at the church, 7-8 pm for a family service marking the beginning of Lent.  A brief 30 min. service will also be offered at 7 am at church.ashwed_0

Especially in this season I always recommend that we daily pray the 4th Century Lenten Prayer of Ephrem the Syrian. You may want to incorporate this into your prayer time each day along with the Lord’s Prayer and some of the Psalms. Meditate on it as a check of what to put off and repent of – and what to put on by the Spirit’s help. (You can link here to a previous post that includes a wonderful commentary on the prayer.)

O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of acedia and apathy,
dispondency, ambition, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of purity and wholeness,
humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother or sister;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages.  Amen!

Imitating Jesus’ body language

dinnerWe’ve all heard the stats – that 60-90+ percent of our communication is non-verbal! Actual words are only a part of the message we send.  Certainly Jesus relied on more than the spoken message, as vital and powerful as his teaching was!

Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom’s arrival – in many ways. People were healed of disease; demons were cast out and defeated; he chose 12 to be his messengers. AND he did something else. He ate with tax collectors and “sinners.” His body talked.  In our series, “I am a Disciple,” Mark 2:13-17 tells the story of Jesus calling Levi (later ‘Matthew’) to follow Him. We called the sermon, The Eating Habits of a Disciple.

We need to see ourselves in this story in two ways:
First, we are all radically INCLUDED SINNERS. Jesus came to save sinners – like you and me! (1 Timothy 1:12-17) The religious teachers of Jesus’ day excluded most of humanity and most of their fellow Jews with their heavy load of man-made laws smothering the heart of God’s Law. So they couldn’t handle Jesus consistent choice of dinner companions. But they got it all wrong! Jesus wasn’t being soft on sin – he was strong on true repentance and healing. Jesus was the holy physician, shouting with bold compassion that “holiness is not fragile – but powerful” to transform and change broken, sinful people into his very likeness and image.

Second, Like Levi throwing a party for his tax collector buddies, we are called to be radically INCLUSIVE DISCIPLES. “Imitate me,” Jesus says to us. Make a statement by who you hang out with. I agree with Larry Crabb that the Church should be “The Safest Place on Earth” – to meet Christ and spiritual friends who help us grow from where we are, to where we are meant to be.

There is room for every kind of background and past sinful experience among members of Christ’s flock as we learn the way of repentance and renewed lives, for “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified (made whole), you were justified (made righteous) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  (2 Corinthians 6:11)  This is true inclusivity.

Richard Bewes, All Souls Church, London (in Washed and Waiting p. 44)

Are there people Jesus would love to invite to dinner – who you would rather not? If so, who is in greater need of repentance?

Disciples Imitate their Master

i am a disciple LOGOIn our series, I am a Disciple, we began with a sermon on the meaning of following or imitating Christ. Our modern use of “Imitate” might take us to thoughts of “cheap imitation” or mimicing someone’s accent or mannerisms.  But to imitate Jesus is very different! Mark’s Gospel, though it doesn’t have long sections of teaching or dialog like the other Gospels, strongly demonstrates imitation. To follow Jesus will mean walking in his steps.  A cross-shaped life of self-sacrifice. As Jesus – so his followers. (e.g. Mark 8:34-38)

Jason Hood, (Imitating God in Christ,shows that Imitation in the New Testament doesn’t mean trying to copy specific details like clothing, it means “actions and mindsets that reflect the actions and mindsets of another.” It is following the patterns of Jesus creatively; akin to walking, following, “putting on Christ,” apprenticeship – and therefore is at the heart of discipleship. (p. 12)

Referring to the great Church Father Athanasius, Graham Tomlin says: “…the whole point of God becoming human was that we might be reformed into likeness to God, so that we might become images of God and imitators of Christ.”

Of course, imitation is not a means to becoming a Christian. It is an overflow.  It is grace that brings us into God’s family.  As Martin Luther reminds: “It is not imitation that makes sons; it is adoption that makes imitators!”

(Hood, p. 84) This is God’s ultimate purpose for us – to be “conformed into the likeness of His Son!” As The Message puts it: “The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.”

How will you and I “creatively imitate” Jesus today?

Discipleship in Mark’s Gospel – 2 Great Resources


Have you ever read a book that captured your imagination in a new way…that makes you change the way you interact with life? What if you found a book that did just that AND it somehow helped you read and understand the Bible better? This past spring, I found two such books. This fall we will be working through two sermon series that will help us understand how to become better followers (disciples) of  Jesus…and as better disciples (followers), we can become a more engaged church. These two books can be chosen as small group material or can be read alone. The Mark book would be a great read for families as well. Below, I’ve given a review of each book.

Card - markMark: The Gospel of Passion (The Biblical Imagination Series) by Michael Card.

Because I’ve read this gospel multiple times, finding a new way to read it was very appealing. The Gospel of Mark (in the Bible) is a book of action and passion with events happening one after the other, describing the life of Jesus in vivid detail with a sense of urgency and immediacy. This gospel was written by Mark, a young man who was a friend and interpreter for the Apostle Peter. He gives first hand glimpses of what was going on during Jesus’ ministry. Even though this is the shortest gospel, it was written to give the early Christians encouragement in all their sufferings. Michael Card wrote this book, as well as the series, not as a devotional or as a commentary, but with both in mind. He uses the most current resources and historical materials to comment on each section, but does it with a sense of imagination. He calls this informed way of reading “biblical imagination.” What this means is that as you read each section, the characters and settings come to life. It is a must read if you want to renew your passion for Jesus and your love and awe of how He works in and through all of us (1st century or 21st century)!

Keller - KingJesus the King by Tim Keller.

Timothy Keller, New York Times bestselling author of The Reason for God and the man Newsweek called a “C. S. Lewis for the twenty-first century,” unlocks new insights into the life of Jesus Christ as he explores how Jesus came as a king, but a king who had to bear the greatest burden anyone ever has. Jesus the King is Keller’s revelatory look at the life of Christ as told in the Gospel of Mark. In it, Keller shows how the story of Jesus is at once cosmic, historical, and personal, calling each of us to look anew at our relationship with God. It is an unforgettable look at Jesus Christ, and one that will leave an indelible imprint on every reader. Jesus the King is an excellent book for personal growth in discipleship or small group use for moving forward toward ‘the full stature of Christlikeness.’

These books will be available at the Christ Church Welcome Center or you can order them from Amazon or Kindle.