Worship Gathering for Living Life on Mission

Over and over again, I have seen people make a strategic mistake after God invites them into his work.   I’ve made it myself.  Making this mistake leads to less effectiveness in ministry, lowers our defenses against burnout and discouragement, lulls us into self-righteous pride, alienates us from others, and makes it easy to be taken out of the game.
What is this mistake?  Going it alone.
This week, we’ll look at instruction from God’s Word and at the example of Jesus regarding fellowship.  It’s fairly basic and absolutely essential.  What does a missional group look like?  It’s time to focus on the “In” of up-in-and-out.
Also, this week, Jordan Whitmarsh will be with us to share what’s God’s been doing through the Young Lives team this summer.  Don’t miss the opportunity to bless and encourage Jordan!
We’ll meet at 6:45 in the St. Johns Room of Faith Community Church (3450 CR210, 32259).  Come and be equipped and encouraged for life on mission!
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Double Circle Time

Next worship gathering is Sunday, August 5 at 6:30 pm in the St. Johns Room of Faith Community Church, 3450 CR210, 32259.  Come and be equipped for life on mission.

We’re calling for ten days of prayer and fasting beginning Wednesday night, August 1 wrapping up on the evening of August 10.  Our fasting will be for this purpose: to empty ourselves and to seek God’s heart for the people in our lives.  We are praying and fasting to love the people God puts in our path with his love. We believe that kind of love which is transforming the world can transform us and the people we love.  Want to join in?

Jesus began his ministry with a 40 day fast.  (Matthew 4:2) And he began his teaching on fasting with the words, “When you fast…”, not “If you choose to fast….”  (Matthew 6:16)  When his disciples were faced with a particularly difficult ministry challenge, he instructed them to adopt a strategy that included fasting, “This kind only comes out through prayer and fasting. (Matthew 17:21)

So Jesus fasted, assumed his disciples would fast, and encouraged them to do so when a breakthrough was needed.   We’re following the example of Jesus, his first disciples, and other followers of Jesus down through the ages.  We are asking for a break through for three groups of people.  First, we need breakthrough in our own lives.  We need God’s love to enlarge our hearts!  Secondly, we are asking for breakthrough in terms of the people we feel sent to.  God is placing people on our hearts and in our lives for his purposes.  Third, we are praying for breakthrough for our families and close friends.  This are the people we love the most – and some are far from God.  We want them to know God better, to know more of what Christ has done for them, and to accept his love and grace!  We want to see God’s kingdom come and God’s will being done in our lives and in the lives of those we love.  This time of prayer and fasting begins with us – with a desire for our hearts to be filled to overflowing with love of God.  We acknowledge that things need to happen in our own hearts so that we can love people better.

If you want to join, this is our plan.

  1. We’ll be using the Draw the Circle book by Mark Batterson.  We’ll let days 1 through 10 guide us.  (The book is widely available.)
  2. Each of us is planning to fast in the way that makes sense.  Many of us have fasted before.  (If you are new to fasting, the Desiring God ministry put together a handy guide for beginners.
  3. For me, its saying “no” to things I regularly consume.  (My first two days, I’m planning to fast completely from food and after that to eat more simply, cutting out dairy and sugar.  Also, for the whole ten days, I plan to stay off of social media.
  4. We’ll try to create a texting group, too.  We have found that a time of prayer and fasting can be very encouraging as we hear stories from one another about how its going and what we see God doing.  If you want to be a part of a group, send me an email to pastorjessealexander@gmail.com

I am looking forward to what God is going to do!

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Prayer for School at School

Prayer happened in school.  I know.  I was there.  Don’t worry.  It was entirely legal.

Up-In-Out is part of what characterizes the ministry of Love First Coast.  It’s based developing a rhythm of doing what Jesus did and doing it intentionally.  Simply, Up is about giving time and effort to growing our relationship with God through worship, prayer, the scriptures and spiritual disciplines.  In is about being in a committed group where we challenge and encourage one another to follow Jesus.   Out is about seeking to bless others and meet needs with grace, love, and power.  (You can read more about Up-In-and-Out here.)

One of the groups we’re connected with is Young Life.  Young Life was started when a woman named Clara Fischer recruited a group of ladies in Gainesville, Texas to start praying for the teenagers at their local high school in the 1930’s.  As they were praying, God moved the heart of a Presbyterian pastor named Clyde Kennedy to lead his church to do something for high school students outside the church’s walls.  The church hired a young seminarian named Jim Rayburn.  Jim’s work and ministry there formed the basis for what would become Young Life.  It’s an organization that has brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to millions of people around the world.  Currently, there are over 2 million kids in 100 countries who have a Young Life leader who knows them by name.  This year alone, over 160,000 of those kids will attend a Young Life Camp.  Most of those kids will have the best week of their lives.  And they will hear a simple and clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus.  They will be surrounded by loving, responsible adults.  They’ll be shown and invited into a new way of life.

I was one of those kids.  God worked on my heart when I was at a Young Life camp.  Prior to that week,  I always felt that being a Christian was just a burden.  It was one I was willing to shoulder, but it was such a weight.  At camp, I discovered that following Jesus could be more fun than anything else I’d ever experienced, that God loved me and was pursuing me, and that he offered the promise of a life filled with purpose and joy.  The weight was lifted.

Young Life blessed me.  It is all over the world.  It’s in many schools across the First Coast.  But it’s not in the school my daughter attends.

So, a couple of weeks ago, our discipleship huddle and some of us on the Young Life Board met at my daughter’s school and we prayed.  In the spirit of Clara Fisher and her friends, we prayed for the teenagers who attend Creek Side High School.  We also prayed for God’s grace to cover the teachers, staff, and administrators.  We prayed for the area churches and youth ministries that touch their lives.  We prayed for God’s Spirit to move there, for God’s Kingdom to advance, and that every kid and every kind of kid would know this: 1st, that they are loved by God.  We also want them to know that they are loved by others, that they are surrounded by people who care.  School, we know, can be such a hard place, so we prayed for each kid there to have someone in their life who loves them unconditionally, gracefully, and wisely.   We prayed for kindness to break out all over the place in the school.  (I see glimpses of that sometimes when I visit.  Many young people today are pretty amazing.)  We pray they would love themselves, too, because God loves them.  They are precious to God and they need to know, to believe it.  We are praying that they would grow and learn and discover truth, and grace, and be filled with courage to bless each other and the world.  We want each one to know that they have captured God’s heart.  (And in case you need reminding, so have you!)  And we prayed for God to bring the ministry of Young Life there.

I don’t know what will happen as a result of these prayers.  But it felt good to be out together.  We debriefed afterwards at a local restaurant.  The mood was pretty upbeat.  Our faith is bolstered every time we do something like this.  And I can tell you that I am grateful for the prayers of Clara Fischer years ago.  How cool it is to be a part of this legacy of prayer. We’ll be going out again soon to other area schools.  We are asking God to bring ministries here so that every kid and every kind of kid hears the good news of God’s love and grace.

Hey, if you are leading a discipleship huddle or group, I encourage you to go out together to pray for God’s Kingdom to advance in the places in your city God is laying on your heart.  Go out.  Pray.  See what happens in your heart and in the hearts of your people.

(Next worship gathering – August 5 in the St. Johns Room of Faith Community Church (3450 CR210). 

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Worship with a Meal

Some of the most profound encounters with Jesus happened around meals.  He ate with a crowd, with friends, with sinners, with enemies trying to trap him, and with the disciples.  Jesus clearly loved to eat with people.  He liked it so much he was accused of being a glutton.  Much of his teaching revolved around food.   Some of his miracles were related to food.  His life, ministry, and death was symbolized by the central item of a feast – the passover lamb.

In that spirit, we’re going to celebrate a feast together at our next worship gathering.  We’ll break bread together, reflect on the life of Jesus, and consider his promises to be with those he sends out.

Come and be equipped and encouraged for life on mission.  We’ll be gathering at the Wehmeier’s house on Saturday, July 7 at 6:00 pm.  Send me a text (904)599-2889 or an email (pastorjessealexander@gmail.com) to let me know your coming.  We want to be sure there’s enough for everyone and we’ll let you know how you can contribute to the feast!

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A Church Serving Those Who Are Sent

(Our next worship gathering is July 7 @ 6:00 at the home of Kent and Kris Wehmeier.  Come and be equipped and encouraged for life on mission.)

Agree or disagree:  “In the prevailing framework of the church today, leaders are constrained to serve only those who come into their ministry sphere – their church building or programs.  The ministry, then, is limited to only their capacity and the capacity of that sphere.  This also means we are often chasing our tails trying to serve people who are disinterested in the kingdom.  Many people will claim to be Christian, but their true desire is to be served, to be fed, and to consume.  Serving these people is hard, expensive work with very little kingdom fruit.” (Brian Sanders, Underground Church, p59)

At just about every point in my ministry I would have agreed with the statement above and I would have pushed back, too, because what other choice is there?   Church was what it was.  In order to reach some, we had to put up with the demands of the consumers of ministry, who, as they would sometimes point out, were footing the bill.   Every ministry leader had a list of things they didn’t want to do and that were a waste of time and energy, but were expected to do.   That was the church.

The churches I served as a youth leader, elder, and pastor were “prevailing framework” churches.  Some of those churches were considered pretty healthy.  A couple others, no so much.   But even in the healthier ones, the work in the church included a lot of interruptions, empty rituals, maintenance, and putting out fires.   Sometimes, God would work in the interruptions.  (There’s a cliche about that, so certainly it must be true.)  Sometimes, the empty rituals included sparks of life.  Sometimes, the maintenance of ministry, the finances, facilities, and endless writing of things that next to no one would read provided an avenue for connection with others involved in helping with the maintenance.  And sometimes, the grace of God would be manifest in the putting out of fires.  God did things in the church still.  The demands and distractions are just part of church. That was ministry in the church.  As a volunteer in ministry, it seemed like I spent all my free time at church.  As a pastor, I worked about sixty hours each week (as my father had before me.)  I think the actual engagement of ministry with people – the preaching, teaching, visitation, praying with others, and helping those in need began after hour forty-five.  And that was on weeks when the fires to put out were small ones.

And it would have been worth it if I had seen more kingdom fruit.   But outside the church, people seemed to be growing ambivalent about Christianity and disappointed in (sometimes hostile toward) churches.  Inside the church, transformation seemed rare and accidental.  It did happen.  I’d seen it – surrendering to Jesus, conversion to faith, and spiritual (re)awakening.  But most people were spiritually stagnated.  Too many people thought that was okay.  Attending worship, being in a small group Bible study, and serving in the church, and going on a retreat or mission trip – that was the best formula I knew of for steady spiritual growth.  But most people I invited into it didn’t want to or didn’t have time for such things.  Even among those who did, spiritual growth sometimes just didn’t happen.  I learned of an Alban Institute study that revealed that spiritual growth essentially stopped for most people after age 20.  Virtually stopped!  Trying to address it was frustrating.  There was little freedom to try new and different things to bring about better results.  And mission – blessing the world – was hard work!  We did it.  But the effort was huge and often costly.

I had heard that the body of Christ, the church, is supposed to be beautiful.  But the beauty was getting pretty hard to see.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

When I started LoveFirst Coast, a good friend told me, kindly, that he thought I was going in the wrong direction.  Even though we’d read a couple of books together and he appreciated the theory of missional community and respected me for trying, he said that there was no proof of concept.  There were rumors and stories, beautiful stories.  But he was right.  I could not prove that this thing, this new thing, would work.  But I couldn’t keep at it the old way.   If nothing else, I needed a break.

So we pushed ahead anyway.  And I’m so glad we did.

Allow me to draw a few comparisons with my ministry today with my ministry then.

Today, I still work forty-five hours or so before I get into ministry.  But those forty-five hours are at an engineering firm.  It’s how I provide for my family and it feels like good stewardship of my engineering skills.  (I work at Murray Engineering in St. Augustine, FL).  I enjoy being with the people I work with.  Over time, I have been able to encourage and pray with most everyone there.  I love the glimpses of God at work in the lives and in their families.  The time I spend in ministry (ten to fifteen hours) is focused in a better way.  I don’t spend much time in maintenance, putting out fires, or managing demanding or critical consumers of ministry.  Rather, I spend it with people who have become dear friends who are joining God in what God is doing around the First Coast.  Our discipleship groups are missional incubators.  The job of the leader of a discipleship group is to encourage and equip others to represent Jesus as well as they can wherever they go.  I can say pretty confidently that those involved are growing spiritually, steadily.  They see themselves as sent, just like me.  The touch others with the grace of Jesus across the First Coast.  They pray, teach, lead, care and serve.  Some are beginning to develop discipling relationships with others   When we get together, it is to spur one another on to love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:25).  We focus on learning from Jesus how to live like Jesus (to borrow from Dallas Willard).   I still preach a good bit, not only for LoveFirst Coast, but also for the Sawgrass Chapel – a group that gathers to worship on Sundays at 7:30 am out at the beach.  Preaching is easier than it used to be.  Mostly, I pass on what I’ve been learning as a disciple of Jesus.  We still have challenges.  We’re human.  We sin.  We struggle to love, forgive, and get along.  We experience strain in our families and other relationships.  We get distracted, tired, and off track. But not as much and not as long.  We keep coming back to Up-In-Out, to encouraging one another to learn from Jesus how to live like Jesus, to listening, loving, and praying, to pursuing Shallom.  It’s beautiful.

Here’s the big shift.  We believe followers of Jesus are sent.  We are trying to bring people in.  We are trying to encourage and equip those who are sent to join God in what God is doing around the First Coast.  That’s where we invest and spend our energy.

This different way of doing church, this thing that started as a missional community experiment, is proving to be worth it.  But as for proof of concept, well, a lot has happened around the world with missional community in the last five years.

Recently, a documentary was made about a network of missional communities called the Tampa Underground.  If you have time, (35 minutes) it’s worth the watch.  You’ll get a pretty clear sense of what church done differently could look like.  It’s beautiful.  I mean, wow, is it beautiful.  And that’s shouldn’t be surprising, really.  Because, the body of Christ, the church, is supposed to beautiful.  Vimeo on Underground Network

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Worship Gathering Sunday

Anyone who has committed to living on mission or serving in ministry has experienced it.  Disappointment.  Yet joy is offered for every season on the journey.  How do we “consider it pure joy” whenever we “encounter trials of various kinds.”  (James 1:2)  It’s a mystery worth solving.  Learning to cultivate and choose genuine joy regardless of circumstance is a helpful skill.  It’s essential for sustaining strength for responding to God’s call.  That’s our focus for this week.
Come to be equipped and encouraged for life on mission.  We gather this Sunday night 6:45pm in the St. John’s room at Faith Community Church (3450 CR210, 32259).
And invite a person of peace to join you at the Jumbo Shrimp game this Saturday.
Hope to see you both days. But regardless may the joy of the Lord your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10).
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Dealing with Disappointment

I will forever be grateful for Nicky Gumble’s line in Alpha Leader Training:

“Alpha is probably the most disappointing thing you’ll ever do.”

It was strangely encouraging and helped me and others persevere through leading the Alpha Course.  When few showed up the first day, and fewer after that – rather than dwelling on the question, “what are we doing wrong”, we were able to say, “we knew this was coming.  Is there anything we need to do?”  When the conversations didn’t go great, when arguments went wrong, when know-it-alls kind of took over, we thought to ourselves, “Oh, this is what he was talking about.”  And when prayer-ministry seemed to lack power, when prayers for people went unanswered, and when nothing overtly exciting happened on the weekend away- well, we were disappointed, but we were warned.  Alpha was one of the most disappointing things we’d ever done.

But it was also one of the best.  I remember Alpha quite fondly – mainly because we didn’t give up.  If we’d given up, I would never have heard Bruce confess: “I love this church, and I’m grateful to be able to talk about all this.”  And directly as a result of Alpha, we met a woman named Amy, and I had the privilege of hearing her say, “I’ve decided to follow Jesus. I have become a Christian.”  And because we persevered through disappointment in Alpha, a number of people just grew personally and spiritually.  An elderly man said that his faith made sense for the first time in his life.  A woman discovered new ways to pray.  The Holy Spirit was no longer the “forgotten member of the trinity” in our fellowship.  And people started reading their bibles.  The people we served were grateful.

I’ve thought about Nicky Gumble’s words this week in terms of missional living and my own efforts at discipleship.  I have felt some disappointment in the last couple of weeks.  I won’t go into specifically, because discipleship as we do is following Jesus while encouraging others to do the same, so it is life-on-life and very personal.  But a couple experiences have made me wonder, “Am I doing this wrong?”  But this morning, I am stealing Nicky’s words:  This approach to discipleship is one of the most disappointing things you could ever do.

But there’s nothing better.  I love the hearts of my people – for they are loving their families, neighborhoods, and our city like Jesus and are beginning to see some traction in their own work of encouraging others do the same.  And, I think, God is using our, and specifically my own, familiarity with disappointment in ministry as a way to encourage one another.

Hebrews 10:25 calls us to gather regularly to spur one another on to love and good deeds.   Do it!  Get with the people who can put some steel in your spine!  The work is too important and the need is too urgent to allow disappointment to bring it down.

May you be encouraged today!  Live like Jesus would if he were in your place!  Don’t give up!

 

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