LoveFirst Coast Mission – Strategy – Goal

Six years ago, I sat down with a friend who had planted a couple of churches and told him that in my next season of ministry I was thinking of starting a church.

“What will your church be about?”  He said.

“What I want to do is build a church focused on developing deeply surrendered disciples of Jesus.”  I was glad he asked.

“The trouble is, Jesse, I don’t really know what that is.  Can you tell me what that is?”

I provided a bunch of words, a number of activities, and a heap of superlatives.  But the more I talked, the more confused he looked.  And I was talking with a pastor.  I had to admit, what I was saying wasn’t clear to him because it wasn’t clear to me.

My friend told me, “I don’t think you can do that because you don’t really know what you want to do.”

Ouch!

The truth hurts.   And the truth helps.  A year later, still before starting LoveFirst Coast, I was able to say with much more clarity what we were going to be doing, how we were going to do it, and how we’d know if we were making progress.  We have kept trying and learning.  What we are about has continued to grow clearer.

Here’s the latest iteration on what we’re doing in terms of mission, strategy, and goal.

Mission:  Our mission is to be a part of God’s mission.  We recognize that our church doesn’t really have, doesn’t really own a mission.  The mission belongs to God and God’s mission has a church.  God is at work making all things new.  Also, there is only so much we can do and so much only God can do.  In his grace, God allows us to be a part of it!  This means we have to stay close to God.  We have to pray and pay attention.  The mission unfolds as we walk with God.  If we neglect our relationship with God and with one another, we’ll miss it.

Strategy:  Our strategy is to adopt Jesus’ strategy.  The strategy that Jesus focused on was to equip a small group of people, teaching them how to live like he did.  The word for this is discipleship.  There is much misunderstanding about discipleship.  We have found Dallas Willard’s definition is very helpful.  Discipleship is learning from Jesus how to live like Jesus.  It’s about imitating Jesus and to help others do the same.  Jesus discipled twelve guys until they could imitate him.  After a season, he empowered them and authorized them to represent him and to help others to the same.  They received the promise of the Holy Spirit.  And Jesus sent them (and still sends them) out to do the same things they had seen him do.   They were equipped and motivated to be disciples who could make more.

Putting mission and strategy together, you get this:  At LoveFirst Coast we want to be a part of God’s mission by learning to imitate Christ and helping others do the same.

We also have a goal.  And as both the mission and strategy belong to God so too does the goal.  Most churches adopt something they want to address, like developing programs that attract young families.  Their goal (usually) is to grow the church younger to keep it going.  Not a bad goal.  Good things happen when that’s the goal.  But such a goal is just very small – worthy of a swim and racquet club, maybe, but not worthy of the church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ goal was big and straightforward.  He told his disciples that the church, his church, would prevail against the very gates of hell.  Hell, Jesus implied, would be no match for the church.  But we see it hanging around in our city.  If you live here, you probably see it, too.  And I hope you see God’s Kingdom advancing as well.  Let me say a little more.

First, by hell, I’m not suggesting a fiery dungeon of punishment led by a foreboding figure with a mask and red cape.  I speaking of something more in keeping with our daily experience.  Hell is on display at any place, in any relationship, and in any organization where the will of God is thwarted, ignored, or discarded.

Hell seeks to negate heaven and where hell is prevailing, you see broken relationships, divorce, poverty, despair, ignorance, division, factions, distrust, violence, and fear.  This is not okay with Jesus, and it’s not okay for us to ignore it, either.  Where hell prevails, you see addiction, abuse, broken families, unemployment, fear, hopelessness, and crime.  When hell prevails in a family, marriages get cold and bitter, parents abuse and neglect children, leaving them wounded and raising themselves, and grandparents are forgotten, left to grieve and die alone.  When hell prevails in a church or neighborhood, community is lost.  People get divided, suspicious, and isolated by generation, race, politics, and personal preference. When hell prevails in the halls of justice and government, cynicism, suspicion, and factions dominate. Resources get horded.  Needs get neglected.  The common good is supplanted by greed. When hell prevails in a city, people begin to live in fear, afraid to connect, to speak, to create, and to share.  Crime grows.  Neighborhoods, even whole zip codes become too dangerous to go out in alone.   When hell prevails, work places become dehumanizing and fear based.  Beauty is corrupted.  Honor is torn down.  Truth is twisted. Virtue is mocked.  It’s not okay with Jesus.  This is not how he wants things to go in the world he loves.  When hell prevails in a heart, isolation sets in.  The suffering and hardship of others is ignored, explained away, even dismissed.  When hell prevails, people lose sight of the truth.  They begin to disbelieve in God, or worse to believe terrible things about him.  And they begin to believe terrible, false, enslaving things about themselves, about others, and about the world.   Hope fades.  Joy is lost.  Faith shrinks.  Love grows cold.  When hell prevails in a church (and it happens) people can become deceived, cold, selfish, afraid, and ineffective in the battle against the gates of hell.  It is not okay with Jesus that hell prevails anywhere.

And it won’t.  Hell won’t prevail when and where the Church of Jesus operates in the love, grace, and power of God.  And as Jesus’ Church overcomes hell’s gates, God’s Kingdom is advances.  What will that look like?

Where God’s Kingdom advances, people are valued, loved, and remembered.  As God’s Kingdom advances, children are loved, wanted, noticed, educated, cherished.  Parents give and receive grace.  Generations support and encourage one another, care for one another, serve one another in good times and bad.  Grandparents are remembered and celebrated in love.   Marriages are held in honor, protected, encouraged, and sustained.  As God’s kingdom advances, unity breaks out and conversations are marked by kindness, grace and truth spoken in love.  Racial and ethnic perspectives are valued, too.  Differences are celebrated.  People – all people – are valued and appreciated.  Men and women work together in unity, in trust, and in purity, encouraging and protecting one another, honoring one another’s commitments, learning to live as brothers and sisters should.  The differences people bring (and each of us is unique) are valued, celebrated, and appreciated.  Each person’s gifts are released for service according to God’s work in their lives.  In God’s Kingdom, the resources God has graciously entrusted to us are shared, wisely managed, and provide more than enough.  In God’s Kingdom, work has meaning and purpose, and the workplace is a place of thriving, of provision, and of living out our callings.  Work itself grows constructive, dignifying, joy-giving, more noble, and worthy.  In God’s kingdom, families are places where family members are celebrated and built up.  It is where virtue is affirmed, sin is confessed, forgiveness is granted, grace abounds.  It is a place for the healing of bodies, hearts, minds, souls.  Moreover, it is a place of healing for families, neighborhoods, churches, cities, and the nations.  As God’s Kingdom advances, faith is sustained, hope is renewed, beauty is revealed, and love grows warm.  People know, each person knows, that they matter to others and matter to God.

It’s not just an idea.  God’s Kingdom is an advancing reality ushered in by Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God, the maker of heaven and earth.  If you ever pray the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, you’ve prayed for it: “…Your Kingdom come; Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

So that’s our goal.  To phrase it directly.  We want to see hell kicked out of Jacksonville and see the Kingdom of God advancing in power, here!

So let me summarize.

At LoveFirst Coast this is what were about: We want to be a part of God’s mission by learning to imitate Christ and helping others do the same until the Church of Jesus prevails and God’s Kingdom is revealed in every square inch of our city.

How about you?  That line up with anything you are up to?  If so, we’re rowing in the same direction!

If you want to be equipped and encouraged for your part of God’s mission here, come join  us for a worship gathering.  Our next one is October 7 at 6:30 pm at 320 S Buck Board, 32259.

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LoveFirst Coast Worship Gathering

At LoveFirst Coast, we are all about equipping and encouraging people to live life on mission.  Without an awareness of the depth of God’s grace extended to us, it is pretty much impossible to sustain an effective mission.  How are you with grace? Are you aware of your own sin, of your own need for God, of your own inability to be the person you wish you could be?
 
It tends to be the “prodigals” who easily understand grace.  Those who’ve hurt or rebelled against the people who loved them,who’ve wasted the best gifts of their lives in “wild living.” Those are the ones who readily appreciate grace and accept it gladly.  It’s the “elder brother” types, those who’ve spent their lives trying to do everything right who have the hardest time accepting grace.  They work hard. They try hard. They figure they have approval. So often, they can be acutely aware of the (sometimes imagined and exaggerated) shortcomings of the prodigal that they don’t even know how to acknowledge their own sin, failings, and limits that point to a deep need for grace. 
 
God’s mission is grace oriented. If we don’t get grace, we can’t begin to understand God’s mission, let alone our part in it.
 
Pastor and author Tim Keller once said “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”  Which of those truths is harder for you to accept?  Why do you think that’s the case?
 
Which can you identify with better – the prodigal or the elder brother? How hard is it for you to accept grace for yourself?  How hard is it for you to show it to others?
 
With a deep and steady awareness of grace, it becomes possible for us to represent Jesus well. And the world around us needs that! This Sunday we’ll look at one of the best know stories in the Bible and consider how to respond. I hope you can be with us. Come and find some encouragement and equipping for life on mission this Sunday night at 6:45 in the St. Johns Room at FCC (3450 CR210, 32259).
 
What do you think God may be saying to you about his grace? What will you do about it?

 

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Sunday Night Worship Gathering

Do you know who you are?  And who has the right to tell you who you are?  One of the great challenges of our time is the widespread confusion about our identities, about who we really are.
One of Jesus’ great strengths was his absolute confidence about who he was.   There were many voices clamoring to tell Jesus who he was.  But to Jesus, only one voice mattered.  As recorded in Luke 3:22, the Father declared to Jesus: “You are my son whom I love; with you I am well pleased!”  There was power in that declaration!
What has God said about you?  Does his voice get the final say?  Would your life change if you knew without a doubt that God loves you, delights in you, and is with you in every place and circumstance?  How would that impact your life and the lives of the people around you?
This Sunday night, we’ll take some time to remember.  Come and be equipped and encouraged for life on mission.  6:45 in the St. John’s Room at FCC (3450 CR210).  Hope to see you there
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Prayer and Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough

Our next worship gathering is September 2 at 6:45pm.  Right now, we plan to be in the St. Johns Room at Faith Community Church (3450 CR210, 32259).  But check back here.

It’s a holiday weekend and the location is subject to change.  Are you in need of spiritual breakthrough?  Have you been praying and working for something and feel like you’ve hit a brick wall?  Consider prayer with fasting.   I realize that may sound a little odd or extreme.   Most conversation about fasting these days relates to fasting for health reasons.  Many people who follow Jesus have never fasted for spiritual reasons and may consider it beyond the comfort zone.   But Jesus taught about fasting in the Sermon on the Mount like it was a common place, spiritual practice, like prayer or giving to the poor.  He began that teaching with the words: “When you fast…”  He offered instruction on how to fast in a way that honors God (rather than ourselves).  For Jesus, the idea that his followers would fast and pray was a given.

Earlier this month, a number of us agreed to fast and pray for ten days.  Our agreed upon purpose was to empty ourselves, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to gain God’s heart for the people in our path.   I invited people to pray for two groups of people over our time:  1) five people whom they thought God might be inviting them to connect with in terms of discipleship, and 2) close friends and family.  I also encouraged them to pray for  other matters God may be laying on their hearts, too.

I have learned it’s important to offer extra instruction when I invite my people to fast. I encourage them to be creative, practical, and to plan ahead.  Many elected to fast from food for a portion of time.  One person made plans to go five days.  Many adopted a restricted diet – refraining from something they craved.    Most everyone refrained from some other form of appetite,  for example news, movies, talk radio, social media,  going out for lunch, buying sodas, etc.  My personal plan: I fasted from food for two days from Wednesday night to Friday night.   Afterward, I cut out dairy and sugar.  Additionally, I refrained from Facebook.  Oh, and I was a guest at a friend’s house on Sunday, I took that day off electing to graciously eat whatever was set before me.  (Drawing from what Jesus taught, I think it’s important that our fasting doesn’t create work for those around us.)

We kicked off the fasting with a meal and broke the fast with communion.  We encouraged one another through the ten days with texts and updates.

Some good reports started coming in right away: increased self-control, opportunities to share faith with a loved one, openings for prayer with others, and steps toward new discipling relationships.  That’s what leads to multiplication!   I think a new discipleship huddle is coming together – and that excites me.   One person gained insight about a new sense of calling.  Another was filled with the Spirit of the Lord in ways I’ve not seen in him before: joy, love for others, and a enriched prayer life.  We’ll see what happens.  Should more unfold, I will share their stories.   More breakthrough seems required, though.  Forgive this play on words, but we may need more praying through for breaking through.

On a side note, we had a worship gathering right in the middle of our ten days.  Wow!  That was easy!  I shared with Dan, who enriches our worship gatherings with song and music, that it would be a pretty easy night.  Very often in worship experiences, we have to work at encouraging people to freely express their love for God and to listen for his voice.  When most everyone in the room is fasting and praying, that work is already done!

Personally, when it ended, I was kind of glad. I really missed dairy and sugar.  I also fasted from Facebook – and am considering giving it up.  It’s such a negative environment most of the time.  I feel better about my country and humanity after ten days without it.

But I look forward to what happens next.  For me, the prayer with fasting has increased my desire to see disciples of Jesus engaged in loving, prayerful, action addressing every evil that comes against the people of the First Coast.  I want to see God’s Kingdom advance here!

Our next worship gathering is September 2 at 6:45pm.  Right now, we plan to be in the St. Johns Room at Faith Community Church (3450 CR210, 32259).  But check back here.  It’s a holiday weekend and the location is subject to change.

 

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Worship Gathering/ Home Dedication

God has a mission, and God’s mission has a church!  What’s your part in God’s mission?  What tempts you away from it?  And what can be done about it?
This Sunday evening at 6:00, we will gather to worship and to dedicate Norma and Andrew’s new home (10715 Michael Edward Court, 32257).  They have moved into the Carter Hall subdivision and are joining God in his work there by building relationships, praying for neighbors, and seeking to be salt and light in their new neighborhood.  We want to encourage them in that.
We’ll be eating together (of course).  Let us know if you are coming and we’ll let you know how you can help with the celebration.
Hope to see you there!
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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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