Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Year of God's Faithfulness: 2007 in Review

With the exception of last year when I rang in the New Year with 22,000 of my "closest friends" at Urbana, :) I have upheld the same New Year's tradition for the past few years.

Every day, I keep a journal of at least five things I am thankful for in that day. At the end of the year, I review the list and ring in the New Year by praying (praising) through the many evidences of God's faithfulness in my life. I have come to absolutely cherish this time with God.

I think there is something to be said for publicly praising God too, so I thought I would share with you some of my praises of 2007:

Come Thirsty

This year, God has done some amazing things in the young adult group that I am a part of. I have witnessed such growth in the lives of those within the group. We have bonded through sharing the stories of our spiritual journeys, devoting ourselves to corporate service in our church and community, spending time in prayer for one another in the midst of some very deep hurts, and just having some fun game nights with Catch Phrase!


Turkey: the most difficult time of my entire life, and yet the time when I encountered the love and power and presence of my Almighty God like never before. This was the greatest, most significant test of my faith to date. I praise God that He preserved me even though this time. If you haven't heard or read my testimony that came out of this experience, I encourage you take the time to do so even if you read no other post on this blog. Really, it is a testimony of our good God--the God who is good continually, in the midst of great joy and in the midst of great suffering. You can read my testimony here in a former post.


As Christians, we have the great joy and responsibility to share the gospel message with those we encounter. God brought various people into my path this year who needed Him, and gave me the opportunity to share glimpses of truth with them. Never did I walk away feeling like I had shared "too much" or "shoved the gospel down their throats." In fact in most cases, I felt like I shared too little. But I still praise God for the opportunities to talk about the greatest joy in my life and to pray for these individuals. The story of one of these encounters (and the strange events that led me there) can be read here in a former post.

Wheaton and Comprehensive Exams

By the grace of God, I finished all of my graduate school courses and passed comprehensive exams! All I have left is my internship, and God willing, I will graduate in four months--this May! During my time at Wheaton, I have made some incredible friends who have been godly role models in my life. My friends are serving God all over the world. Some I will not see again until heaven, but I praise God for the impact they have had on my life for eternity and their dedication in serving God wholeheartedly.


Yes, that's right. An ipod. Let me explain. This year, I decided that I would not buy myself an ipod. I figured that this would be one way that I could try to plug my ears to the message of consumerism ("You HAVE to have one!") that surrounds me. I'm NOT saying that buying an ipod is bad, but I figured it was one luxury item I could do without. (Of course, half the things I own are not really things that I "need!")
This summer, out of the blue, and for absolutely no occasion, one of my friends gave me an ipod as a gift! I knew this was really a gift from God, so when I talked with a teenager that I'm close to who is from a wealthy family and struggles with materialism, I was able to tell her that God gave me an ipod (through the generosity of a friend.)


My journal was filled with examples of God's protection in my life and the lives of my loved ones this year. I remember the night my brother Brian called us to tell us that he was okay. It was a few weeks after we returned home from our trials in Turkey. We weren't sure what he was talking about; we hadn't seen the news reports yet. The I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis had collapsed. My brother often drove on that interstate, but he wasn't there when it collapsed. When we were in Minnesota for Thanksgiving, we drove over the standing portion of the interstate and I took the above picture of where the bridge once stood.

God Pursuing Me

This year, I relished God's love for me. It struck me that He knows the depths of my heart--even the little, silly things. I think He delights in pursuing us in the big ways and in the small ways. Indirectly, I focus on the big ways through the blog--God teaching me various lessons through His Word, God carrying our family through great suffering in Turkey, God's blessing of a godly family and friends, etc. But I want to focus on two small ways here. I do not mean for the following to sound irreverent. For those who know me well, you know I delight in the really small things in life. Here are some examples. :)

Ever since I was little, I have loved toads and frogs. I had pet aquatic frogs (yep, there actually is such a thing) from junior high through college, until I finally became an "adult" and let them go in our creek. This summer, when I was tempted to become apathetic in my walk with God, He filled our entire backyard with thousands (literally) of baby toads. It sounds silly, but it reminded me of how much God loved me.

Also, my favorite "non-religious" holiday is Fourth of July. I absolutely love it! I was in Turkey during the Fourth of July this year, so I missed out on any celebration. But soon after, I was given free tickets to the party deck of the Kane County Cougars stadium, and there was an unbelievable, long, musical fireworks show after the game. Again, that seems so small and insignificant, but it reveals that God knows my heart and loves me deeply.

Dinner with the Lost Boys of Sudan

I would be remiss to end this post focusing my attention on my own personal world and neglecting to call our attention to the nations that God is calling to Himself. This fall, I had an amazing opportunity. I was invited to a dinner party with the Lost Boys of Sudan. Have you heard of their story?

Northern Sudan (predominantly Muslim) was at war with Southern Sudan (predominantly Christian). Those Christians who refused to convert to Islam were severely persecuted. The reason why there is no "lost girls" of Sudan is because they were either raped, killed, or taken as slaves to the North. The boys, who were away tending herds, ran. Over 17,000 boys ran for years. Along the journey, some died of dehydration. Some were taken by wild animals. Others succumbed to insect bites or disease. But as they banded together, many survived, and over 4,000 have now come to the United States to begin a new life.

As I heard their story from their own mouths over dinner this fall, I sat speechless. This happened in my lifetime. These boys, now men, are not much older than myself. Their story is well known; it has been all over the news. What is often downplayed by the media is their Christian testimony. Familiarize yourself with the Lost Boys. Watch one of the documentaries that will leave you held captive, such as the CBS 60-Minutes special featuring their story or the film God Grew Tired of Us. When you hear them praise God that their relatives chose to die in the face of persecution, which they rightfully consider far better than recanting their faith in God, gratitude will take on a whole new meaning for you.


Happy New Year, my friends! May you find yourself absolutely in awe of the God whom you serve as you consider His faithfulness--through triumphs and trials--this past year of 2007. May you eagerly anticipate all that God will do in you and through you for HIS glory in 2008. You are His child. Rejoice!

Faith, Not Sight

A brief thought for today:

II Corinthians 5:7, "We live by faith, not by sight."

Walking by faith is certainly difficult, but it is also very rewarding. I find that it is the only way that I can have the fullness of joy that God offers me so generously. Too often, however, I trade walking by faith for walking by sight, and I settle for the tangible things that I can see and understand. It's so paradoxical, because the things I think will bring me happiness are the things that end up disappointing me, and the ways of God that are mysterious and imperceptible through an earthly lens bring me sheer joy and peace and contentment. So why do I often pursue the former instead of the latter?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Divine Worm-eater

My mom loves to feed the birds. Every year for Christmas or Mother's Day or her birthday, she asks for bird seed. Her kids laugh, but humor her and pick up a bird-related product.

When I passed the bird seed aisle at the store, I threw two bird seed bells into my cart to add to my mom's Christmas presents. I noticed moths swarming all around the bird seed in the store. Something was obviously very wrong with this picture, but since I was tired of shopping, I never stopped to ponder the source of the moths, and I proceeded with my purchase. First mistake.

Tucking the bird seed bells away behind the books on my bookshelf to keep them hidden until Christmas, I left them sitting there for two months, unattended to. Second mistake.

Throughout the month of December, I noticed moths appearing in our home. I thought that was odd since all flying critters should have died with the first frost, but since our home is tucked away in the woods, again I didn't think too much about it. Third mistake.

Finally, I took the bird bells out of my closet to wrap for my mom the day before Christmas Eve. Crawling all over the bag, the bird seed, my bookshelf, and my books was moth larvae (a.k.a.: worms). My mom, having raised four boys and being given presents much more slimy and slithery than my moth larvae, graciously and joyously accepted my present and put the bird seed bells outside. For the birds, the worms were an added delicacy.

I wanted to tell that story because I find it entertaining, :) but also because it reminds me of sin. :( Many times, the negative effect of our sin surrounds us. There are signs, just like the moths appearing wherever the bird bells were sitting. But we ignore them or dismiss them or tell ourselves we will come back and root it out of our lives later. "Later" either never comes, or when it does, it has snowballed into a much larger problem that is more difficult to eradicate.
But just like my story has a happy ending (the worms in my room were destroyed and the birds had a tasty treat), so the story of our lives can have a happy ending. Christ took the curse of sin upon Himself--a divine Worm-eater--so that we might find life in Him. We do not need to wallow in the putrid nature of our depravity. The price has been paid; the debt has been canceled. Christ creates beauty out of ashes and brings life out of death.

As we head into a new year, let's allow our greatest celebration and source for our rejoicing be the new life that we have in Christ, who destorys the worms in our lives!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


I remember the day when my first niece was born. I was a nine year old, third grade student. My mom tucked me in bed on April 24, 1991, whispering in my ear that my sister-in-law Carol was in labor. That meant only one thing. When I woke up the next morning, I would be an aunt.

Early the next morning, I bolted into my parents' room, waking them up from their peaceful slumber. I blurted out, "Am I an aunt yet?" "Yes! You have a little niece, and her name is Kirsten! She was born last night around 8:30."

We rushed to the maternity ward viewing room at the same hospital at which I was born. I looked through the plated glass window at all of the babies laying in the hospital cribs, searching for Kirsten Elizabeth. Grandparents and siblings and parents were surrounding me, gawking at their bundles of joy. When I saw her, my eyes were fixed on just one baby--my brand new niece. She was beautiful. And so tiny. Ten little fingers. Ten little toes. Two eyes and one nose. She looked so fragile, and yet so perfect.

This Christmas season, I find myself wondering what Mary must have felt when she held her Son in her arms. Did she count His ten little fingers and ten little toes? Did she stare into His tiny eyes, not yet able to remain open for any extended period of time, and wonder how this fragile Infant would serve as her Messiah? Did she allow herself to become completely overwhelmed with the joy of the moment, or did she feel a quick, sharp pain in her chest as prophecies from old flashed through her mind--prophecies that predicted her Son's death to preserve her life?

I seem to have a fear of looking too long at the manger, thinking that I might neglect to look beyond it. Our society has perpetuated the image of the content baby Jesus, "no crying He makes." While I think we should fight against this stereotype, I do not think it is right to rush Christmas either. Maybe I should peer into the ancient "maternity ward viewing room" once more and ponder again that Jesus humbled Himself, took on flesh, and came as a helpless little baby just to show Himself to you and me--just to write Himself into the story. That, my friends, is the greatest of love!

Saturday, December 15, 2007


He had a rather strange diet. His meat was locusts. His sweet tooth was satisfied with wild honey. He wore a roughly woven robe made of camel hair with a leather belt bound around his waist. He was the voice of one calling in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord. He worshipped his Cousin, but not with an inappropriate hero worship. No, his exaltation went much deeper. He worshipped his Cousin as his Lord.

As I've been reading through the book of John, I have grown to respect John the Baptizer. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite biblical characters, though if I could have a conversation with him, he would undoubtedly shun any praise, deflecting all glory to Jesus Christ. This is precisely why I admire him.

I was eavesdropping on the discussion between John and his disciples in the latter half of John 3. John's baptizing like usual, but now someone else is sharing the waters near him. Everyone is leaving John in order to be baptized by this other man's disciples, and John's disciples are a little perplexed. "Hey John! Look whose disciples are baptizing! And look who everyone is choosing to go to instead of you!" He looks. It's his younger cousin. It's Jesus.

I think it's about to get tense and I should stop eavesdropping; it's quite rude really. But I can't help myself. I have to keep reading. What's John going to do? Will the green-eye of jealousy stare back at his disciples? Will his tone of voice change ever so slightly, vibrating with chords of envy and resentment?

John speaks such beautiful words, it leaves me speechless. He refuses to feel envy. He refuses to see himself as important in the light of the glory of God. He looks his disciples in the eye, but his irises are not green. He replies, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven" (Jn. 3:27). Then he reminds his disciples (and perhaps himself?) that they too bore witness that he said, "I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him" (v. 28). I wonder if he glances over at Christ, whose disciples are baptizing the crowds that were once John's own, and because he has once more made the choice to deflect the glory off of himself and onto the only One who is worthy, God blesses him with true joy and contentment and peace and love for his Savior. John continues, "The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete" (v. 29).

Scripture doesn't describe John's facial expressions, but I imagine that his face is glowing. His joy is complete! He understands that it is not about him; it's about God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ! He risked it all. He gave up fame and glory and mortified (as in killed) his pride. Then he utters some of the most challenging words in Scripture (or at least challenging to me personally and the sin issues with which I daily struggle). He proclaims, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (v. 30). This verse was chosen as our class verse my senior year of high school, and ever since then it has become my motto in life.

On my way to work yesterday, I prayed that God would show me throughout the day how I can make decisions that would reflect the truth in this verse. I asked, "How can I decrease more and more throughout the day?" "How can I point to God in everything that I do and make sure HE receives the glory?" I was humbled in my job. I couldn't get a volunteer team together last minute to do the "menial tasks" that I have been trained to pass off to others, so I spent my day re-stocking connection cards and pens in the back pockets of over 650 chairs at our West Campus facility. I was grumbling and complaining, and then God reminded me of the lesson he had taught me that morning. In this task, how could God be glorified and His greatness be manifested through me?

This morning, my alarm went off to the sound of the radio, which was playing, "To God Be the Glory!" Amen! And may Jesus Christ be exalted!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wonder or Wonder AND Worship?

Lessons in the School of His Presence

I love it when God teaches me something, especially when He gets my attention in a lot of little ways that could go unnoticed, but through them he is screaming (or perhaps whispering?) one gigantic message to me. That is exactly what has been happening the last couple of days.

As I have been flipping through the pages of Scripture, reading passages in John to prepare for teaching my Sunday school class, or stories of Jesus' birth in the gospels surrounding the advent season, or Psalms to guide my prayer time, the same concept has stuck me again and again. When people encountered Jesus Christ (or speak of God, in the case of the Old Testament), they walk away with a sense of awe and wonder, marveling in amazement and astonishment. I did a little research of how many times those four words are used in the gospels alone (using the ESV, my preferred version for study). Astonished is used fourteen times, wondered is used three times, amazed is used eleven times, and marveled is used fifteen times. No wonder why I have run across this concept so much in my reading! That is forty-three times in the gospels alone!

I've spent the past couple of days reading through all of those verses and trying to determine their context. The crowds were astonished when Jesus (1) healed and performed other miracles and (2) taught as one who had authority.

For a while, I've banked that lesson--that I should be in awe and wonder when I encounter Jesus Christ. But in the past two days, I realized I missed the greater lesson. Using the treasure hunt analogy I like to use in a lot of my blog topics (for Scripture IS a treasure!), I had found the treasure chest and was satisfied with that. I didn't open it and find the gold contained inside!

What's the gold? We have to go back to our Scripture investigation to find out. In all but a handful of these verses, the people doing the marveling and wondering are NOT believers! And the Scriptures never tell us that they become followers of Jesus Christ, only that they stood in amazement at His works. These individuals stop short. Before going further, let's give an example:


Yesterday, there were some amusing stories on the news that grabbed my attention. One story was about a skateboarder who entered the X-Games after skating for only four days. He miscalculated his jump and fell 45-feet. He survived, and four months later, is back competing in the X-Games. I was amazed hearing his story.

Another story followed the McCaughey septuplets, who just turned ten years old. All seven survived the risky pregnancy and birth, and five of the seven children do not suffer from any physical disabilities. Two of the children, however, have cerebral palsy. The McCaugheys are Christians, and when the news anchors asked them if they wished they had "used selective reduction" (the politically correct, "intellectual" phrase for "killed your babies"), tears filled their eyes and they boldly declared that their children are an ordained gift from God. I marveled at their testimony, watching in wonder as God's name was proclaimed.

Connecting Points:

In hearing these stories, I experienced wonder and amazement. Those are very natural, human reactions. In fact, to some degree or another, we experience them daily. My emotional reaction did not spur me on to any action. I did not become inspired to sign up to compete in the X-Games and defy gravity. I did not make it one of my life goals to have septuplets. Nor did I choose to worship those who did produce these results. They were just new stories.

Back to Scripture:

I think that is what it must have been like in the minds of the first century crowds who observed Jesus working miracles and heard Jesus teaching. I decided to dig a little more and find out how many times the word "worshipped" is used in the Gospels. Certainly, there were moments when worship resulted from awe, but there were many times when it didn't. I find it interesting that when Satan was tempting Jesus, he didn't want Jesus to be in awe of him. He wanted Jesus to worship him (Jn. 4:9-10).


The word worship is used more in Revelation than in any of the Gospels. I would encourage you to look up and read those verses. They are absolutely beautiful and your heart will resonate with them. You will long for that day to come!

But there are also horrible verses about worship in Revelation. Yes, horrible. In Revelation 13:3-4, it talks about the beast. Scripture says, "the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast." Listen to the very next words: "And they worshipped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, 'Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?'" Here is a natural progression. Marveling turns into worship, but it is ascribed to the enemy of God!


As I studied these passages, I felt utterly convicted. Tears filled my eyes as I pleaded with God to turn my awe into worship and preserve my heart for Him as His remnant. I realized that there are so many times that I stop short of worship. I love the Bible! I love studying God! I am amazed and intrigued and astonished and I marvel! But is that all? Does my expression of wonder stop with an intellectual fascination with God? Woe to me if it does! God wants my worship.
God began answering my prayer right away, teaching me what it means to worship. On my way to work, the hymn "How Great Thou Art" began to play on the radio. That song nails it. It begins with awe and wonder. Read the words again through that lens:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,/Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;/I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,/Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

But it doesn't stop there. Now read the chorus:

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,/How great Thou art, How great Thou art./Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,/How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

Pastor Carl Gustaf Boberg, who first penned these words, begins the chorus with the word "then." BECAUSE God created this amazing universe that I see (that's the awe part), THEN my soul sings of how great He is (that's the worship part)!

I walked in my office, and guess what song was streaming through the speakers in my co-worker's cubical? "How Great Thou Art!"

Oh Lord, our great God who is worthy to be praised, teach me what it means to move from awe and wonder into worship! Do not let my intellect rob my affections, and let my affections arise from the Truth revealed in Your Word. Tune my heart to Your glory and greatness, so that I might gaze upon the beauty of my Lord and Savior and fall to my knees in reverent worship once more.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Andrew, this blog is inspired by our conversation regarding distraction.

This morning I found my missing journal from last year. I leafed through the pages and re-read some of my scribbled, extemporaneous thoughts. Those things that distract us from experiencing the Presence of God was the topic of most of my entries. I thought I would share snippets of those with you.

October 26, 2006

....I know what it feels like to share in Your joy--to find fulfillment and contentment in You. The world harbors so many distractions that my sinful, lustful eyes absorb; they catch my attention. But they leave me feeling empty.

When I turn to You, I feel overwhelming joy and I wish to never return to my worldly distractions. But inevitably I do return. The curiosity beckons me back. I open Pandora's Box, and out comes a world of beautiful, enticing, exotic gifts, all of which bear a hidden evil. Once I see past their beauty and stare head on at the evil, I run to You once again.

This is the cycle of my life. If only I would sit long enough in Your Presence to understand that I never really wish to leave.

November 14, 2006

Parker Palmer wrote, "The poles of a paradox are like the poles of a battery: hold them together and they generate the energy of life; pull them apart, and the current stops flowing."

I experienced the sensation of deep, inner longing today, and the only way I can categorize my feelings is as a paradox. I couldn't quite pinpoint the object for which my heart was longing. Somewhere I hoped I was feeling an insatiable longing for God; that my heart was so eager within me to experience His Presence and that my pulsating soul would not quiet itself until I found rest and solitude in Him. This felt much like hope--an eager, intense hope--that is yet unfulfilled, but very certain.

But something else deep within me feared that the object of my intense longing was not God Himself, but some other lesser object that my soul craved. I feared that my lustful gaze and petty heart was whoring after some other god that I believed could fill and satisfy and please this ever-growing craving. And this felt much like emptiness, which led my soul to shed tears to the point of deep sorrow, even though my eyes remained dry and I continued to smile.

So I live in this paradox of feeling like I want nothing less than to pursue the very heart of God, yet fearing that my heart would be content with nothing more than another false god.

But in these moments, I need to turn to You; yea, in these moments, I want nothing less than to spend time in Your Presence communicating with You, sharing this feeling that is much like hope, yet the closest to sorrow I have known. I long for You to create life out of this paradox. Invade my world with a unique calling from You, and give me the strength to passionately pursue You.

And so I wait.

In the balances.

For You.

Just You.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Abiding in the Vine

Most of the time others can articulate their thoughts much more clearly than I can, so today, I rely on my friend J.P. (John Piper) to minister to us. My co-worker (and fellow WA grad) led our prayer time this morning, sharing these thoughts that I found quite apropos to our ongoing discussion of setting aside distraction in favor of focusing on the glory of God.

John 15:4-5
"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."

Excerpt from Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper, pg. 55-56

"Oh, how we need to wake up to how much 'nothing' we spend our time doing. Apart from prayer, all our scurrying about, all our talking, all our study amounts to 'nothing.' For most of us the voice of self-reliance is ten times louder than the bell that tolls for the hours of prayer. The voice cries out: 'You must open the mail, you must make that call, you must write this sermon, you must prepare for the board meeting, you must go to the hospital.' But the bell tolls softly: 'Without Me you can do nothing.'

"Both our flesh and our culture scream against spending an hour on our knees beside a desk piled with papers. It is un-American to be so impractical as to devote oneself to prayer and meditation two hours a day. And sometimes I fear that our seminaries conform to this deadly pragmatism which stresses management and maneuvering as ways to get things done with a token mention of prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit"

And from A.C. Dixon (qtd. pg. 56 of Piper)

"When we depend upon organizations, we get what organizations can do; when we depend upon education, we get what education can do; when we depend upon man, we get what man can do; but when we depend upon prayer, we get what God can do."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Back to the Basics: From the Eastern First-Century Church to the American Mega-Church

I have been an infrequent blogger this week because I have been immersed in staff meetings, all of which have only served to make me more passionate about devoting my life to ministry in the church in America. I have had so many different thoughts swirling around my head these days, and when I do not know where to begin, I turn to Scripture.

There are many questions that have arisen in the meetings I have been sitting in, two of which include the necessity of corporate worship (rather than having multiple, smaller, homogenous groupings) and benchmarks to determine the health of a church (specifically the process of making disciples). I will keep you in suspense as to what was decided in these meetings; that is really the topic for conversation rather than a blog. But as promised, I want to turn to Scripture.

Turn your attention to the second chapter of the book of Acts, starting at verse forty-two. As always, hop on the time machine of your mind so we can travel back in time. This time we’re not just spectators; we’re going to interact as modern-day church ministry leaders living in the world of the American mega-church. Pentecost has just occurred—the promised Spirit of God has just arrived—and salvation is spreading like wildfire. In fact, you just heard the news that in one day alone, three thousand people were saved (Acts 2:41)! You take out your pen and paper to jot down these notes. That sounds like a mega-church number, and you have to find out what method is being used!

You decide to slip into a Bible study that is taking place because you overheard something about the establishment of the first-century church. You speak with the disciples; they share their methods with you as Luke serves as secretary—recording it in his book for all future Christians to read. You look over Luke’s shoulder as he pens these words: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Four methods, plain and clear: teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer.

Intrigued by this “new” model of doing church, you want to test the results just to make sure it isn’t just the latest fad. You continue to read Luke’s words, “And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (v. 43-44). Wow. You pause a minute and clear your throat. You cannot remember the last time you saw an entire body of American believers leave a church service with a sense of sheer awe. Or the last time you had such unity in the church. That also baffles your mind.

You can’t peel your eyes away. You keep reading, “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (vv. 45-47a). You scribble frantically on your pad of paper. Generosity. Unity in corporate worship. Thanksgiving and adoration. Having favor with all. Here are the benchmarks for discipleship that you’re discussing at your church, only these answers look a bit different! It doesn’t seem to be about numbers…

Before you can finish your thoughts, you see Luke writing the word numbers. He breaks your train of thought, and you read again. “And the Lord added to their numbers day by day…” (v. 47b). Luke re-dips his quill pen in the ink well. You look up, pleased. Aha! So it is about the numbers, you decide. Luke taps you on the elbow with a smile. You look down and keep reading the end of the sentence, “…those who were being saved” (v. 47c). Feeling humbled, you carefully write that part down. It wasn’t about the numbers in and of itself. It was about people encountering God with awe and finding salvation in Him.

End of Story.

Concluding Thoughts: So I might not have been able to hop aboard my imaginary time machine while I’ve been sitting in my board meetings lately, but I keep coming back to these verses with just as much enthusiasm as if I was there. We’ve been asking all the wrong questions, and as a result, coming to most of the wrong conclusions. Scripture makes it so simple. Four methods. Four benchmarks. One amazing result.*

*As a caveat: I do not mean to oversimplify Scripture. Of course the purpose and practice of the Church is much more complex than this and cannot really be broken down to only four methods or benchmarks. My point is that in today’s church, our ministries and programs and philosophies and structures tend to run off on tangents and go down trails that are neither inspired by Scripture nor honoring to God. In the mega-church, sometimes we get so tangled in a complex web of ministry that we need to untangle ourselves by scraping our plans and objectives completely and “getting back to the basics.” That is my cry here.