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Redemption in Merging a Church Plant

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While traveling during my blogging hiatus,
I caught up with my good friend, Josh Allen.  In the midst of catching up on our lives, God smacked me with a profound truth.

First, some background: Josh was on-staff as the worship leader at our Ohio church plant.  I jokingly say that Josh and I went through war together:
front page news one month,
merging with another area church
due to the Great Recession the next.

God was faithful as Josh and I shepherded our young congregation toward Western Reserve Grace Church.  Josh now serves as their Worship Pastor and was sharing stories with me of how former Catalyst folk are thriving in their relationships with Christ and continuing to pour themselves out for the Kingdom of God in north-east Ohio.

Leaving Catalyst was deeply painful - our family had sacrificed everything in church planting.  While the moment was fresh, I felt like a nuclear blast had gone off in my soul.

The first person to call me when Catalyst closed its doors was Perry Noble.
I'll never forget his life-giving words to me: "Jonathan, you are not a failure. 
God needed to do this in your life for a greater purpose."
 

Although I could not have known it at the time, God was preparing a resurrection.

In John 12, Jesus said to His followers, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."  The death of one dream was the genesis for the birth of countless others.

And for our family, that greater purpose was eventually serving in Michigan.  But as time went by and is often the case, I lost track of some of our old friends and supporters in Ohio.  I always wondered how things turned out for them.

Photo3 And here is where God used Josh to smack me: Josh said that the final six months serving in our church plant were redemptive in his life.  Where I felt bleakness, Josh experienced new life. 

You see, up until then, Josh had only experienced rejection from the senior leadership whenever he transitioned out of a church.  For the first time in his ministry career, Josh told me that Catalyst allowed him to transition out of working at a church while maintaining a deep friendship with the lead pastor.

Serving now at Western Reserve, Josh shared story after story of former Catalyst folk who are absolutely, God-glorifyingly thriving.  Guys like Matt Simon, who interned at Catalyst, now graduating with his Master's degree and coming on staff at Western Reserve.

You see, God allows things to die because He's in the resurrection business.
God scoops up broken people like you and me because He's in the redemption business.

My encouragement to leaders today is this:
If your ministry or church plant is limping along,
and you're feeling like your tank is on empty, take a step back. 
God is still sovereign.  The King is still on the throne. 
Sometimes our faces are so close to the pixels that only with time and distance can we see the full picture.


Striking Likeness of Him

The term "Christian" was first used for the Jesus-followers of Antioch in Acts 11:26.
It was meant as a slur, a sarcastic put-down"Little Christs."
Our movement adopted it as a badge of honor.

C.H. Spurgeon once wrote that we should have a "striking likeness of Jesus Christ." 
Our lives should be marked by Acts 4:13:

"And they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus."

Here are Spurgeon's marks of a Christ-follower:

  • Model Christ's boldness.  Never blush to your own faith.
  • Be like Jesus, very valiant for your God.
  • Imitate Him in your loving spirit.
  • Think kindly, speak kindly, do kindly.
  • Do not waste time; it is too precious.
  • Was He self-denying?  Be the same.
  • Was He devout?  Be fervent in your prayers.
  • Did He defer to His Father's will?  So submit yourselves to Him.
  • Was He patient?  So learn to endure.
  • Try to forgive your enemies, as He did.
    Forgive, as you hope to be forgiven.
    Heap coals of fire on the head of your enemy by your kindness to him.

In the words of Spurgeon, "We would have such a striking likeness to Him that the world would not have to say, 'Well, there seems to be somewhat of a likeness to Christ.'  Instead, when they saw us, they would exclaim, 'He has been with Jesus!  He has been taught of Him.  He is like Him and has caught the very idea of the holy Man of Nazareth.'"


FORTY-FOUR CHANGED LIVES

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What does 150+ area teens worshiping One look/sound like?
This:

The tweets during Students UN1TED last night say it all:

"Get ready, teens. I've got a big Jesus-saturated, pull-no-punches message stirring in my gut for tonight's Students #UN1TED!" - @FollowJon

"Holy cow! Just got goosebumps as I saw 44 teens rise & accept Jesus for the first time.  #UN1TED " - @HerronHacienda

"FORTY-FOUR students STOOD UP among their peers and PRAYED to RECEIVE CHRIST. #UN1TED  #MovementofGod    http://yfrog.com/hsckpbyj " - @FollowJon

"Jesus wants me around!" - @ipartywithjesus

"All the teens in this pic are brand new followers of Jesus. #UN1TED  http://yfrog.com/gyx15hjj " - @FollowJon

*And lest you be skeptical, we individually recorded and personally followed up with each and every new Christ-follower last night.  Currently ordering a ton of Bibles to distribute next Monday night.

Seriously, nearly every adult volunteer serving last night had TEARS.
So proud of them.

Colwood, get ready.
This is just the beginning.
God is unmistakably moving.

I'm going to make some BIG ASKS of you this Sunday.
Pray up!

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Nothing to Fear, Not Even a Drop

Whatever you face today, the follower of Jesus has nothing to fear.
Nothing.
Not even a drop of fear.

Facing a flood-stage Red Sea, God's people moved forward in courageous faith.
The walls of surging water supernaturally sliced apart.
Because the follower of Jesus has nothing to fear.

C.H. Spurgeon on the Exodus/our Exodus:

"Not a drop of spray fell from that solid wall of water until the last of God's chosen ones had safely planted his foot on the other side of the flood."

Do you trust Christ?  Then repeat after me:
I am SAFE in my Shepherd's firm grasp.

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 
 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish,
 and no one will snatch them out of My hand.

 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all,
 and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.

 I and the Father are one.” - Jesus of Nazareth in John chapter 10