I would highly recommend Leonard Sweet’s “I am a Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus.” I was provided a copy of the book in a special pre-release directly from Thomas Nelson for review purposes. You can pre-order a paperback copy for under $11 at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Am-Follower-Truth-Following-Jesus/dp/0849946387/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1328569360&sr=8-1) or directly from the publisher at http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=0849946387&title=I_Am_a_Follower&author=Leonard_Sweet.

Sweet is one of my favorite authors – and “I am a Follower” just increases the amount of influence he has had on my life. He challenges my thoughts (and actions) as it relates to the mission of God. He suggests, “Leadership is a functional position of power and authority. Followership is a relational posture of love and trust” (39).

The Bible reads, “At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light'” (Matthew 11:25-30).

The author proposes, “Two things make Jesus so unique among teachers – two statements he made to his disciples that define the Leader/follower dynamic of his kingdom. First, ‘You didn’t choose me, I chose you.’ What makes us first followers is not that we love God but that God loves us” (40).

He goes to describe “Jesus’ second defining statement: ‘Follow me.’ Not my teachings. Me. And not ‘listen to me,’ but ‘follow me'” (42).

Official Book Description: “FOLLOW ME.” These two words echo the heart-defining call of our Lord Jesus Christ to his disciples. Sadly, this life-changing invitation has lost much of its original meaning. Immersed in a society that worships success, we have succumbed to a trendy
fixation with leadership. In I Am a Follower, author Leonard Sweet explains how Christians in a twenty-first-century corporate-obsessed culture have shifted away from a Jesus art of following toward a popularized form of leading.

Through a colorful mélange of practical applications, imaginative metaphors, and probing biblical exposition based in gospel truth, Sweet reveals that the summons of Jesus and the message of the New Testament point clearly to an emphasis not on imitation but on incarnation, not on leading but on following. Join Sweet on an exciting and intentional journey from leadership cult to followership culture. Discover for yourself the way, the truth, and the abundant
life of following Jesus Christ and what it truly means to “Follow Me”!

Official Author Biography: Leonard Sweet is the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University (NJ), a Distinguished Visiting Professor at George Fox University (OR), and a weekly contributor to sermons.com and podcast “Napkin Scribbles.” A pioneer in online learning with some of the highest “influence” rankings of any religious figure in the worlds of social media (Twitter, Facebook), he has authored numerous articles, sermons, and close to fifty books.



We closed out The Difference: Winter Retreat 2012 this morning with the fourth and final session. Jeffery Portmann, our Network Youth Director, encouraged the students to consider the importance of our words.

The Bible reads, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21, ESV). Portmann proposed, “We are wired for encouragement but live in a world of discouragement.” Imagine the impact of a youth ministry that was devoted to bringing life rather than death? What a difference we would make.

Portmann brought up the POP principle – the Power of Pause. Think about the relationships that would have been saved if only people would have thought before they spoke?



The students of Merge had a great second day at The Difference: Winter Retreat 2012 at Ghormley Meadows. Jeffery Portmann, our Network Youth Director, spoke on how important a role friendships play in us following Jesus Christ.

The Bible reads, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20, ESV). What makes friendship such a blessing can also make it a great danger – people’s influence.

Portmann reminded us that we don’t have to live this life alone. Just as the Father has sent his Son, the Son has send the Spirit, and the Spirit is sending the church. He is counseling us and correcting us. With his power, we are able to pass those tests that we used to fail. May we be the type of friends that people are looking for. May they see in us the qualities and characteristics of Christ.

The Bible also warns, “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor,but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26, ESV). Portmann suggests that we become the average of the five people you spend the most time with – are you okay with that?

Make sure that you have a mentor – someone who is making you better. Make sure you have an accountability partner – someone is walking alongside you. And make sure you have someone you can pour your life into – someone you are inviting on the journey. Make a difference by being different.



Jeffery Portmann, the Youth Director of the Northwest Ministry Network, has been the perfect speaker for our winter camp this year. The theme is “The Difference” – the idea that God wants to change us that he might bring change through us.

Portmann focused tonight’s message on the gospel story. The Apostle Paul wrote, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26, ESV).

His sermon got me thinking about how we try so hard to set ourselves apart – or at least above those we do not like. We draw distinctions. We focus on differences. We identify ourselves by gender, age, income level, geographical location, religion, race, sexual orientation, political ideology, entertainment, hobbies, technology, apparel, sports clubs, etc. The discussion quickly becomes about us vs. them. We end up feeling a lot better about ourselves and a lot worse about someone else. And those feelings never last long enough – which means that we quickly are off on yet another journey to discover even more differences.

All this to hide the world’s worst-kept secret: we live in a world that is broken. This is not how it was supposed to be – and we are a part of the problem. When it all comes down to it, there is no real distinction that matters. We have all sinned – we are ALL in conflict with our Creator. And we can do nothing about it (except maybe make it worse).

In comes the Difference-Maker. Maybe this is the greatest tragedy with all of us investing so much time drawing lines in the sand…in focusing on Us vs. Them…that we fail to focus on Christ. He is the Great Distinction. He is the One who has invited all to follow him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. All of us are dying from the inside-out but all of us have the opportunity to live again – and to live more abundantly.

Pray for our students this weekend. I can’t wait.



I would recommend Patrick Johnstone’s “The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends, and Possibilities.” I was provided a copy of the book in a special pre-release directly from IVP Books for review purposes. You can pre-order a hardback copy for under $60 at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Future-Global-Church-Possibilities-Adventures/dp/160657132X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327646982&sr=8-1) or directly from the publisher at http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=5659.

Ever since my time at Northwest University a decade ago, I have been a fan of http://www.operationworld.org/ (read more about the website and book at http://justinfarley.blogspot.com/2011/07/operation.html). This was just one more reason I was so excited to receive a complimentary copy of Johnstone’s latest work.

The book is broken up in nine major sections – demography, history, religion, the six mega-blocks of Christianity, renewal growth of Christianity, the evangelical explosion, the unevangelized, the future of missions, and a few conclusions.

For example, part one defines nine global challenges for the church – increasing population, migration, urbanization, health and disease, HIV/AIDS, climate change, the economy, energy resources, politics and freedom, and water resources. As it relates to health care and epidemics, the author states, “Christians have always been at the forefront in the caring professions. In post-colonial times, medical missions have not had the same importance, for health care has been seen as a responsibility of government. Are we likely to need a new generation of Christian agencies to cope with future challenges that may be too large for government to handle? (8).

Johnstone goes on to propose, “The church is the only network with the human resources, moral imperative and spiritual motivation to deal with the root causes of the spread of HIV (sexual promiscuity and substance abuse) and help its victims by providing local, self-sustaining mechanisms for survival, a loving community for the present and real hope for the future. How can the Church worldwide, and in Africa especially, be mobilized to help people living with HIV?” (9).

Official Book Description: In The Future of the Global Church, Patrick Johnstone, author of six editions of the phenomenal prayer guide, Operation World, draws on his fifty years experience to challenge us with his bold vision of the global Christian church.

The Future of the Global Church weaves together the strands of history, demographics and religion to present a breath-taking, full-color graphical and textual overview of the past, present and possible future of the Church around the world.

Through a thought-provoking glimpse into likely scenarios humankind may face in the next 40 years, The Future of the Global Church identifies significant trends that are rarely or never addressed by today’s media.

The Future of the Global Church highlights the impact of evangelical Christianity over the past two centuries, as well as the astonishing growth of Evangelicalism over the past half century.

Johnstone focuses clearly on the unfinished task of world evangelization, with a special emphasis on the world’s 12,000 people groups–especially those that have had least exposure to the Gospel.

Inside this work, you will find:

* Data and extrapolations that highlight likely scenarios for evangelical Christian ministry in the coming four decades
* Interpreted overviews of the worldwide impact of the first 20 centuries of Christianity
* Comparisons of the impact of Christianity with those of other world religions
* Summaries of the past, present and probable future contributions of the different streams of Christianity

This book examines trends that will have a major impact on the course of world events for a generation to come. God is in control–He holds the future in His hands–yet invites us to be His co-workers. How effective are you and your church or your organization as participants in His plan for the peoples of the world?



Tonight’s Merge Student Gathering featured a message by one of our interns, Jordan Faulds, on “Can We Trust the Bible?” (the third part to our IDK series).

The Bible reads, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV).

One of the more exciting aspects from the sermon was to see her passion grow through the preparation process. This message came from a woman who, just three years ago, had serious doubts concerning the validity of the Bible and who now is able to grasp the mystery of divine inspiration. Here is an example of someone who has discovered a God who speaks – and wants everyone else to hear him, too!

I really appreciated her clear explanation of the Canon – the measurement of what is to be Holy Scriptures. The criteria is as followed:
* Was the book written by a prophet?
* Was the author used in miraculous ways?
* Does the book tell the truth (without contradiction)?
* Does the book show the capacity to bring about lasting transformation?
* Was the author accepted by the original audience?



The Bible reads, “So stay awake; you neither know the day nor the hour [when the Son of Man will come]” (Matthew 25:13, The Voice).

The Voice commentators suggest, “Jesus provides a picture of the coming reality of the kingdom of heaven. As they approach the time of his sacrifice, Jesus makes sure the disciples know that soon it will be too late; the door of opportunity will close, and for many the door will remain shut. He gives them another image of the same reality to bring the picture into focus. Once they were bridesmaids waiting for their bridegroom; now they are slaves waiting for their Master. This time they are given responsibilities that will be rewarded. The blessings of the Kingdom bring risks along with the benefits” (334).

I have always read these texts in the contexts of the Second Coming. And there is probably some truth in that. The church ought to wait with anticipation and work with a sense of urgency as we know that the Return of the King is imminent. And yet, Jesus was initially speaking to his first followers. He was warning them that his time was coming. That they must be ready and willing. The Kingdom was being ushered in with suffering – and they were being asked to participate.

So maybe our focus should not be on the clouds – but on the commission. Maybe we as the church ought to focus on our Call. Know God while we can. And make him known to others while we can. Enjoy him and glorify him forever. Stop acting like we have all of the time in the world – this is our time in the world.