In the city on the opposite side to Ruffner. You drive through Homewood to get there. Built around iron mines and you can hike to a point that see the tree line. Supposedly some huge tree houses but I’ve never seen them. All levels of hiking.
The best place to run in Birmingham located in Mountain Brook. You run on a pavement and crushed rock trails very flat along a creek and mansion lined streets. Connects to the roads of Mountain Brook where you can make a loop through the city, which is very friendly to runners. Where I run multiple times a week.
Some may say this is the best place to run. Wider paths, very flat, takes you through Homewood and Samford University and actually connects (in a way) to Jemison trail. To connect, just run through the Brookwood Mall parking lot and go under 280. The other side is the beginning of Jemison.
Beautiful park with skyline views, across from the Birmingham Barons Baseball park and lined by cafes and shops. Connects to sidewalks that will take you on jog throughout the city or rent scooters or bikes provided by the city.
Here is an (incomplete) list of restaurants I recommend for those visiting from out of town. Let me know what you think if you visit one of these places!
Any bar-b-q place you go to around here will be good.
Saw’s Juke Joint – BBQ and Soul-food – Get the pork-n-greens (I substitute chicken). Everything is great, the potatoes, the burger, the wings. Just all around good. https://s.yelp.com/6xU2qbrDVg
Rodney Scott’s Bar-B-Que – Homewood.
Saw’s BBQ – Homewood location of Saw’s. Much smaller hole in the wall feel. I like their brisket when it’s available. https://s.yelp.com/vwdK7gb6B0
Martin’s BBQ – In Cahaba Heights. Our go to BBQ place these days. Large seating area for groups inside and out. Get the Brisket Burger. https://s.yelp.com/Q984i1TbQe
Jim-n-Nicks BBQ – Locations around town. Good for groups. Made from scratch ingredients. Cheddar biscuits are a must. Piggie in the garden healthy option. Potatoes are good. Great pies. Is now a large chain. https://s.yelp.com/g7yPq1wNrM
Troup’s – In Cahaba Heights. Our most frequented pizza place. Brick oven pizza. Great original flavors. Get the Blazer. Lots of drink options with a fridge full of unique choices (including Barq’s root beer in the bottle) and regular fountain drinks. Delicious salads. Great for groups. After dinner walk next door for Starbucks or Cookie Fix. https://s.yelp.com/zYA09ZquAj
Davenport’s – Legendary local pizza place in Mountain Brook. Generous topping on thin (but not crunchy) crust cut in squares. It’s a throwback to the 70’s and 80’s with old arcade games and carpet just as old. Not the best for large groups, but small groups may enjoy the nostalgia and delicious pizza and a fair price. We like to go here and then walk to Mountain Brook Creamery. They have another location in Vestavia. https://s.yelp.com/UuUhFBN76c
Slice – Pizza with a twist created with local ingredients. We like the Vestavia location near Grandview. Great for groups. Their tater tots are on of the best apps in Birmingham. This place is #1 or #2 on most lists for area pizza places. https://s.yelp.com/NjNY86tbRJ
Pizza GM – This could also qualify as a date night pizza place but more casual than Slim’s. Pizza place by what I think is one of the best Italian restaurants, Gianmarcos. Great apps and main courses. https://s.yelp.com/zOoQOSYJtR
Vecchia Pizza – In beautiful Moss Rock Preserve. You feel transported to Italy eating these old world style pizzas. Great for large groups. https://s.yelp.com/6IGXubj10c
I really can’t believe I have so many pizza places on this list. I guess I like pizza, but surprisingly, there have been many pizza places that are highly rated that I have yet to try!
Healthy / Fresh Options
Season’s 52 – Sit down restaurant with a menu that changes with the seasons. A nice date night place. The Summit.
Real and Rosemary – Locations in Homewood, the Summit, and Mountain Brook. I used to love it, but don’t go as much anymore. Vegan and Vegetarian Options. https://s.yelp.com/pcLB7DLWJk
Ashley Mac’s – Local chain that seems like it is for the ladies but has great options for guys as well. I like the poppyseed chicken and the BLT salad. Everything is great on the menu including the desserts. Locations throughout the city. https://s.yelp.com/jpthMYxYI6
Chop N Fresh – In Mountain Brook. Where we like to go for chopped salad. Not great for large groups, but in an area with lots of food options. https://s.yelp.com/7VtC9L0NBR
Urban Cookhouse – Great healthy meals made with local ingredients. Salads, sandwiches, but also fork and knife plates that will fill you up. The cookie dessert is amazing. Comes half cook in a tiny frying pan with ice cream and should be shared. The Summit and Homewood. https://s.yelp.com/UwT3WekLxy
Quick and Easy
Shake Shack – legendary burger chain from NYC. The Summit.
Taco Mama – affordable and fresh ingredients. Very popular around here, but a little on the bland side for me. The Summit and just about everywhere else.
Eugene’s Hot Chicken – My favorite hot chicken place. Wings are the size of chicken thighs. Very hole-in-the-wall and be prepared to wait. Uptown area.
Hattie B’s – legendary Nashville hot chicken.
Guthrie’s – on 280. Identical to Raising Cane’s (just about). Some say this is where Cane’s got their concept from!
Big Bad Breakfast – Overall one of the best restaurants in Birmingham. Best breakfast. In Homewood and on 280.
Biscuit Love – Cahaba Heights. A Nashville spot now in Birmingham.
Crestline Bagel – location in Crestline Village and Cahaba Heights.
Our favorite fine dining is Hot and Hot Fish Club. Lots of Louisiana flavors and despite the name is not a seafood restaurant.
Most people in Bham would send you to Highlands Bar and Grill and it is the same level as Hot and Hot.
Bottega is also super fancy (where Micheal Jordan would go out to eat when he played for the Birmingham Barons). There are all in the same area and will let you see a cool part of the city.
A great Italian fine dining restaurant is Gianmarco’s. It is one of my all-time favorite places.
Helen is a newer place a lot of people recommend for fine dining, but I’ve never been!
Flemings is always good!
Brick Tops – also has great sushi
Local Greek and Mediterranean Chains
Fast Casual: Tazikis,
Sit down Greek: Tasty Town
Eli’s Jerusalem grill: Slightly different take on Mediterranean. Gyro, Sharma, humus and delicious rice.
Cookie Fix in Homewood also in Cahaba Heights now (closer to Grandview) – the best cookie in the world. They always have a couple healthy options. Imagine a cookie that is about two inches thick in the middle that’s slides down to edge about four inches out to make an okey gooey mound of sweet deliciousness.
Jeni’s ice cream is downtown and in Mountain Brook, Lane Parke.
Bendy’s Ice Cream (next door to Martin’s Bbq).
Sons donuts – little donuts made right in front of you. Avondale and Lane Parke.
Hero Donuts – Homewood
Heavenly Donuts in Vestavia near Grandview campus.
O’Henry’s is my favorite. Lots of flavors. Revelator is going to be for the purest who wants their pour over beans to be ground right before serving with no syrup.
Frothy Monkey is now here downtown.
June is good. Downtown.
Cala is probably the most popular place right now in Cahaba Heights.
Taco Mama is good cheap quick Mexican,
Ashley Mac’s – chicken salad, etc
Near the ARC Office
Little Donkey – good Mexican with a southern twist. Everything is made from scratch. Famous for the fried chicken. Get their potatoes as a side and street corn (i always like it off the cob). I also like their brisket tamales.
Big Bad Breakfast – just the best breakfast. Known for their skillets and biscuits, but i like the regular breakfast.
Avondale (Saw’s Soulfood Kitchen, Post Office Pies, Melt, Etc.) If you go to Avondale make sure to go to Big Spoon Creamery, locally source gourmet ice cream.
Mountain Brook has different villages with local spots.
Lane Parke – Newest area with several good places and shopping near the Grand Bohemian, Botanical Gardens, and the Zoo. Melt, Chop N Fresh, Lady Bird Taco, Sons Donuts, Starbucks, Jeni’s Ice Cream, Post Office Pies, and more. https://www.laneparke.com/explore/
Crestline Village – Great area to walk around and shop. Some local candy stores, boutiques, shops, and restaurants.
Homewood SOHO (South Homewood) – Lots new places added recently. Rodney Scott BBQ, Ashley mac’s, Little Donkey, Big Bad Breakfast, O’Henry’s Coffee, Urban Cookhouse and more that are all great. Also local shops and boutiques. Might be the best area as one stop area to park and shop and eat local.
Uptown – great options in one central location downtown near top golf and the
Pizitz Food Hall – Downtown. Please everyone by going to the pizitz which has been planned to include food genre’s from around the world from New Orleans to Pho.
Things to do in Birmingham
If you are in Homewood you can go to Vulcan Park (Free) and overlook the entire city.
If you are in Mountain Brook you can go to the Birmingham Botanical Garden (free). See the Japanese gardens.
If you are downtown visit railroad park (Free).
Visit boutiques in Homewood, Mountain Brook, or Cahaba Heights.
Shop at the Summit.
Pizitz Food Hall
Downtown. Please everyone by going to the pizitz which has been planned to include food genre’s from around the world from New Orleans to Pho.
Is the Attractional Model (AM) a way for churches to funnel new attendees into discipleship or does it produce churches whose only focus is “a way of ministry that… [makes] Christianity appealing?” While many of the fastest-growing churches in America utilize the AM, criticism of this approach has risen. It is effective at gathering new people, but some believe these churches are compromising their missio Dei for relevancy. Is it possible to have a church committed to being attractional and making disciples? This research will present that the AM works as a funnel for discipleship as long as the same commitment to attracting the lost to weekend services is present in a church’s attention to missional-style discipleship.
In How to Make Big Decisions Wisely, Alan Ehler presents a biblical framework for making decisions utilizing the power of story. His goal is “to bring together biblical wisdom and the best scholarly insights to help you shape your story in the best way possible.” He accomplishes this by teaching a model of decision-making he calls “Story Shaping.”
Story Shaping has a “four-step framework for decision-making: (1) Read the Backstory, (2) Catch God’s Story, (3) Craft a New Story, and (4) Tell the New Story.” The Story Shaping method is used in this research to address the discipleship problem facing AM churches. It will become clear that there are various opinions on the AM and multiple approaches available for discipleship in the local church. As Ehler states, “if outside experts or others involved cannot agree on the right approach, or if there seem to be multiple options with equal chance of success, then an intentional decision making process like Story Shaping is warranted.” 
Read the BackStory
A few simple questions must be asked to “read the backstory” of the AM. In Ehler’s first step of the Story Shaping process he says one should “ask questions about the existing strengths of an organization and uses those to determine what must be eliminated when change is made.” The research will ask questions that examine the AM’s backstory to help determine its ability to lead people into a discipleship process.
If its critics are correct, then the AM has a discipleship dilemma. In an article written for the Gospel Coalition, Jared C. Wilson says that in the AM, “there is no significant attention given to life or discipleship beyond the weekend worship service.” According to Richard Green in an article for the Keystone Project, the AM “does not make disciples.” Green continues by saying the AM’s methods lead to “a form of Christianity which has allowed [an attendee] to be a Christian without being a disciple.” L.E. Brown cautions that because of the AM paradigm, “the Church in America faces a significant existential threat that will eventually sweep countless congregations into history’s dustbin.” These warnings paint a picture of crisis for those who seek to utilize the AM for their congregations. These churches may be growing in size, but are they making an eternal difference in their communities and their members’ spiritual formation?
Should attractional churches even be concerned with discipleship if they see large attendance numbers in their weekend services? The most evident reason church leadership should make discipleship a top priority is that going out into the world and making disciples was the last command given by Christ in Matt. 28:19-20 (NIV): “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
The Apostles also continued to emphasize the importance of discipleship. In one of the most well-known discipleship relationships in scripture, Paul tells Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). In His masterwork, The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert E. Coleman says, “The ultimate goal of Jesus for his disciples was that his life be reproduced in them and through them into the lives of others.” Coleman proposes that Jesus had no backup plan for world evangelism other than his investment into people who would do the same for others through discipleship. It can be gathered from these examples that a church’s commitment to discipleship is paramount.
Now that the AM’s dilemma has been established and why it is essential to be solved, it is now important to define the AM and its strategies. Two opposing views on what the AM is will be considered, along with a third that seeks to find common ground between the two.
One predominant view of the AM that has already been reflected in this research is that the AM seeks crowds more than mission effectiveness. This point of view is represented in a review of The Prodigal Church by Joey Chen. In his paper, he states that Jared C. Wilson believes pragmatism and consumerism are the two ideologies driving the attractional church. Chen explains these two points further by saying Wilson “criticizes pragmatism because it assumes that ‘what works’ is wise and beneficial. He identifies consumerism as being ingrained in the Church Growth movement but questions whether consumer desires should be the primary concern of the church.” In Wilson’s perspective, churches are misguided if they believe “that the customer’s interests are legitimate.” Based on these insights, it can be concluded that Wilson’s definition of the AM is one where a value system of prioritizing consumers’ interests above other missions of the church is present. This perspective questions whether an approach is valid simply because this is what brings people into the church building on Sunday Morning.
In his book, The Attractional Church: Growth Through a Refreshing, Relational and Relevant Church Experience, Billy Hornsby gives many examples to describe what an AM church looks like in practice. A straightforward definition he gives is that they are called attractional simply because they attract large numbers of people. What is it that they are attracted to attend? Is it a compromising of the message of the gospel in order to shamelessly get them in the door? According to Hornsby, people are attracted to these churches simply because they are “refreshing, relational, and relevant church experiences.” He says a good word to describe these kinds of churches is “life-giving.”
The contradicting perspective on even how to define the AM is rooted in someone being a part of one of two camps: missional or attractional. Interpreting the story of the AM is based on one’s own experience or connection to one of these groups is what Ehler calls “our story reading glasses.” It is from these two groups that a “controversy over the most effective way to expand the kingdom of God”  has been argued. According to Dr. Jesse Wilson, this “is an argument that the church cannot afford.” He offers a definition of both to find common ground between the two ideologies. He says a missional church “is about the (1) missionary status of God and His church… (2) …incarnational ministry… [and] (3) …actively participating in the missio Dei, or mission of God.”  He then defines the attractional church by saying that the AM “hungers for lost people, …believes in worship excellence, [and] … creates a loving community.”  These two definitions create a clearer picture of how the attractional church can be defined, a glimpse into its methods, and why it has taken on criticism because of how it differs from the missional approach to church growth.
The researcher’s experience with training, planting, and leading AM churches finds a definition from Sam Horn to be the most accurate. He states, “AM churches believe the primary purpose of weekly corporate worship is to attract lost people, disengaged Christians or the unchurched to come to Jesus, accept the Gospel and reconnect with the church.”From this definition of AM churches, an evaluation of AM discipleship dilemma will be conducted. To use this definition alone, though, and not include the perspective of the missional and attractional proponents’ opinions on the AM would be incomplete. All that has been covered is vital to moving forward because in both the criticism and defense of the AM, the issue of discipleship is front and center.
Catch God’s Story
The research will now attempt to “collaborate with God in shaping [the AM] story”  in the second step of the Story Shaping process. This process is in line with “the principles of practical theology, which seeks to ‘interpret the revelatory realism of God’s action in concrete lived experience.’” From this perspective, the research expects God to be involved in the story of the AM and will attempt to “catch” that involvement in this next section.
The AM does not derive its “primary purpose [from] making Christianity appealing,” as Wilson claims. This would stifle God’s work through repentance. Instead, the AM embraces a “growth mindset that sees[s] themselves and others as capable of learning and improving.”  This is seen in how the AM takes a friendly approach that draws people to church so repentance can occur. The AM abandons the reasoning of churches that refuse to adjust their approach with the change of culture due to a “fixed mindset.” Hornsby says that “theologically, the attractional church’s message is biblically based. It is not “the content of the message but rather… the style of presenting it” that the AM seeks to change.
One can further observe God’s involvement in the methods of the AM by comparing them to how Jesus ministered. Hornsby says that an attractional church’s “real success can be measured by the number of souls that come to Christ and the impact the church has on its community.” This example reveals that the attractional church model seeks to be evangelical, not for gathering alone, but for multiplication and the glorification of God in the community. Jesus often gathered crowds and cared for their needs when he taught (Matthew 5-7). God is involved in attempts to gather people to hear the gospel, as displayed in the AM, and not just church gatherings that are believer-focused.
God’s involvement in the AM process is further displayed in the book of Romans. Paul quotes the prophet Joel when he tells the Romans that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13 NIV). He then goes on to explain how one comes to salvation. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them (Romans 10:14)? From this, it can be concluded that hearing is necessary for believing, which is required for salvation. Since discipleship cannot begin without salvation, we can rightly say that creating opportunities for people to hear the gospel is paramount for discipleship to take place eventually. With this understanding, we can “catch God’s story” in the AM strategy for evangelistic gatherings to create a funnel for churches to engage in discipleship.
God can use weekly church services created with unchurched people in mind to see new attendees connected to the church, but does that mean these services are effective at creating disciples? The next step in the Story Shaping process will present ideas to understand this area better.
Craft a New Story
In this section, an attempt will be made to“craft a new story” about the AM and discipleship. Ehler describes this step as including three different elements. The word craft is used to show a person’s involvement with God in finding the best possible solution.He describes this step as “a story” so that a person does not become paralyzed into believing there is only one way forward. This is certainly true when making disciples in the local church. Many options are available. This research aims to find the best options for the AM to make disciples. The final component used to describe this step is the word “new.” The reason why Ehler uses this word to describe the third step in his Story Shaping Process is that the results “will change the future for [the person involved in the decision making process] and perhaps others.”
To craft a new story for AM’s effectiveness in discipleship, attention will first be given to an explanation of how discipleship takes place. In a post called “Jesus’ Upside Down Strategy” at EmotionallyHealthy.org an example is given between modern-day discipleship vs Jesus’ discipleship strategy. The author claims that “Jesus focused a disproportionate amount of time discipling the Twelve…” The article goes on to explain that programs and services can distract ministry leaders from the critical work of discipleship. Honest attention is given to “the great tension of the big and the small” in churches. Then the author asks the question that this research is attempting to address as well, “How do I focus on the few… when modern culture demands the big… and now?” Two models of discipleship are presented along with a graphic that depicts both to answer this question.
The first graphic represents “modern-day discipleship.” This can also be described as the AM’s discipleship method because “attend” is at the top of the funnel (Fig. 1).
The interpretation of the AM shown in Figure 1 paints a picture of a discipleship funnel with little impact on the Great Commission. The “Jesus Discipleship Strategy” in Figure 2 tells a different story of many disciples being released to fulfill the Great Commission.
These two funnels do not have to exist in a contradictory relationship. Benny Perez says he sees great value in both the attractional and the missional model. According to Perez, they “do not need to be in opposition to each other.” Perez says that when Jesus spoke to crowds, he got on their level by using stories. Jesus was attractional in his presentation of the gospel in order to connect with as many people as possible. Perez models the example of Jesus by avoiding insider language in his church that outsiders will not understand. He says that taking this approach allows his church services to be geared toward both believers and unbelievers. According to Perez, the experience does not end with the weekly worship service. He says, “when people come to church… there should be a ‘wow factor.’ Then, when people leave your church, they should leave with the understanding that they too are on a mission, living life with a higher purpose.”
A new model for discipleship can be derived from the Both/And approach of Perez, and the Jesus Discipleship Strategy presented in the Emotionally Healthy Discipleship article. In Figure 3, a model is presented where many of the upside-down funnels are taking place in one church because, first, a come-and-see approach was taken by a church. Many Jesus Discipleship funnels can exist in one church using the AM as a larger funnel that feeds this smaller funnel. This is how a church can commit to making disciples once new people are connected to the church.
The new story for the AM should involve a commitment to its current strategy of attracting people who otherwise would not come to church while also embracing a missional “perspective of sending people out into the community, [and] encouraging… members to evangelize in those places.”
Tell the New Story
Ehler’s final step in the Story Shaping process is to “Tell the New Story.” He calls this step “making your decision happen.”  How can AM churches tell the new story of being both attractional in their weekend services and missional in their approach to discipleship? In Deep & Wide, Andy Stanley suggests that discipleship in past models increased people’s knowledge without growing people’s faith. To tell the new story for his church that he wanted to be both deep (missional) and wide (attractional.). He states his approach to discipleship is to “lead people into a growing relationship with Christ” and “a growing relationship equate[s] to growing faith.” From this, Stanley developed “five faith catalysts” that include: “practical teaching, private disciplines, personal ministry, providential relationships, and pivotal circumstances.” These “faith catalysts” correlate with Ehler’s encouragement to “frame the plan with a clear model” when telling the new story.
Chris Hodges suggests four simple steps that help “tell the new story” of discipleship through a faith journey that includes “know God, find freedom, discover purpose, and make a difference.” As Ehler teaches, these four steps are “simple” and are created with the target audience in mind.” These four steps could have easily been called salvation, church membership, discipleship, and leadership. Instead of framing the discipleship journey with traditional language, Hodges prefers to lay out the steps in a way that is “refreshing, relational, and relevant;” which is how Hornsby describes an attractional church’s weekend services.
What is the result of Hodge’s attempt to bridge the gap between the attractional and missional models with weekend services that are “empowering environments [that] challenge you to your core in an atmosphere of encouragement” and a simple and inviting discipleship program? Church of the Highlands, the church Hodges pastors, has grown to 24 locations. As of 2019, the church has 51,153 people in weekly attendance. While this growth is impressive compared to the average church size (65 in weekly attendance), does it mean Hodges and Highlands is effectively making disciples? According to the Highlands Legacy Report from 2021 the church’s members regularly serve over 21,000 people in the community through outreach efforts and served over 15,000 people on the church’s annual service and outreach day called “Serve Day.” The church also gathers 4,856 prisoners weekly across 21 Alabama correctional facilities for Sunday worship. Through the church’s local and global efforts, 87,653 people were baptized in 2021.
The Attractional Model for churches can work as a discipleship funnel as long as the churches who use this strategy include a missional mindset to equip believers for the work of the ministry once they are connected to the church. Churches cannot, as Cross states, “relegate the majority of ministerial work to paid clergy whose professional training has provided them with various forms of work we call ministry.” This is because “God is not pleased with sacrifices arising only from [church attendees] lips but demands the service of [their] lives.” If AM churches are content to only gather and not properly prioritize discipleship with the same commitment that they give to excellent weekend services, then they are laboring in vain. This does not need to be the case. As many churches have shown, for example, Andy Stanley’s Northwood and Chris Hodge’s Church of the Highlands, churches can utilize a simple onboarding process for discipleship that complements their attractional weekend services with great success.
Brown, L. E. “Missional Ecclesiology in the Book of Acts.” Journal of the Grace Evangelical
Society Autumn2011, P65 (2011)
Chen, J. (2016). Book Review: The Prodigal Church: A Gentile Manifesto against the Status
Quo by Jared C. Wilson. Great Commission Research Journal, 8(1), 131-134. Retrieved
Church of the Highlands. Last modified October 17, 2022.
I am excited to launch a new podcast called Believe Again. This interview-style podcast aims to tell real-life stories that inspire people to exchange exhausting religion for refreshing faith, discover hope to keep going when things seem impossible and realize each day is a new opportunity to trust and “believe again” in God’s promises.
I would love for you to listen, review and subscribe. If you are up for it, I have also included some promotional images you can use to spread the word on your Instagram feed and story.
Episode one with the one and only Amy Roberie is out now, and you can listen or watch at the links below!
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” – Jesus, Matthew 16:24 NLT
What did Jesus mean when He said, “take up your cross, and follow me?” This statement is more than just religious symbolism. It is a call to a radical new way of living your life.
Going to the Electric Chair
To fully understand the gravity of how Jesus is defining what it means to be one of his followers, we must bring the idea of the cross into modern language. In Jesus’ time, crucifixion was used for execution and humiliation. That means we could rephrase this verse to say, “If you want to be a Christian, you must give up the self-centered way of living that has become normal in society, go to the electric chair, and die just as Jesus also gave up His life.”
Seeing Jesus’s statement in this light changes how most people define being a Christian – a good person who goes to church. Instead, a Christian is defined as someone who follows Jesus so closely that even though they may never have to die for their faith physically, they are willing to die to their self-centered desires and reputation (living a life that meets the approval of others).
Following at a Distance
Defining a Christian as a good person who goes to church permits us to follow Jesus at a distance. Before Peter denied Jesus and the rooster famously crowed three times, the Bible says he “was following [Jesus] at a distance.” I do not want to become someone who follows Jesus at a distance. If Jesus is worth following, then He is worth following closely, even if that means “taking up my cross,” aka dying to my will and reputation, to do so.
This leaves us with the question, when was the last time you took up your cross to follow Jesus? When did you last die to having things your way in favor of being led by the Holy Spirit to defer to others or God’s commands? When was the last time you lost your reputation for the sake of the gospel?
The Way of the Cross
Following Jesus closely does not only mean death, but it also leads to abundant life. Not just eternal life in heaven, but a new life on earth where we enjoy intimacy with God and the blessings that follow obedience to the way of the Cross.
Have you ever had a road rage moment? I recently ran into a situation that made me glad not to have a “Jesus is my Co-Pilot” bumper sticker on my car.
Someone pulled out in front of me on a busy street. Which is annoying by itself, but then the person continued down the road 20 miles an hour below the speed limit with no sign of speeding up in sight. I am not proud of what I did next, but sometimes life gives you a reason to want to smack back. Instead of slowing down for them, I kept going and waited until the last second to go around the driver. When I passed him, he gave me the one-finger salute.
In my book, I think you get one “off.” You can have the cut-off or the flip-off, but you don’t get both. To cut someone off and then flip them off seems a little greedy. So when that person got behind me, I slowed down to the same speed he was when he cut me off. I know. That took it too far.
Immediately after doing this, I felt horrible. I realized that I had let a wrong done to me produce a wrong response from me. I cannot control other people, but why did I lose control of myself?
The next day, I was praying and believe God gave me a phrase to use in situations like this to help keep calm. Here it is:
“I have too much to lose to sweat the small stuff and too much to gain from moving on to more important things.”
We all experience annoyances, disrespect, and people not doing the right thing, negatively impacting us. Most of these situations are resolved by just moving on. It is a mark of wisdom to overlook a fault, according to Proverbs 19:11:
If you are like me, then you can sometimes become easily frustrated. Life’s agitations can be sandpaper that smooths out your character or sand in your shoes that irritate your journey. What I feel like I learned from my situation is that minor frustrations become big problems when we do not let them go. It is best to remember that we have more to gain from overlooking an offense than we can hope to achieve by trying to smack back.
“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you”
It is the questions that every child asks and every parent has to answer: “Why?”
“Buckle your seatbelt.”
“Eat your vegetables.”
Have you ever wondered what the “why” is behind the “why”? In other words, why do we ask, “why”? We ask, “”why,” because we want to know what is on the otherside of our obedience. We want to know the reason and the reward for our compliance when we are being asked to sacrifice or make an adjustment that is uncomfortable.
Have you noticed God does not always give us the reason up front? Sometimes we feel like we have to have everything figured out before taking a first step. In, The Grave Robber, Mark Batterson says, “We want God to reveal the second step before we take the first but faith is taking the first step before God reveals the second!”
In my book, Believe Again, I share how I stepped away from my role in full-time ministry because God had told us to go first, and then He would show us what to do next. This rang true to our hearts. We had peace about this being God’s will, but we struggled to accept the risk that came with this new course. We were hoping God would “show” first, and then we could “go.” Our fear of the future created a long season of waffling back and forth until God gave me a dream, that was really more of a memory.
In the dream, I was child playing football. When the ball was kicked to me, instead of picking it up and running with it, I fell on the ball and covered it up. I was afraid of fumbling and my teammates were screaming for me not to pick it up. When I got to the sidelined my coach asked me why I did not pick up the ball and run.
“What if I fumbled?” Was my excuse.
My coach replied, “What if you score a touchdown?”
God does not want you to live your life falling on the ball when He has called you to pick up the ball and run with it. That dream caused me to realize that I needed to live for an audience of one and obey right away.
We made a lot of sacrifices along the way that I do not know that I would have agreed to if I knew all that it would have cost me up front. I had to mature with each step of the way, and as I did, I saw the value in what I would have to give up next in order to follow God outside of my comfort zone. What I learned is that life truly begins on the otherside of my comfort zone.
Our success in life does not depend on our ability to give God the solutions we want and then believe for that to happen, but by our ability to depend on God as He leads us according to His will.
Have you had an experience where God has asked you to leave your comfort zone in the way He was asking Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3? What happened?
How does God ask you to leave your comfort zone on a daily basis?
How would you define your spiritual comfort zone right now and what may be keeping you from not living beyond it?
What role does the fear of man play in our obedience to God? Is there any fear of what other may think that is keeping you from prioritizing what God thinks of you?
I was recently on the Bridgecast Podcast with Pastor David Lewkowicz. We met an ARC event last year, and he has been a huge blessing to have as a friend. I am so glad he asked me to be on Season 3 of his podcast to talk about Believe Again and church planting.
It was a lot of fun recording this episode. We talked about my favorite superhero (no way you guess who it is), I tell a Boudreaux and Thibodeaux joke, and David does a pretty amazing Coach O impression. You will also hear us talk about disappointment, burnout, and religion. I share some lessons learned from my book, Believe Again, and also include some stories I wish I could have included in the book.
This was a lot of fun, and I think you will enjoy listening.
“For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas[a] and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they praised God because of me.”
When was the last time you had a headache or another type of pain in your body that prevented you from the normal activities of your life? It is hard to think about anything else, until you experience relief.
I have had headaches for as long as I can remember. Even as a child, I could hear other kids playing outside in the middle of the day, while I remained under the covers of my bed. In college, they would flare up during exams. I made changes that decreased their frequency, but the migraines never completely went away.
As I gained more responsibilities in my church job, the regularity and intensity of my migraines increased. Sometimes in meetings, I would start to see flashes then spots. I would feel lightheaded and nauseous. When this happened, I would abruptly cut my day short and go home. Hours would go by, as I lay in a dark room in agony until I was finally able to come out of the pain. Can you relate to stress impacted your life in a similar way?
These headaches became such an issue that my doctor ordered a CAT scan. Soon, I was back in the doctor’s office looking at images of something beneath the sufance that no one could see from the outside. There was a mass resting between my brain and the tip of my spine. It was an arachnoid cyst. We didn’t know if this was causing my frequent headaches—or what it meant for our future.
The cyst had apparently been there most of my life. It had grown with me through my parent’s divorce, through rejection as a teenager, and even abuse. It was there when I first became a leader in my youth group, as well as when I eventually joined the church staff.
Allowing myself to fall into a religious routine that created unhealthy amounts of stress in my life did not appear out of anywhere either. I started leading in my church because I loved God and loved what he loved—people. Fifteen years later, I had become a Pharisee, legalist, and avoider of grace. While I was once full of compassion and excitement, over time, I had become judgmental and overbearing. This negatively impacted not only my own life but also those around me. I had no grace for myself, and therefore, none to give anyone else.
There are many things in our lives that appear to be the problem but are really only symptoms of the real issue. My headaches were the symptoms of something going on underneath the surface. The same was true for my overly religious perspective that led to burnout. I had to address the root in my soul if I was going to change the fruit in my life.
Have you experience the frustration of a health, emotional, or spiritual issue that you hoped would get better, but only got worse as time went on? What happened?
How does Psalm 55:10 reflect how we can sometimes fail to resolve the issues of our lives?
What issue is just beneath the surface of your daily life that needs to be addressed? This is most likely that one issue connected to fear, shame, or doubt that you will hope that will go away by avoiding it, but continues to resurface.
Can you do the right things for the wrong reasons? Is this something you have ever done?
Do you sometimes find it hard to say, “No,” even if it is something that can conflict with your priorities? I find this to be especially true for me when it is a good thing that conflicts with the best things. What about you?
How would you know if you have begun to become proud and judgmental instead of humble and grace-filled? What are some warning signs you should be aware of that would point to the need to change?
In Paul’s testimony given to us in Galatians 1:13-24 we see how it was his zeal for God that lead him to do the wrong thing. He needed to believe again in order for God to redirect his passion for the wright thing. Have you had a “believe again” experience after coming to faith and realizing your faith needed a perspective shift?
“The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!’”
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Have you ever felt discarded, overlooked, or forgotten? If so, I want you to know that your story is not finished yet. It is in these valleys, the place between our mountain peaks, that hope can be hard to come by. In situations like this it can be hard to even dare to hope. Can you relate?
In the midst of World War II much of the world was in a bitter time of conflict and suffering. It was in the middle of such hopelessness that Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, gave what would become one of the most famous speeches ever delivered. In it he said,
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
I know I find it difficult to find this kind of resolve in times of testimony. I am guessing I am not alone in this. The heros of the Bible are not strangers to that feeling as well. In Lamentations the great prophet Jeremiah laments the awful suffering of Isreal. What resonates with me about this passage is that the author does not deny the difficult times. How often we feel less spiritual for wanting to admit things are not going well, and will believe covering up the bad times will make us look more spiritual. This, assuradly, is a lie of the enemy that diverts us from the intimacy and transformation of our souls and character that result from drawing close to God in our suffering.
When all seems lost, you can know two things: this is not the end and your inheritance is in the Lord. You do not need faith strong enough to last until the end of your journey. You just need faith for today. God’s mercies “begin afresh each morning.” They “never cease.”
Orson Wells once said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” If you are not at the happy part, then you are probably not at the ending yet. Keep going.
Have you ever felt the pressure to minimalize your pain to be more spiritual? Why do you think that is?
Is it less spiritual to admit that you are in a difficult situation or have experienced loss in the past even though you prayed for a different outcome? Do things not working out mean you have less faith than someone else?
Lamentations 3:20 (NLT) says, “I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.” What does this tell you about the spirituality of suffering and grieving?
Why should we glory in our sufferings according to Romans 5:3-5?
Can you recall a time when you experienced God’s faithfulness even when you seem to be at the end of your rope?