Why People Give More at Christmas

christmas-giving-edited

According to a recent story in USA Today over 1/3 of all charitable giving occurs in the month of December.

WHY?

As a Christian and a church leader, I truly believe it is because it’s the time of year where many people remember the gift that God gave us of His only Son.  Of course, I know there are many mundane reasons also…

  • It’s the end of the year and people are looking for tax write-offs
  • People receive end of the year bonuses and so have available money
  • People are spending so much on gifts for family that a few bucks to charity seem well…less.

Ask someone for $50.00 in July they’ll say they can’t afford it but after they just spent $500 on a bike and a gaming system for their kid, giving $50 to charity become reasonable.

The bottom line is this church leader, your members want to give.

It’s your job to give them a compelling reason to give.

Reasons People Choose Their Church for Christmas Giving:

1. A Clear Vision

People want to understand how their giving makes a difference.  When I sponsor a child through World Vision, I receive a letter that tells me about the child including what benefits my money is purchasing. (Education, new clothes, food etc.)

Why should I give to your church?

2. Special Projects

Are their special projects happening people would be interested in?  Everything from remodeling the children’s wing to drilling a well in Africa can peak someone’s interest.  Your job becomes communication.  Get the information out there. One way is in an end of the year special campaign.

In my church leader coaching network I teach pastors how to organize an effective end-of-the-year giving campaign.  What I can tell you in this short blog is, do a campaign and communicate clearly what they will be giving to.

3. It’s Easy

I know, not the most exciting reason people give but let’s face reality.  Most people abstain from anything confusing or too difficult.

We’ve already established that people want to give more readily in December.  They are already sitting in your church building.  Make it easy to give.  Talk about the giving campaign on Sunday.  Give special envelopes to everyone.  Make it simple (3 steps or less) to give online to this campaign.

In summary, if you’re a church member, I challenge you to give as much to Christian charities this Christmas as you spend on one family member.  

If you’re a church leader, your challenge is to give them a compelling reason to choose to give to your ministry and an easy way to do it.

Merry Christmas and Happy Giving.

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7 Unspoken Questions People Ask About Their Church

1. Will I be accepted?

This is biggest and most immediate question of every new person. Answering that question involves all that you do. Having different races, ages and styles of people greeting, in our videos, on the platform etc. sends a message that we welcome diversity.

The best way to answer this question is by establishing small groups where people of similar interests, struggles or backgrounds can find and relate to each other. Everyone needs a niche and small groups play a crucial role in meeting this need. You must show people that you have a place for them.

2. Will I find friends at this church?

People are looking for opportunities to connect in new relationships. People aren’t just looking for a friendly church, they are looking for friends.  Encourage your people to greet someone they don’t know each week but also to invite new people over to their house.  Again, small groups are a great way to be intentional about this.  We divide our small groups into semester, forcing people to break for a few weeks to keep groups from devolving into cliques.  If people don’t make 3 meaningful relationship connections in a church within the first year, they usually stop attending.

3. Will I make a difference at this church?

People want to their lives to count. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. When you can show people that they can make a difference with their gifts and talents, they will want to be involved.  Not everyone wants to be a singer, usher or small group leader so we try to offer a diversity of positions so there is a place for everyone to serve. We want our church to be a creative place where people may express their talents and abilities in various ways.  Of course, feedback and appreciation are key.  Simply telling volunteers they are appreciated or showing how their serving builds the church goes a long way in making people feel valued.

4. Will I Feel Safe?

In our society today people often feel unsafe.  Anxiety is at an all time high.  We must create a culture where people are never belittled, gossiped about or abused.  If a new person hears someone being spoken to harshly or gossiping about someone, they tend to believe they will be treated the same way.  Make a person feel unsafe and they will run for the door.  In addition, if they don’t feel their children are in a safe environment with loving teachers, they will leave quickly.

5. Will there be a lot expected of me?

This is a tricky one. It’s true that in American society today people are afraid of being overwhelmed.  Sometimes people don’t join a church because they don’t want to commit to being there every week. However, the other side is also true.  People want to be a part of something important and they understand it requires commitment.  The answer is simple, cast vision and have reasonable requirements.  The key is letting people know that their commitment matters and avoid having outrageous requirements.  Gone are the days of requiring members to attend service mid-week, Sunday and Sunday night.  Now the multiple services gives people options as to which one they attend.

Expect people to keep their commitments as volunteers and hold them to it but keep the time commitment low.  Don’t expect perfection but encourage spiritual growth.

6. Will I benefit from joining this church?

People are inherently self-centered.  Ultimately we want to know what’s in it for them.  Why should they choose your church over others or sleeping in on Sunday? First, clearly explain the biblical, practical and personal reasons for local church membership in literature, from the pulpit, in small groups, in video announcements, every opportunity you can.  Next share testimonies of changed lives, stories of how the church was used by God in an individual’s life.  The truth is, we know people can improve their relationships, health, career, finances and more from being mentored in a church. Don’t forget to illustrate that.  Of course, don’t forget the greatest benefit, a closer relationship with God.

7. Will I connect to God more at your church?

The greatest benefit of being part of a local church should be strengthening our connection to God.  Not everyone feels more connected by listening to a teaching on Sunday.  We must have a variety of ways to connect through avenues like music, art, prayer, support groups, baptism, Holy Spirit activity, how to study scripture and yes, practical pulpit teaching. Most importantly, teaching on how to connect to God.  Many churches talk about discipleship which means growing in following Christ but never explain how to do that.

Are you helping people answer these 7 questions about your church?

The First Tool for Life

I’m reading a book called The Ultimate Checklist for Life and it causes me to ask a question.  Are you prepared for life’s unexpected turns?

Life is a journey of twists and turns that take you around blind curves not knowing what’s around the bend. There are perils and pleasures, advances and set backs, obstacles and opportunities (sometimes the obstacles are the opportunities!) Fear if the unknown or fear of failure could paralyze a traveler on this journey called life.  How can we minimize anxiety and maximize success?

As any seasoned adventurer will tell you, it’s best to adopt the Boy Scout motto and “Be Prepared.”  To be prepared one must know the right tools to take.  Campers take things like tents, compasses, matches, water, bug spray, first aid kits, even things like emergency flares or a gun for protection. What are the right tools to take along the journey with you?  How can we be prepared?

The most important tool is the word of God, the Holy Bible.

I know it sound cliche but it’s true.  And I know, it is God’s love letter to humanity, and it is the story of God’s relationship to us, but it is also a guide book.  It is the instruction manual written by the creator of life on how this whole thing operates!

Your laws are always right; help me to understand them so I may live. – Psalm 119:144

His word helps us to understand this life He’s given us so that we may live.  Scripture talks about almost any topic you need, relationships, work, money, sickness, heartache, forgiveness, education, family, love, lust, even interest rates and cosigning a loan! (Bet you didn’t know that was in there!)

To be prepared for life, start with God’s instructions for how to live.

Life is God’s novel. Let Him write it. – Isaac Bashevis Singer

Next Week: Tool #2

Enduring Excellence

Excellence isn’t really excellence unless it endures until the end.  Think about it.  I can be the fastest guy off the blocks in a race, clear the first few hurdles with ease but if I trip over the last hurdle or slow down before the finish line and other runners pass me, was it an excellent race?  Of course it wasn’t.  To be truly excellent at anything we must finish as strong as we begin.

Paul said this near the end of his life:

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.  And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of His return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to His appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:6-8

The prize that awaits is worth running this race with excellence, but how do we do that?

Begin with Duplication and Delegation

Exodus 18:13-26 – Moses & Jethro

Jethro decides to check on his son-in-law Moses and see how his life as a leader is going.  He sees Moses handling every minor dispute that arises for a whole nation!  He tells him this isn’t good. You won’t have enduring excellence, you’ll wear out!  He instructs Moses on duplication and delegation.

Moses you teach the people and delegate the smaller decision to faithful, honest people. Then delegate the authority to make decisions.  Leaders make mistakes by delegating tasks and not authority because of fear or control issues. Moses sets up leaders over 1,ooo; 100, 50, and 10.  Each according to their ability.

There were good people standing around Moses all day learning by watching him make decisions.  they just needed a change to be able to help.  Duplicate yourself in faithful, honest people then give them a chance.  The help you need is already around you, waiting.

Jesus went beyond Delegation to Discipleship

Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” – Matthew 4:19

Jesus kicked it up a notch by saying in effect, I’ll mentor you.  I’ll teach you how to do what I do.  Jesus fed 5,000 but He duplicated Himself in 11 men and then He delegated the care of the Kingdom of God on this earth to them!

If Jesus can trust the care of His word and the eternal destiny of billions of souls to some uneducated fishermen, don’t you think you can delegate some task to those you are training?  Of course they will make mistakes, after all that’s how you learned.

If the people around you are willing to follow you, put your DNA into them and turn them loose!  After 3 years of discipling thieves, liars, uneducated fisherman and trouble makers Jesus was frustrated too.  He asked how long He had to put up with them and why they had such little faith but He entrusted His ministry to them.  Wow. Don’t make those you disciple wait until their perfect before you trust them because they never will be.

What’s this have to do with enduring excellence?  Jesus did the work better than His disciples. You can always do it better yourself. However, Jesus understood that excellence would come from the disciples eventually.  More importantly He knew that enduring excellence means building something that lasts beyond yourself. How long will the excellence you strive for today last?  Until you get tired? Even if it’s until you die, it’s not truly enduring.

Some new things to learn from the Christmas Story

Most of us know the Christmas story. However, a couple new things stuck out to me when reading the Christmas story this year:

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. – Luke 2:16-18; 20

Most people talk about the worship aspect, how the shepherds were low on the socio-economic ladder, or even how there was no room at the inn, but how many of us focus on what the shepherd did AFTER meeting Jesus?

First, the shepherds told everyone what they had experienced.  Don’t skim over that.  Hearing the good news and seeing the Savior caused them to share their experience with others.  One thing we should learn from the Christmas story is those that hear the good news of the Messiah and meet Him should tell everyone they know.  Some will reject the message but some will be astonished and seek Him for themselves.

The second thing, that is a very simple truth yet may be profound, is the shepherds went back to their flocks.  This statement by itself it seems so unimportant.  No one would make it their memory verse yet there is a profound truth here hidden in the mundane.  God has already placed you in your mission field.

Many people want to be in “full-time ministry” but the truth is you already are.  The shepherds, were shepherds.  They went back to their jobs and we may infer, continued to tell everyone they met about Jesus.  The Metalsmith who made their shears would hear, the other shepherds they would pass in the fields also.  Maybe the farmers whose lands they would buy water rights from would end up seeking the Savior or the tent maker’s wife would hear the good news.  The point is this, they went back to their simple lives and brought the wonder of that first Christmas with them.

We need to do the same.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 27: We Are Ambassadors

Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. – 2 Corinthians 5:11

A “fearful responsibility to the Lord” Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.  Words to take notice of.  We have a responsibility that we should fear not fulfilling!  What is this awesome responsibility that is so important the Holy Spirit would choose those words to record it for all eternity?  Persuading others to follow Christ.  I know, you’re thinking “We know, we’re supposed to share the good news with people.”  It’s more than that.  If you were in your last 30 days to live and asked “What should I do to make sure I’m right with God?” We might talk about forgiving others or repenting of sins but probably not “go tell someone about God’s love.”  Yet this is exactly what this verse is saying.

Later in the same chapter the Holy Spirit (through Paul) reminds us of our purpose on this planet.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And He gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-20

We love to quote the verse 17, “We are new!  The old life is gone.” but WHY? So that we can be Ambassadors for Christ.

An ambassador is an official representative of something. Paul tells the Church in Corinth that We Christians are Christ’s ambassadors. His official representatives. Christ has sent His message to us and through us for the world to hear and see. We are sent with Christ’s message of reconciliation. So your title is “Ambassador of Reconciliation.” Now that is a calling. So what is reconciliation? Reconciliation according to the Encarta Dictionary is a “renewing.” The “ending of conflict.” So Christ came to reconcile us with God….. renew us with God, so we would not be condemned to death. And as Christ’s ambassador we are called to encourage other to become renewed…. In faith, and focus on God.

If the time we had left on this planet was less than 30 days we should spend them representing the one who is calling us home to His heavenly country.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day – 23: Assessing Your Finances

As we looked at assessing our life yesterday we focused on general happiness and career.  In this blog we’ll look at how our finances and our relationships affect our emotional health.

As we’ve looked how we would respond if we had 30 Days to Live we discovered that finances are looked at differently.  Money is no longer a goal but a tool.  If you missed that e-Devotional please review it.  When departing from this world the only financial worry people may have is not leaving bills for their loved ones.  In assessing our lives, financial pressure can play a huge role.

1. Do my finances cause stress in my life?

Really Pastor Lon?  Doesn’t finances cause stress in everyone’s life unless their rich?  No, they don’t.  There are people out there who live within their means including a budget.  I know we’ve done it.

Financial pressure is a major cause of divorce, suicide, domestic violence, heart disease and much more.  My wife and I had periods of our life where the financial pressure was overwhelming (either because of sickness, unemployment or poor financial decisions).  We had to make some hard decisions to change our lives.  First, I decided to go back to school and change careers. Second, we began to adjust our spending.

Now before you give me “you don’t understand” comments.  I went back to school when I was 30, married and had a kid.  I worked, volunteered 15 hours a week in my church and carried a 3.9 gpa in college.  I’m not saying that to brag, simply to say stop making excuses!!  I should have gone to school two years earlier but kept talking myself out of it.  “We can’t afford it.”  “I don’t have time.”  Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.  Once I got fed up with my situation, I sucked it up and did what I HAD to do to be happier.

Having said that, a new career or more money isn’t always the answer to financial pressure.  It has been my experience that people with poor spending habits will always stretch the finances to the max not matter how much they make.  I have counseled people making over $100,000 a year that were in worse shape than couples making $18,000.

2. Do I have a budget I FOLLOW?

Solving financial pressure is NOT about getting more money.  It is about having a spending plan.

A budget is a dirty word to some people.  They think of it as restraining and rules to make them unhappy.  I don’t agree.  It’s simply a spending plan.  There’s guilt free freedom when you go out to dinner and know it’s in your entertainment budget.

A budget needs to plan for monthly expenses, emergencies, debt reduction and savings.  You need a plan no matter how much you make.  Usually people wait until they are so far in debt they feel hopeless before trying a budget.  Don’t wait!  There isn’t time in a blog to explain a budget but here’s a good resource.

Crown Financial is a ministry with great articles and lots of free resources including a budget sheet. (http://www.crown.org/GettingStarted/)

3. Do I tithe?

People will say, “I’ve prayed and asked God help me with my financial problems but nothing happened.”  If you don’t acknowledge God in your finances then you have no right to ask Him to help you.

“You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me.  You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” – Malachi 3:8-10

If we call ourselves believers but don’t tithe then we have put a curse on ourselves.  the good news is this, as with any sin, we can repent and be forgiven.

Did you notice the last two sentences in this bible passage?  It is the ONLY place in all scripture where we are told to test or try God!  Any other time putting God to the test is a sin. God tells us tithing is so very important that actually tells us to give it a try and see how big His blessing will be.  Seven different times I’ve challenge people I was counseling to try tithing for 90 days.  I told them if God didn’t bless, I would give their money back.  That’s right a money back guarantee on God!  You know what?  Not one person asked for their money back.  Every one was amazed at what God did.  One man got a promotion, another a new job. One lady paid a huge debt off with less than half what she owed! A different lady got an unexpected inheritance.  God doesn’t lie and His scripture is the key to success in your finances.

Prayer

Lord, help me to live within my finances.  I know you provide for all my needs as I put you first in my finances through tithing.  I ask in faith for your help and thank you now that you will answer.  I am confident in your provision and refuse the pressure financial issue can bring by trusting in you.  In your name I pray, amen.

Thoughts

  • Do I tithe in faith, expecting God to provide?
  • Do I know what I spend?

Action

  • Create a budget this week.
  • If you’re not tithing, commit to for the next 90 days.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day – 22: Assessing Your Life & Career

When people have 30 Days to Live they normally assess their life.  They either are content saying they have had a good life or they are full of regrets at unfulfilled dreams.  Today, I’d like to give you simple questions to help you assess your life and determine if there are changes you need to make now.  Let’s live like we’re dying.

Here are a few questions organized by the different areas of your life to help you get started.

Emotional Health

1. Do I generally feel happy? – I know “happiness” is a relevant term but be honest with yourself…do you feel happy most days?

If the answer is no, or I’m not sure then you must find out why and fix it.  If you are truly depressed first seek prayer and healing and then please find out if there’s a medical condition causing it.  If you’re depressed because you’re physically sick in some other way, then do the same, prayer and medicine. Yes, while you’re waiting for a miracle God uses medicine too.

Most often happiness is a choice.  You have to choose not to sweat the small stuff.  Usually we get upset over silly little things that won’t mean anything 1,000 years from now. Sometimes the issue may financial pressure or relationship problems.  I’ll cover those tomorrow.

2. What do you do to bring fun and joy into your life?

We all need activities and people that refresh us and bring joy to us.  Spend extra time playing with the kids, see the new movie, read a book, pray longer, go for a walk outside, exercise…what works for you?  Take the time to recharge your emotional battery.

A cheerful heart is good medicine,but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength. – Proverbs 17:22

3. Do I feel fulfilled and motivated by my career? (School if you’re a student.)

I’ve had those jobs where I dreaded getting up to go to work.  The people were difficult, there was no room for promotion, the money wasn’t good etc.  It drove me to go back to school at 30 years old.  Education and training is a key to greater career fulfillment.

A house is built by wisdom and becomes strong through good sense. Through knowledge its rooms are filled with all sorts of precious riches and valuables. – Proverbs 24:3-4

Occasionally you have the degree and that’s not the issue. I still say studying a new field or getting training for a promotion may be the answer but…

If you hate your job, do something about it. I know you need to pay the bills, keep the job you have now and start looking for another.  It’s always easier to look while you have a job so you won’t settle again for new job you’ll hate in a year.  Networking with people you know is key.  Tell them what you’re interested in and see if they know someone in that field.

For 10 years I worked in the technology field in graphic design and the Internet (when it was first starting.)  I loved it for 9 years!  Then it began to seem meaningless to me.  I realized that I wanted to be in ministry to help people and began to move towards that goal.

If you like your career or company but feel capped because there is no advancement or your bored doing the same thing for years, education can break that cycle also.  It could be a simple as more in-house training or taking an on-line certification.

The best advice I can give someone is to do something you feel passionately about.  You will spend a third of your life at you job so make sure it’s fulfilling.

If you’re a student then school IS your career.  Put your effort into it.  If you don’t like your major, change.  The discipline you learn in school will to a large degree, determine how successful you will be in your career.  Now I know some people aren’t book people, then do vocational training and learn a trade.

Whether you are a student, a supervisor, a business owner, a public servant or a long-time employee, where you are right now is your mission field.  That’s right we can feel much more fulfilled when we look through eternal eyes to see that God has us there for a reason…to CONNECT OTHERS to Christ!

More assessments tomorrow.

Prayer

Lord, help me to be honest with myself about life.  Help me to not be so negative or worried about small issues.  Remind me to do activities that recharge me emotionally and spiritually.  Give me the courage to make the career changes I need to make.  Help me to see where I am as a mission field you sent me to and give me the boldness to speak when you open opportunities.  Lord make me the person you created me to be. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Thoughts

  • Am I in the job the Lord wants me in?
  • Do I feel challenged and fulfilled by my career choice?

Action

  • Do one activity that bring you joy this week.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day – 21: Traveling Light

We just returned from an eventful trip to Los Angeles, CA.  I took my wonderful daughter Moriah to check out a challenging college program at the Dream Center called ‘The Movement’ but that’s not what this blog is about.

Have you ever noticed that experienced travelers travel light?  You don’t hear them say, “I should have brought more.”  No they have only brought the necessities.  Experiences travelers realize that there is a cost for ever bag and a weight limit also.  It’s the same way in this journey we call life.  We don’t need heavy baggage slowing us down, delaying us from getting to where we want go.

When someone has 30 Days to Live, they readily drop the heavy bags as they prepare to depart for their final destination.  The emotional and spiritual baggage holds us back from living for the eternal.  Take ONLY the things that help you get to heaven.  Those essentials are the people, things and decisions that equip you to face the challenges ahead or push farther on your journey.  You want to leave behind the people, things and decisions that slow you down, offer no return on investment or even harm you.  How do you know what or who to take with you and what/who leave behind?

Three E’s to Take

  1. Energize – Keep the things that motive you or foster an atmosphere of creativity, people that are enthusiastic for life, and then renew your energy by doing things that refresh you.
  2. Excite – Keep the things that make you happy even if they seem silly or sentimental to others.  You know that special someone who makes your heart skip a beat or that friend you can’t think about without smiling?  Spend more time with them.  Do what you are passionate about.  Why waste your time in a career you hate?
  3. Empower – I know…it’s an annoying word but educate didn’t seem to cover it fully.   Keep thing that challenge and teach you.  Spend time with people who are willing to share their knowledge, experience, and skills and THEN challenge you to go farther with that knowledge. Take the actions that will catapult you further in your relationship with the Lord and others or in your career.

Three D’s to Leave Behind

  1. Drains – You know what they are.  Those things, people and actions that when you are done with them make you feel like a video game warrior who has taken too many body blows and whose life force is depleted.   Don’t let them suck the life out of you until it’s gone!
  2. Depleters – Things, people, and action that aren’t necessarily hurting you but they don’t help either.  These are the time wasters that deplete your resources (time, talent and treasure) without giving a return-on-investment.  You only have so many resources to give, put them where there is the greatest return.
  3. Destroyers – These are the things, people and actions/decisions that can damage us physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially or in our reputation.  There isn’t much to say, run away!

I know some of my faithful readers are thinking, “Can you be more specific?”  No, I can’t.  These lists are very personal and yours are yours, mine are mine.  What energizes you may deplete me and visa-versa.  If you will honestly evaluate the three E’s and 3 D’s for yourself you make great leaps towards the person you want to be.

Prayer

Dear Jesus help me to travel light.  Help me to take with me things and people and make decisions that energize, excite and empower me.  Help me to make the hard decision to walk away from the things, people and actions that drain, deplete or destroy me.  I thank you for giving me the ability to make these changes in my life to become the person you created me to be.

Thoughts

  • Am I happy?  If not, what are the Three D’s I need to remove?
  • Am I productive?  If nor, what can I do to better leverage the Three E’s?

Action

  • Dump one D and begin one E this week.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 20: A Risk-Taking Church

We heard a challenging word from Pastor Matthew Barnett this morning.  He spoke one becoming a Risk-Taking Church.  I found that amusing since I had written on taking risks that morning.  Today’s blog is based off the notes I took during that sermon.

Churches start out as Risk-Taking Churches.  The word to describe them would be DARING.  We’ve heard the stories. They left the comfort of jobs, friends, and families to run after a dream God gave them.  The focus is vision or calling.

Matthew Barnett did that.  He left one of the largest churches in America that his father led in Arizona to start the Dreamcenter in downtown Los Angeles. He was 20 years old and had 7 people with them.  Then when they were still small but growing, they purchased a 4 million dollar hospital when their weekly income was $1,500.
Everyone told him it was foolish.

There will always be well-intentioned people telling you why you can’t do what God has told you to do during the daring phase.

Then the church gets buildings, salaries…there is more to lose.  This the Care-Taking Church.  The word that best describes this is the word DUTY.   This church focuses on maintaining property and programs.  They care most about meting the needs of its members. The problem is if you’re not going forward in God you are in fact backsliding.  You can’t maintain.

The Care-Taking Church becomes the Under-Taking Church.  It becomes a dying memorial to what God had done.  They talk more about what God did in the past than what He has called us to do in the future. They study history and work to amass the knowledge of scripture. The word that best describes this is the word DEAD.

Here’s what will blow your mind.  The Under-Taking Church isn’t always a dead church meaning; no miracles, no presence of God.  Under-Taking is a death of vision a death of the Great Commission.  Sometimes this church focuses on the ‘next experience’ with God but the gift is emphasized over the giver.  It’s not about what God wants us to do when we leave His presence but simply the next experience I can have personally.

Reading Hebrews chapter 11 we see the ‘Heroes of Faith’, God’s Hall of Fame.  They were all Risk-Takers!  Noah had no support when he responded to God’s word.  Noone believed He had heard God.

You can’t walk by faith and walk safe.

“How to” becomes the question of safe walkers, trying to manage miracles.  You can’t manage miracles.  You leap into the unknown and pray God catches you.

Jesus risked the salvation of all mankind on 12 fearful, dysfunctional, difficult underachievers and one of them was a traitor!  That’s taking a risk.  What if they didn’t do what they were called to do?

Our problem is that we want security more than glory.  You can never be great without taking a risk.

In closing let me say this, failing to take a risk is a sin.  If we care more about our image than advancing the Kingdom of God, it’s a sin.  God’s plan for you is bigger than your potential!  God’s vision for our church is greater than we can even comprehend.  We certainly can’t make it happen without Him.  Give God the chance to do great things through you.

Don’t be afraid to go where God has already gone.

Prayer

Dear Jesus help me to be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  Help me to fear missing your destiny more than what others will think if I fail.  I choose to take a leap of faith rather than playing it safe.

Thoughts

  • Is our church playing it safe or taking a risk?
  • How can I support my friends in their Risk-Taking adventures?

Action

  • Take a risk by praying for a stranger who need a miracle.
  • Start a ministry for God that needs His supernatural touch to succeed.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day 19: Taking a Risk

Taking a Risk

As a person faces death they often regret certain things in their life.  They may regret the hurt they caused a loved one or not spending more time with their family.  Yes, moral failures or relationship failure are regretted but not usually the adventure tried and failed. What do I mean?

You don’t usually hear people say, “I regret trying a new business or trying to make a difference in ministry.”  No, it’s usually the adventure NEVER tried that is a regret.  “Wish a wrote that book.”  “I should have gone back to school so my family would have a better life.”  “I should have tried that business idea.”  “I should have tried to save my marriage.” “I wish I would have done more for God.”  Those are some more common ones.

At the end of their life people regret risks not taken. Often it is the fear of losing something that keeps us from taking risks.  God wants us to trust Him enough to live like that now.  To live like we have nothing to lose. There is story of 4 men in scripture who had nothing to lose, so they took a risk.  They found that God’s blessing often lives on the other side of a risk taken.

In 2 Kings chapter 7 is a story of 4 leprous men.  They have shunned by society because of their contagious skin disease and because they are considered cursed by God, religiously unclean.  (The closest thing we would have in our society today is a homosexual person with full blown AIDS.)

Now there were four men with leprosy sitting at the entrance of the city gates. “Why should we sit here waiting to die?” they asked each other.  “We will starve if we stay here, but with the famine in the city, we will starve if we go back there. So we might as well go out and surrender to the Aramean army. If they let us live, so much the better. But if they kill us, we would have died anyway.”

So at twilight they set out for the camp of the Arameans. But when they came to the edge of the camp, no one was there!  For the Lord had caused the Aramean army to hear the clatter of speeding chariots and the galloping of horses and the sounds of a great army approaching. “The king of Israel has hired the Hittites and Egyptians to attack us!” they cried to one another.  So they panicked and ran into the night, abandoning their tents, horses, donkeys, and everything else, as they fled for their lives. When the lepers arrived at the edge of the camp, they went into one tent after another, eating and drinking wine; and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and hid it. – 2 Kings 7:3-8

As the 4 lepers took a risk to change their situation God intervened for them!  If they had done nothing they would have died where they were wondering why God had never helped them!!

Have you ever wondered why God usually shows up right at the end when we can’t make it?  I don’t think it’s because He likes to make us wait.  I believe most times it’s because we wait until we’re desperate to take a risk and make a move.

When God blesses it usually more than expected.  The lepers were hoping to survive but God gave them more than they could carry.  This abundance caused them to think of others.  (Usually when you’re hurting it’s hard to think of blessing others.)

Be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  Risk-takers fail more but they also achieve more.  Noone ever gained ground in a battle by watching from the sidelines.  You have to get in there, fight, bleed and risk it all!

Finally, they said to each other, “This is not right. This is a day of good news, and we aren’t sharing it with anyone! If we wait until morning, some calamity will certainly fall upon us. Come on, let’s go back and tell the people at the palace.” So they went back to the city and told the gatekeepers what had happened.- 2 Kings 7:9-10

The reward to the risk taker is meant to be shared with others.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  Don’t wait until your last 30 Days to take that life-changing risk. Risk takers accomplish more for God and also take others around them to new levels in God, thereby gaining bigger blessings themselves in the process.  To fulfill your destiny on this planet you can’t play it safe.

Prayer

Dear Jesus help me to be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  My desire is to fulfill your destiny for me on this planet and I know I can’t do that by playing it Safe.  I give my fear of failure, my insecurity about what others may think of me and yes even the lack of trust I have in you.  Point me in the right direction and I will take a leap of faith knowing you’ll be there to catch me if I fall.

Thoughts

  • When is the last time risked failure to achieve a life goal?
  • When is the last time I took a risk to accomplish something BIG for God.

Action

  • Ask God for a vision that is too big for you to accomplish on your own
  • Take one step towards your impossible dream today.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day 18: 30 Days to Glorify God

Bill Morgan gives us a glimpse of what he’ll be teaching this Sunday.

Isaiah 43:7 – Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory.

When one is facing the end of their life their entire perspective changes. One of the questions that comes up is “Did my life count?” For those of us who know Christ, given 30 Days to Live we can make our life count.

First we must recognize that God makes it simple. It is man who complicates the gospel for his own gain. The prophet Isaiah spoke the words of God plainly, “I have made them for my Glory.” Who is the “them” in this verse it’s those who “Claim Jesus as their God”. I have asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and I “Claim” Jesus as my God therefore I was made for God’s Glory.  If I was made for His glory then how do I give glory to God?

There are many answers to that question, many ways to glorify God. Anything that I do to further, promote, or expand the Kingdom of God brings Glory to God. When I read the bible and begin to change my thinking into the thinking of God, I give God Glory. When I love like 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, I give God Glory. When I feed the hungry, cloth the naked and give a cup of water in Jesus name, I give God glory. I know understand that the list is endless.

If I were to sum it up it would be this;

Matthew 6:33 – But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

If the question is, “Did my life count?” I could say, “Yes it did.” Why? Because I talked to someone about Christ and I lifted up a brother in need. I helped the poor whenever I could.

In the Song of Solomon it says, “Catch us the little foxes who spoil the young buds on the vine”. The buds become flowers and the flowers become the fruit of the vine. It’s not the big things that spoil the entire vineyard; it’s the small things. Likewise, Jesus says that if we are faithful in the small things we are worthy of bigger things. Giving God glory is not about the big things it’s about the little things. Offering to pray with someone who is down, inviting someone to church and even simply stopping in the middle of your day and thanking Jesus for being a part of your life. All of this brings glory to Him who made you.

When we give God Glory we are fulfilling the purpose of why we are here, we are making our life count.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, show me how to glorify you today.  Make me aware of the opportunities I pass by daily unaware.  I want to glorify you in every way.

Thoughts for Today

  • What did I do to bring glory to God yesterday?
  • Do I put God’s Kingdom first?

Action List

  • Ask one person if you can pray for them today.

Live the Dash

The one thing we all have in common is death.  Rich, poor, hard worker, lazy, good person, criminal, Christian or Atheist, e will all die at some point

You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. –  James 4:14

Life is short and sometimes hard, yet most of us want to live as long as possible.  We are always trying to invent medicine that will cure terminal diseases, we try to eat healthier to cheat death a little longer, but in span of eternity, life is brief.

When I think of death I often think of cemeteries and gravestones.  On a person gravestone there is a name, maybe a picture or a cross, sometimes a one-line epitaph describing their life like “beloved mother” …different styles and sizes, but they usually all have a birth date and a date of death.  A simple, thin line called a dash separates these two important items. That dash represents our whole life!

We have no control over the date we were born and little control over the date when we die.  The only thing we can control is the dash! How we live and what we do with the brief time we have on this planet is all we can dictate.

The dash is an appropriate symbol because most of us dash through our lives and don’t stop to consider what our purpose is.  A few years back there was a movie called “The Bucket List.” In the movie, billionaire Edward Cole and working class mechanic Carter Chambers have nothing in common except for their terminal illnesses. While sharing a hospital room together, they decide to leave and do all the things they have ever wanted to do before they die, a list of things to do before they “kick the bucket”* hence the name, “The Bucket List.”

Maybe it’s not living longer that should be the goal but living FULLER.  Live the Dash, it’s all you’ve got.

Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” – John 10:10

God wants us to have a full, rich life.  Don’t waste time on temporary things that don’t matter.

Last, faith, hope and love will last forever.  Put your time and energy into these things that will follow you into eternity.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to remember that this life is brief.  Help me to remember that only that which is done for you will last and to prioritize my life with an eternal perspective. Help me today to live for eternal things.

Thoughts for Today

  • What did I do yesterday that helped make someone’s life better?
  • If I found out I had 30 days to live would I be happy with what I’ve done with my life?

Action List

  • Do one thing off your bucket list and enjoy!
  • Do one thing to enrich someone else’s life today.

————-
* Note: the term kick the bucket comes from England in the late 1700s where people who would commit suicide by hanging would often stand a bucket in their barn, tie a rope around the beam above and on their necks, then kick the bucket over to hang themselves.

Someday Syndrome

Are you suffering from the “Someday Syndrome”? Someday, I’ll go to college, someday, I’ll quit smoking, someday, I’ll clean the clutter off my desk, someday, I’ll get healthier, someday, I’ll live for God, someday, I’ll spend more time with family, someday, I’ll get my finances in order, when I have more time, when the kids are older, when I feel better, when work isn’t so crazy, someday, someday…someday never comes.

This Easter we will begin a journey called 30 Days to Live. This journey will focus on helping us to stop waiting for “someday” and make the most of our lives.

When Christ came to this earth He had a purpose in mind, saving you and me.  He kept that purpose in the forefront of His mind because He knew His time on earth was short.

“Why did you need to search for me?” He asked. “Didn’t you know that I must about my Father’s business?” – Luke 2:49

He kept focused on the task with the urgency of a builder facing a deadline.  Have you ever had a school paper or a work project due tomorrow that you scrambled to finish on time?  We all have.  Starting Sunday we’re gonna live like we’re dying, to quote the lyrics of Kris Allen.

What if you only had 30 Days to Live?  How would you live differently?  What’s keeping you from doing that now?

The Next Level, What Got You This Far Won’t Get You There!

Many people talk about “getting to the next level”.  We here is in business, from financial gurus, from relationship advisors and in our churches.  This year we’re going to a ‘Hole ‘Nother Level! (HNL) Have you ever wondered how?

Most people don’t enjoy change but the stark reality is that we can’t get to a HNL by doing the same things we did to get to this level.  I’m a big fan of consistency and realize that many things may be accomplished simply by not quitting BUT leaps in success or growth are almost always preceded by changes in behavior. One definition of insanity is “to repeat the same behavior over and over, expecting a different result.”  The method, the priorities, the effort, the staff, the relationships…something has to change.

As I look at how differently people perceive church growth I realize that usually the first thing must change is people’s perception of the situation.  Whether it’s a person who looks at a picture of themselves on the web and says, “Am I that fat?” or a business who makes excuses, “We’re losing customers because it’s a bad economy.” or a church that stops to realize that they haven’t experienced God converting more than “two sinners to saints” in the same year in so long, they can’t find a record for it…HOW the situation is viewed is the key to change, which is the key to beginning to grow.

I’ll talk more about church growth next blog but for now, please take a hard look at your relationships, your finances, your body, your career, your spiritual life, are your growing in that area or are you stagnant?

After the realization that a change is needed, ask the question “What needs to change?”

Next blog I’ll apply this to growing your church.

Presenting the Gospel in a Visual Society

We opened with a 10 minutes drama of people’s different fears, death, public speaking, heights, snakes, drowning etc. I’m so proud of our creative and drama teams! It was awesome. I think the sermon was very well received also.  Were the drama and message effective?  Well, 2 people gave their lives to the Lord for the 1st time!

I loved the drama opening for the sermon but that sort of thing always brings questions into some observers mind. “Why do we need all those lights?” or “Is this just a show?”

Why do we use drama, video, decorations, give aways etc. to present the gospel?  It’s because we live in a visual society.  We are trying to reach a generation raised on television, movies, graphic design and the web.  Most of their classes in school will suppliment the teacher’s lecture with videos and Internet information.  Does this water down the gospel? No.

Presenting the gospel with more than words isn’t something new.  Jesus used imagery such as a “camel passing through the eye of a needle” and “a sower who planted seed.”  No, presenting the truths of the Kingdom of God in a visually stimulating medium isn’t a new idea or even’s man’s idea.  Jesus was doing it thousands of years ago.

The key is using the visual presentation to reinforce the message or present the message in a different way but the message never changes!!  It’s still that we are all depraved sinners worthy of judgment and damnation but God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to horribly suffer taking our punishment, then die, rising again to bring us the impossible reward of eternal bliss in heaven.

We will use the methods that will reach the audience but always remember to keep the message the same, we need Christ and thankfully He wants us.

Life, a Marathon not a Sprint

I can’t count the number of times in the last four years I’ve wanted to resign from ministry because of discouragement, conflict, feeling under appreciated or the disappointment that can only come from watching  people leaving the Lord’s will for their life.  When you feel this way remember the only way you lose is if you quit.

Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. – Philippians 2:16

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  Any marathon runner will tell you that there are multiple times you want to quit either in training or the race itself. Here’s some things to remember…

1. Remember God’s words (either in scripture or personally) God has promised for your life. Hold fast to the word of life, they bring hope when you see none in your circumstances.

2. Remember that nothing we do (if done for the Lord and not our own desires) is done in vain.

3. Remember not to compare. It’s never wise to compare yourself to someone else because you don’t know what they walked through to get to that place or how their race will finish (2 Corithians 10:12).

Woody Allen said half of life was just showing up. I don’t know about that but I know half of life is not quitting.  So brush off those skinned knees, sake a sip of living water and start jogging again.  You’ll finish the race and hear “well done” if you just don’t quit.

Knowing What to Expect

On Easter this year we did something different.  We didn‘t do anyting different.  No Easter play, no choir robes, no lillies, just our normal service.  I told our over 20 1st time guest and dozens of occasionaly attenders why.  “I want you to see what this church is all about each week in the hope that you’ll come back.”  I continued, “We’re not just going to do a great show on Easter and let you be disappointed next time you’re here!  The same music, teaching style and welcoming atmosphere will be here every time you come.”

I hope this approach also made out members and regular attenders feel encouraged.  They know that any week they invite their friends to church that they can expect a few things to happen.

  • Their friends will be made to feel welcomed
  • The music will be off the chain!
  • The teaching will apply to their lives.
  • It will NOT be boring. (We use creative methods and humor.)
  • God will meet with them.

Do you clearly communicate to your friends and family what they can expect when they come to church?  Can they look at your life and know what to expect from Christianity.  Talk to people.  You’ll be very surprised at what they think is going to happen if they follow God.

Check out: http://www.houseofpraise.cc/whattoexpect.html

Finding Direction in the New Year

Have you ever felt lost?  Feeling like we have no direction, no purpose.  I think we all have.  As we begin 2009 our church took a look at how to find direction and purpose for our lives.  Here’s some highlights…

First Focus on Eternal Things.

I know it sounds funny to think about getting direction for our life by getting the focus off ourselves but that’s exactly how it works. Some good verses on this…

Prov 23:4-5 – Don’t weary yourself trying to get rich. Why waste your time? For riches can disappear as though they had the wings of a bird!

Matt 6:33 teaches us to pursue the Kingdom of God and live righteously then God will take care of our career, finances etc.

Prov 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.

Begin with the Bible.

It’s amazing how many times we forget to read the creator’s guide to life when we are trying to figure life out.  It reminds me of a story of an at critic who stood in a gallery describing what the artist was trying to say with a painting when another man walked up and said actually I think the artist meant something completely different.  The critic indignant with pride snapped “How would you know?”  “Well I painted it.” the man replied as he walked away.  Let’s ask the one who made us what we should be doing.

Psalm 119:104-105 – Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life. Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.

Spend time directly in God’s presence.

There are things the word is silent on.  Where should you work?  What house should you buy?  These things God will speak directly to us as we pray.

Pslam 57:2 – I will cry to God Most High, who will fulfill His purposes for me. 

James 1:5If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask Him, and He will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking

Don’t give up.

After we have heard God for ourselves we must take action and never give up until His word to us is fulfilled. (Gal 6:7-10)