Fastest Growing Churches Have Modern Worship & Teach Literal Bible Interpretation

That’s the headline from the Christian Post that popped up in my Facebook feed recently.  This article was quoting a study of North American, denominational, Protestant churches.  The study compared growing and declining churches and concluded that “Theology Matters.”

One pastor interviewed about the study* stated that

“I think the wisdom of that study is the two parts. There does need to be a modern sense of an expression of the faith while at the same time a conservative, Orthodox view of Christianity,”.

What is an Orthodox view of Christianity?

  • Over 93% of those leading growing churches believe in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus. Compared to only 56% of those in the study leading declining churches.
  • 100% of those leading growing churches believe God does miracles in response to prayer where only 44% of those in the study leading declining churches.

Here’s a crazy side note: 80% of the congregants surveyed from declining churches believe God answers prayers with miracles so maybe they just need better leaders. It seems to me that as a person who believes in the literal resurrection and that God still does miracles when we pray, if my pastor didn’t, I would leave that church.  Maybe that’s why they are declining…hmmm.

This study teaches us three things if we want our church to grow.

1.    Modern Matters. People prefer modern style worship services.

2.    Theology Matters. People want churches to believe in literal interpretation of the Bible.

3.    Evangelism Matters. Growing churches evangelize.

Every church leader surveyed from growing churches believed that it was ‘very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians.’ Only half of those in declining churches felt the same way.  If you don’t believe the Great Commission to go and make disciples is ‘very important’ then you’ll probably be leading a declining church.

For more on personal evangelism see Your Story Matters.

If you lead a church where your theology is sound but you still find yourself stagnant of declining. I can help.  A great first step would be to Come to the Maximizing Easter seminar.

The Maximizing Easter seminar will give you the tools to unlock your church’s growth potential. Potential that is there each Easter, but is untapped by stagnant or declining churches.

I am hosting this seminar, near Albany, NY with church growth expert Nelson Searcy, who has helped hundreds of churches grow.

What have you got to lose by checking it out? Go to: https://churchleaderinsights.com/maxeaster/albany/  to learn about unlocking your church’s growth potential this Easter.

 

PS: You’re not a church leader?  Send this blog to your pastor!  I want to help your church and your pastor.

 

 

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*Read the whole study at http://www.christianpost.com/news/fastest-growing-churches-have-modern-worship-teach-literal-interpretation-of-the-bible-study-171607

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Your Story Matters

It’s important to tell your story. It matters.  There are people waiting out there that will be encouraged, helped, inspired, motivated and maybe even saved by your story. Why? Because your story is unique.

Your Story Matters Because It’s Unique.

No one else has the exact same story to tell.  It’s not that your story is better or worse, it’s simply unique.  We have to avoid the trap of comparing our story to other people’s story.  Helping others with your story is not about telling a better story or a more shocking story than someone else.  It is simply telling your story in your unique way.  Someone who wouldn’t be touched by my story or my style is waiting to hear from you.  Have trouble believing that?  Well it’s true.

I remember sharing my story of how I came to be a follower of Jesus.  Here’s a summary: I had a great job, a company car, an apartment the company paid for all in my mid 20’s but something was missing.  I thought it was a long-term relationship, that didn’t help. I visited a church a friend invited me to and found something different from the church religion of my youth.  God was real and present today.  I kept saying “He’s real.” over and over again.  I actually cried at the altar and I hadn’t cried since I was young. I said to God, “I always want to be this way. Open before you.” I have never looked back since.  (I even cry at extreme home make over now, but that’s another story.

When I shared this story of how my life changed, several people came up to me and stated that they though only people with serious problems had ‘testimonies’.  They told me that they never felt like they had a story to tell.  Now they did.  It’s not always the bottom that brings you to turn to God sometimes it’s the emptiness of success or every day life.

This leads me to the next reason you should tell your story:

Other People Will Identify With Your Story.storytelling_quote4

I have a close friend who once told me they could never share their story in public because it was too painful.  My friend also felt no one else could identify with what they’d been through and she didn’t want pity.  You see, she’d been rape repeatedly as a child by her own father.

Who could understand this horror story?  Certainly no one could benefit.  You can probably guess the rest.  She finally did have the courage to share her story and the response was amazing.  Many woman (and a few men) came forward to say they were also molested by a family member or other person.  One woman even contacted her to say, “I never thought I could tell someone my story because they wouldn’t believe it.”  She also had been raped by her father.

In the years to follow, my wife and I had the privilege of providing spiritual counsel (alongside professional counselors) for 4 woman who also have lived through this same horrifying experience with their fathers.  What if my friend never told her story?  These other woman wouldn’t have received the help they needed.

You Can Learn to Easily Tell Your Story.

The easiest way to organize your story is to answer these four questions:

  1. What was you life like before?
    (I had a great job, new car, apartment but wasn’t fulfilled.)
  2. What happened to cause you to change?
    (I felt empty, like there was no purpose.)
  3. What happened at the moment of life-change?
    (My friend invited me to church and Jesus became real to me.)
  4. How is your life different now?
    (I now feel fulfilled and have given my life to help others.)

Conclusion:

There’s a lot of ways to improve the world; volunteer, give to charity, acts of kindness, stand up for justice…but I think the most powerful way is to simply share your story.  It will travel far beyond that moment through the life of the person changed.

Be a Difference Maker today.  Tell your story.

 

 

3 Reasons to Read Your Bible Today

As we’ve been studying the Book of Acts this summer, we’ve learned how good actions can cause a great chain-reaction. During this series, many people have told me they enjoyed reading an entire book of the Bible. This made me decide to write to you today.

I’ll be straight with you – I want to challenge you into doing something. My powers of persuasion rarely work to talk my kids into cleaning their rooms, but I’m hoping for better results with you today.

I’m hoping to convince you to read the Bible every day this week. 7 days in a row. Here are three reasons I think you should:

1. There’s interesting stuff in the Bible.
Don’t ever let someone tell you the Bible is boring. If someone says that, they aren’t reading it right. A fish vomiting up Jonah, all the animals on Noah’s Ark, David and sling vs. Goliath, Samson and Delilah, wars and conquest, love and marriage, miracles, oh, and a dead man coming back to life…I could go on and on. There are some incredible stories in the Bible.

2. The Bible is not like any other book.
This might surprise you, but the Bible isn’t really a book at all. It’s a collection of 66 small books and letters. It was written by 40 different authors across a couple of continents, spread over thousands of years, and in three languages. It’s been collected, organized and preserved for us by the Holy Spirit and God’s servants.

3. The Bible has influenced the world like no other book.
The Bible has shaped more lives than any single thing ever! – It’s influenced Presidents and Kings as well as shaping nations.  Before I was a Christ follower I wanted to read the Bible because of it being the most widely read book every written.  Now, I read it because I know it’s the word of the Living God.

I know reading the Bible seems overwhelming…but did you know if you read just 15 minutes a day, you can read the whole Bible in about a year. If you read God’s Word for just 15 minutes a day, I think you will benefit.

SO, WHERE DO I START?

I know this sounds weird, but if you want to start reading the Bible, I don’t recommend starting from the beginning. (I told you the Bible wasn’t like other books…can you imagine starting a novel from the middle?)

If I were you, I would start with the New Testament, specifically the Gospel of John. It’s all about the love of Jesus, and it was written by one of his best friends.

So what do you say? Will you give it a try?

God Bless,
Pastor Lon

P.S. If you want to read online, or on your tablet, try youversion.com. It’s free and you can follow one of their reading plans or just dive in to the Book of John.

The A-B-Cs of Faith

People often ask about faith.  Faith is often mentioned in the Bible but it is one of those subjective topics that people have various opinions on.
What are the basics about faith that we can learn from scripture?

It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him. – Hebrews 11:6[1]

We see that faith is important to God.  In fact, it’s impossible to please Him without it.  Hebrews chapter 11 is filled with people who received God’s blessing through faith.  What is faith exactly?

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. – Hebrews 11:1

Faith believes confidently that what we are hoping for will exactly happen for us!  It’s more than a wish or a dream.  It’s a confident assurance in an expected answer.  We have faith in things all the time.  We have faith that when we sit the chair will hold us up.  (Unless you struggle with a fat-guy fear.)  We expect a certain behavior.  Biblically God expects us to have faith in Him to behave in a way that He promised He would.

It’s not about GREAT faith, but child-like, mustard-seed-size faith.  We have all been given a measure of faith and it only takes faith the size of a small seed, to move mountains.  Therefore, it’s not about how great your faith is, just if you have any.

How can we exercise faith?  Here’s a simply A-B-C how to guide:

Always Agree with the Word of God.

Don’t worry about not having enough faith, simply agree with God’s word.  The old bumper sticker said it best “God said it.  I believe it, and that settles it!”

If you’re not going to agree with God’s word what are you going to agree with? The negative reports?  The nay-sayers?

We have faith that if we accept Christ’s work as our salvation we shall get to heaven.  Then we should also believe all the other promises He makes us in His word.

Boldly Believe that God rewards those who seek Him.

We have a wrong belief that God is aloof or uncaring.  He loves us and desires to bless us. If we agree with God’s word and we believe He loves us then we will expect His blessing when we seek Him!

If you believe something, you have to act like it.  Be a doer of the word, not a hearer only (James 1:22).  When God told Noah there was going to be a flood and to build an Ark, Noah believed Him.  How do we know?  We know because Noah spent the next 100 years building a giant boat in the desert!!

Side note:  This doesn’t mean be foolish.  The devil ask Jesus to prove His belief in God’s word by jumping off a building (Matthew 4:1-11) but Jesus replied “not to teat God.”  Don’t let the devil get you to take a ‘leap of foolishness’ thinking it’s a ‘leap of faith’.

Confidently Confess the Word of God aloud.

The tongue is like a rudder steering you to where you will go.  Eventually what keep saying will come to pass in your life.  If continually tell yourself you can’t do something, you can be sure you won’t.

Note: Speaking something isn’t all that take to get somewhere, there is also obedience, aligning with God’s will and more but you can be sure that if you confess you won’t, you won’t.

In John chapter 1 people ask John the Baptist who he is.  John’s responds in humility (not worthy to unstrap the Lord’s sandle) and confidence in God working through Him (I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.)  It’s not arrogance to confidently confess that God is going to do for you and through you, exactly what He said He would do…it’s faith!

It’s my hope that this simple ABCs of Faith will bless you an


[1] All scripture references are quoted from the New Living Translation unless otherwise noted.

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?

A Letter of Gratitiude

A few weeks ago (during our “Go Fish!” I asked the entire church to write a letter to thank the person who “hooked” you for Jesus.  I know, corny, but the lesson is great. Even if you never send the letter or the person is deceased, the exercise of writing it will help you remember how much you were impacted by that person sharing their faith.  That fact will in turn help you to share your faith with others, brilliant.  Thank you Andy Stanley for the idea.

If have never done this…DO IT TODAY.  Here’s my letter to a young lady who simply invited me to church.

Dear Annie,

I am writing to thank you. It was 24 years ago this month that I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

I remember it started with me asking what I could get you for your birthday and you said, “I just want you to go to church with me.”  It took you continually asking me until October when I finally went!  I said, “If I go with you ONE time, will never ask me again?” and you agreed.  You told me years later how you had people pray because you were nervous this would be the only time I would go.

We went to Agape Christian Fellowship for a Sunday service. (You told me later you didn’t want to bring me to your dad’s church for my first time because he might embarrass you.)  You and Joanne picked me up so I couldn’t back out.

Before I left my parent’s house, my father told me how to know if it was a cult. He said if the people had beady eyes and there were guards at the doors, it was a cult.  I laughed but when I got there, the preacher, Jason Peebles from Tulsa, had beady eyes!  I looked around and there were guards at the door.  (They called them ushers but I know what they were!) I started to panic, my dad wasn’t joking. This is a cult.  There are no statues of saints, not even a cross!  It’s a warehouse with some chairs and a stage!

People were raising their hands and swaying to the music, I heard some of them give this weird chant in another language!  I thought, “What was that, Latin or Wiccan?  I started to plan which “usher” I could knock over to run out an exit when everyone sat to hear the preacher.  I couldn’t tell you one thing he said, but at the end I found myself answering an altar call and asking Jesus to forgive my sins and take control of my life.

Although I was raised in a traditional church, I felt the presence of God’s Spirit for the first time in my life that day. I just began to say, “This is real.  He’s real.”  I had believed God was real before but had never met Him.  I started to cry for no reason.  I never cried!  I was a tough guy.  I prayed, “Lord I wan to always be this way, tender before you.” I still cry today when I feel God’s Spirit moving.

My life today is wonderful.  I lead a growing church with a wonderful group of people who actually want the reality of God in their everyday lives.  I wouldn’t be in the ministry today if you hadn’t prayed for me and invited me to church. Hundreds of peoples lives would have never been impacted by Joanne & myself in ministry.

I been privaledged to travel the world bringing the gospel to Brazil, Argentina, Curacao, Mexico, Kenya, England, Wales and Canada.  I have watched God heal many people including blind and deaf as I prayed for them.  I have watched God set hundreds of people free as we cast our demons and many, many salvations.  None of which would have happened if you didn’t share Christ with me.

My proudest achievement is as a godly husband ad father.  We have a great home and our four daughters all serve God.  Each has seen friends turn their lives over to Christ.  You also introduced me to Joanne.  We wouldn’t be married nor these girls be here, if you didn’t share Christ with both of us.

Like the image painted by the words of the old Ray Boltz song “Thank You”, only when you get to heaven will you understand the impact you have had on thousands of lives because you invited Joanne and myself to meet God.  Thank you.

Write your letter today.  It will help you to remember how important sharing your faith is.  If Anna had never invited me to church, none of the great things God has done in my life would have happened.

When 9-11 Happened, Where Were You?

When 9-11 happened I was working for the Department of Defense as a consultant at the former Griffiss Airbase in Rome, NY. Someone called to us all to come see what was happening. There was a plane crash in NY City.  We had one TV in the office and we all huddled around it.  We gasped as we watched the second plane hit the second tower.  I was stunned.  Two planes couldn’t be an accident.

Our boss walked in the room and announced that the Airforce had called to tell us stay inside.  All of Griffiss was locked down and we would be ‘detained’ or possibly shot if we went outside by patrols.  I thought, “This can’t be happening.”

I thought the lockdown was unnecessary because Griffiss was a decommissioned base. Most of it was a business & technology park. There were a few military offices still present, such as Rome Lab and the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) buildings, but we shouldn’t be a target in little Rome, NY.  Then someone explained that early detection radar for the North Atlantic was still housed there.

Well it was a very trying day to say the least.  I called my wife to tell her what was happening and we waited for hours, glued to the TV and Internet looking for information.  We heard something about another plane hitting the Pentagon and one headed for the Whitehouse. This was like some bad movie.  Could we really be under attack on American soil? Were they really using our own commercial planes?  Unthinkable!

I thought about the people who died in those planes and how some of their families probably watched in on TV like I did. I paused to pray for them.

When we were finally let go, I drove home as fast I could to my wife and three small daughters, not knowing what the night would bring.  Then I prayed for us all.

Could it be ten years later already?  It seems so clear in my memory, like it was last week.  Yet, I realize I’ve lived in Albany for over 6 years and my kids are all older, then it seems a long time ago.

We have moved on in most of our nation but there are huge exceptions. The families of the people lost when the Twin Towers fell…they can’t just move on.  Their lives are forever changed. I’m sure many of the people who had loved ones on the planes, still have nightmares, images of planes hitting skyscrapers. Horrible memories reactivated by news stories or the latest Made-For-TV movie. To the military families that still have love ones fighting in far away deserts, 9-11 wasn’t that long ago.  The New Yorkers who will walk by the Ground Zero Memorial will never forget that day.

Someday I will tell stories to my Grandkids about 9-11 the way my mother told my kids about Pearl Harbor.  I’ll talk about how stunned we were sure, but more about how proud I was of our nations reaction.  We weren’t different races or social groups, no.  We were proud to be Americans and willing to fight to keep our nation safe.  I’ll talk about how stores sold out of flags and how I never saw people be so patriotic.

Yes, our nation has healed and we’re back to bickering among ourselves.  That’s ok; disagreement is healthy so long as it doesn’t become division and strife.  My prayer is that we will stay one nation, under God, indivisible and that it won’t take another attack to get us to work together for good.  I hope you’ll join me in that prayer and praying for the families of our fallen fellow Americans.

Beyond Redemption

A few weeks ago I preached a message on how the church should treat gay people.  I called it Out of the Closet and Into the Church. (http://sc.fhview.com/sc_customplayer/seriesitems/1/118751) The goal of this message was for the church to examine our attitudes towards this particular people group.  After the message an elderly woman approached me.  She was wearing oxygen and walking with a walker.  I must admit I thought, “Here we go.”  I expected her to rebuke me for not condemning homosexuality during the sermon.  Much to my surprise she asked a simple question…

“What about murderers?” she inquired.

There was an unexpected brightness in her eyes, a curiosity and vigor for life one wouldn’t expect given her frail frame.

“Excuse me?” I muttered.  Really it wasn’t that I didn’t hear her, I just needed a moment to collect my thoughts.  I was prepared for an onslaught of fire and brimstone senior saints, not an inquisitive truth seeker.

After all, I had just preached the most controversial sermon of my career.  I opened with “If you came here expecting me to condemn homosexuality today, you will be disappointed.” I chastised the church asking why we celebrated a straight couple who was sexually active, even living together, coming to church. We allowed them time for God to work on them without judgment but let a gay couple walk in holding hands…whoooo.  They weren’t welcome.  I did my best Jesus imitation calling us hypocrites.  The church just nodded.  I the weeks to follow, not one letter or disagreement.  I’m so proud of our local church and their Christ-like love.

Anyways, here I was after that sermon, expecting a fight, instead facing a sweet senior saint who still wanted to grow and learn in her last years on this earth.  Humbling.

“Excuse me?” I muttered.  “Murderers.” She repeated more forcefully. “They are much harder to love and accept than homosexuals. What about murderers? Can they be forgiven and go to heaven?”

I explained that the Apostle Paul helped to kill early Christians before his conversion and that god didn’t just forgive Paul but wrote 2/3 of the New Testament through his hands.  I excitedly told her that Michael Franzese was coming to answer that very question.  To tell her how a Mafia Boss, a murderer, can be forgiven…and that no one is beyond redemption.

Three weeks later, my eyes lighted upon a pair of bright, excited eyes in a back section of a packed sanctuary. She was back to hear the former Mob Boss’ story of redemption. She smiled at me as she pointed to a row full of her family.  Full of confidence in God’s love for all sinners, she had brought her family to hear that there is no one beyond redemption.

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

Celebrating Bin Laden’s Death

Like most American’s I was interesting in the news on May 1st that Bin Laden was finally dead. My first feeling was one of relief. I remember thinking “finally.” That feeling was later mixed with skepticism when hearing the circumstances surrounding the body (no photos of corpse, hurry up burial at sea etc.) but this is not a blog about conspiracy theories.

As a Christian, the more I more I saw people celebrate the more convicted I became. I thought, “What is the appropriate response for me as a pastor and even more importantly as a follower of Jesus?”

I’m not presuming to tell you how you should feel. I’m just trying to make us all take a breath and think for moment.  A little WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) time.  Doesn’t God sorrow even when evil men die?

Now I understand the concept of a just war.  The Bible is filled with people being put to death for rejecting God or attacking Israel. There must be the concept of a just war in society to defend the weak or stop those committing evil. My questions come because I also Jesus weeping over the people who have rejected His salvation. (Matthew 23:37)

Look at this warning from the Bible…

Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall; don’t be happy when they stumble. For the Lord will be displeased with you and will turn his anger away from them. – Proverbs 24:17-18

This verse teaches us to be careful not to rejoice in death. I would think, especially not to rejoice that someone was sent to an eternal hell.  I celebrate our troops who serve selflessly to preserve our freedom and safety.  I even celebrate that fact that Bin Laden’s death will probably save many other lives.  I can even feel a sense of satisfaction that justice has been served. I just question the celebration.

Psalm 37:28 says, “The Lord loves Justice.” I know you’re thinking, “This terrorist finally got what he deserved.” and it’s true.  However, I don’t want God to give me what I deserve because we all deserve hell. (Romans 3:10-23)

The Apostle Paul was a murderer, so was King David. When they repented God forgave them.  I have had the privilege of ministering to murders before and the main message I bring is always grace and forgiveness for all we’ve done.

The question that bring this situation into focus is this…Would we have celebrated as much if Bin Laden had repented and accepted Christ?

Now again, I’m not pointing fingers and trying to tell you what to feel or that your feelings are wrong.  I’m just asking myself…”Should I celebrate the death of anyone, no matter what good comes from it?”

It’s just a simple question.

7 Principles for Sharing Christ this Summer

I don’t normally share other people’s articles but this said everything I would like to say in a better way…
The summer months provide excellent opportunities to cultivate relationships with unbelievers and tell them about our Savior. However, finding time to do so can be a challenge. After all, our summers are often filled with vacations, outdoor events, children’s activities, etc.

How do we take advantage of the summer months to impact the lost for Christ even in the midst of a busy schedule? Here are some principles to remember and put into practice:

  1. Be balanced – How balanced is your life between non-Christians and Christians? There is nothing Biblical about spending all your time with believers.  Jesus Christ spent time with sinners. He was even known as their friend (Matt. 11:19). We cannot have personal evangelism without personal contact.
  2. Be proactive— View relationships with the intent to see the unbelievers come to have the greatest relationship there is – an eternal relationship with Christ. Go to them. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Consider the broad base of non-Christian contacts you already have including:
    • Immediate friends and family
    • Neighbors, co-workers, employees, landlords
    • Newspaper carrier, mailman, barber or hairstylist, grocery store checker, waiter or waitress
    • Car dealer, insurance agent, accountant, attorney, banker
    • Doctor, dentist, nurse, pharmacist
    • Plumber, electrician, mechanic
    • Teacher, professor, coach, classmate
  3. Be intentional—Take the initiative. Look at everything you are doing this summer. Then ask, “Could this be done with a non-Christian included?”
  4. Be sensitive—People that take time to listen are rare in our fast paced culture. Take the time to give someone your undivided attention. Letting them know you care may provide an opportunity to tell them about Christ.
  5. Be prayerful – We are totally dependent on the Holy Spirit in evangelism. Pray that the Lord will provide opportunities, give you the sensitivity to recognize them, and give you boldness to share the gospel.
  6. Be prepared—Move into the gospel presentation as God gives you the opportunity. If you don’t know what to say, EvanTell offers free on-line evangelism training at www.act111.org. Get trained so that when God gives you the opportunity, you’ll be ready.
  7. Be creative – For practical tips on how to develop relationships with non-Christians during the summer check out this blog series (Summer Evangelism IdeasMore Summer Evangelism IdeasAnd More Summer Evangelism Ideas).

Do you have any strategies to add to this list?  Send them to me.

God bless

Pastor Lon

Breaking Religious Taboos

Did you know that Jesus didn’t follow all the religious rules of His day? His methods weren’t welcomed in the established places of worship.  He hung out with the wrong crowd.  He overcame social and cultural barriers to reach people.  Jesus had to break many religions taboos to make a way to the Father for all of us.

In John 4:1-30, there is a story of the brief interaction between Jesus and a Samaritan Woman at the town well.

Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”  He was alone at the time because His disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. (v7-9)

Samaria was conquered Assyria 722 BC. The Samaritans intermarried with the foreigners. Therefore they were not regarded as fully Jewish. At the time of Jesus there was a lot of hatred between them. Jesus’ dealings with this woman illustrates His ministry breaking down barriers between Jews and Samaritans.

Jesus broke several taboos with this meeting.  He broke the racial prejudice that Jews had against Samaritans.  He broke the religious bias towards the Samaritans as being inferior Jews or ‘unclean’.  Last Jesus tackled the chauvinist view of women that was prominent in His culture.  Jesus often broke taboo as to how women should be treated.

Mary Magdalene; Joanna, the wife Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and other women traveled with Jesus contributing their own resources to support Him and His disciples. (Luke 8:1-3) This was scandalous for a woman to leave her homes and travel with a rabbi.  Unheard of!  Unthinkable!  Yet Jesus had several woman travel with Him throughout His ministry time.  In the orthodox, first century temples women and men were separated by a screen.  Jesus was one of the world’s first feminists treating woman as ‘joint-heirs’ of salvation.

Why is this important to us today?  Because to truly follow Jesus we must break down the social, cultural and even religious taboos we have been taught.  These things keep people from following God.  More next blog.

Lent and Self Examination

I was raised Catholic and always participated in Lent growing up.  I would give up candy, not eat meat on Fridays etc. While I know longer participate in the ritualistic practices of Lent, I appreciate the idea behind the Catholic Sacrament that takes place during the season. Abstaining from certain pleasures and foods for the purpose of getting closer to God is a biblical practice I often do called fasting & prayer. In the Catholic Sacrament of Lent, they also set aside time for mourning ones sin.  I’m not advocating that part because we don’t need to mourn sin that God has forgiven. If we’ve repented we’re clean (1 John 1:9).

There is Biblical reference for Lent, I do however think the practice of examining our lives and praying with fasting during the days prior to Easter is a good habit to get into.

We are fasting and praying for people to accept God’s gift of salvation this Easter.  Our church is fasting and gathering the Wednesday before Easter to pray together. I cancelled our satellite TV subscription for a while to spend more time reading and praying.  (Extra bonus, the kids are actually playing outside.  No joke, really, it’s true.)

I encourage you to turn of the T.V., skip a meal and pray more between now and Easter.  You may find yourself ‘mourning’ for  someone who hasn’t yet accepted God’s grace or maybe even ‘mourning’ and repenting a sin in your own life you didn’t even know was there.  I know I will.

Did Jesus Talk about Hell?

I have never liked fire and brimstone preaching.  It is His kindness that causes us to turn to Him.  I believe that when people understand the love of God, that is the fact that draws us to Him.  However, if we read the rest of this verse there is a warning of the dangers of rejecting Christ.

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. – Romans 2:4-5

Talking about Hell isn’t pleasant. No one should enjoy it, but it is important.  In over a dozen years of preaching I’ve never devoted a sermon to the reality of Hell.  So we decided that it was time to address the reality of Hell.

As an introduction our media team did “on the street” interviews in Albany.  In over an hour during the First Friday celebration, they could not find one person who believed in Hell.  Our Youth Director Michael commented in his blog that it saddened him. A friend of his then publicly rebuked him on Facebook for his condemning people.   She was doing what she accused him of, condemning Michael for his views.  Here’s my problem with it…it’s not Michael’s view.  It’s a biblical fact.

Described in many places in scripture as a place of fire (Mark 9:43-45, & 13:49-51) and torment (Revelation 14:10-11) Hell wasn’t meant for us.  It was created for the devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41).  God doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell (John 3:16). It is our rejection of Christ that causes us to go to Hell.

It’s like this, light can’t exist in the darkness.  You turn a light bulb on in the room darkness is expelled.  God is light. He is holy.  Sin or darkness can’t exist in His presence. It’s expelled.  We are all sinners (Romans 3:22-23) and therefore can’t enter heaven on our own.

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind. 48 When the net was full, they dragged it up onto the shore, sat down, and sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away. 49That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, 50throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 Do you understand all these things?” – Matthew 13:47-51

We are all wicked but some are made righteous by the blood of Jesus.

The response to a discussion on Hell is sometimes, “But Jesus taught about love and forgiveness, not hell.”  Actually, the quote above from Matthew 13 is Jesus talking.  He never wanted anyone to go to Hell, that’s why He came to make a way for us to heaven.

Excellence is an attitude not an ability

Excellence is an attitude not an ability

I walk into an unusually tidy bedroom to see one of my daughters.  “Wow, you’re room looks great.” I commented surprisingly.  She explained that mom had said she couldn’t leave her room until it was clean.  “How long have you been up here working?” I inquired.  “Oh, not long.” she replied.  The Sherlock Holmes in me became instantly interested.  “Not long” I thought.  “Not long!  I’ve seen this room.” I investigated the closet.  The door was pushed out off the track and it was nearly impossible to open, even for me.  I then noticed several items of close and toys protruding from under her bed.  You know what happened next. I proceeded to explain that stuffing piles into the closet and under the bed wasn’t what her mother had in mind when she used the word ‘cleaning’.  Over the whines and objections I calmly and loving instructed about doing your best, doing things with excellence.  I don’t think she got it but neither did I, the first hundred times my mom explained it to me.  “Sometimes you do the right thing just because it’s the right thing.” my mother with exclaim in response to my “But Whyyyyyyyy?”

Doing things with excellence is an attitude.  It’s about personal pride in a job well done.  It’s about knowing you answer to a higher standard than most. “I don’t care what others kids do…” my mom would teach, “we don’t behave that way.”

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. – Colossians 3:23

When you’re on your job, in you school, or serving at church.  Do you best because you are working for God and because it’s the right thing.

My daughter can’t clean her room as well as adult and we don’t expect her to.  We do however, expect her to give her best effort. God doesn’t say we have to BE the best; we just have to give God our best.  He’ll make up the lack to multiply it.  After all, He’s never been impressed with our ability, but He is keenly concerned about our attitude.

This Sunday at House of Praise, (www.NoPerfectPeopleHERE.com) we’ll look at Giving God Your Best.  I hope to see you there.

 

Jesus’ Prayer Model

In response to the inquiries of His disciples Jesus teaches them how to pray.  He offers up a prayer model when He says to them, “Pray like this…”

Matthew 6:9-13 (nlt)

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us today the food we need for today, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

This isn’t meant to be a prayer to be memorized and mindlessly repeated.  In fact, right before these verses Jesus tells us not to repeat the same prayer over and over like the heathen, who think they will be heard because of their much talking.  It’s a model.

The prayer is broken down into a sequential order that will help Christ’s followers pray more effectively.  6 requests to God the Father are featured.

First 3 requests are about God:

1. May your name be holy,
2. May your kingdom come,
3. May your will be done

This structure addresses all parts of the Trinity; Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  God the Father, whose name is holy; Jesus, who brought God’s Kingdom to earth; and The Holy Spirit, who leads us into God’s will today.

Next 3 requests are about Us:

1. Give us our daily food,
2. Forgive our sins,
3. Keep us from temptation, which rescues us from the evil one.

Again the Trinity is addressed in these petitions for God’s help. The Father supplies our needs, Jesus paid the price for our sins to be forgiven, and the Holy Spirit leads us away from temptation and into righteousness.  The point?When we pray we should involve all three parts of God.

Another huge lesson here is to begin with God and then move to our needs. The first three requests are great.  They are about God: His holiness, His Kingdom, and His will…huge, monumental topics.  The second set of requests is small, ordinary, and everyday.  They’re about us, normal, everyday people.  We NEED food, we NEED forgiveness (and to give forgiveness) and we NEED God’s help with temptation and the devil everyday.  “Lord help me not to fall into that old sin habit again today.“

There is such a huge truth hidden in these four little verses.  We must first rehearse the immensity of God’s nature but then remember He cares for my little needs because of who He is.  Pray that His name would be hallowed or revered in my life, that His Kingdom would dominate me, and that His will would be performed.  If that happens, the three requests for my needs are easy.

Another truth revealed in the passage, is that we should begin praying about the eternal, the Kingdom stuff, and then turn our attention to our needs. Oh, let’s not be falsely religious, we’re not beggars, we’re His children, we need to pray for our needs. Jesus used the word Father so we wouldn’t be afraid to go to Him who loves us.  My point is, let’s put God’s Kingdom first in our prayers, then our needs.  Let’s focus on the eternal more, the temporary less.

In heaven with a holy name gives us the balanced view. Yes, He’s your daddy but please don’t forget He is also the Almighty One.  The angels around the throne of God in heaven don’t cry love, love, love. They cry “holy, holy, holy!”  That is His dominant characteristic.  It is our job to make sure we reverence His name.  His name, refers to who He is, His character, His personhood. Before anything else we pray, we need to declare His holiness in us and in the world.  The beginning of the book Ephesians echos this process.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…v3

God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. v5

All the praise should go to The Father because He cared enough for us to save us.  After we’ve hallowed His name (separated it as unique, lifted it above all others), prayed for His Kingdom and His will to come, then we can run to Him with our problems!

At some point, your whole life shrinks down to your problem.  Financial pressure, “God I need bread!”…”Lord I messed up my life with sin!”…”Or God I’m overwhelmed with this struggle.”  We try to focus on God but the sickness, death, relationship problem, abuse, sin or other worry pulls our attention back to what’s right in front of us.  It’s not wrong to cast your cares to God, He tells us to but there is an additional prayer strategy here.

Draw your attention first, to the first three requests of the Lord’s Model Prayer.  Lift your prayer up to heaven, to the glory of God, to the greatness of who He is.  When we forget to start there, that’s when we lose our ability to stand in the face of our issue.

There is more strength, more forgiveness, and more provision in praying for God’s name would be made holy, that His Kingdom would come and that His will would be accomplished than any request for a specific situation we could pray.  We need to do both, but let’s keep the order correct for the power to be released.

Before closing, I would like to change focus for a moment. It sticks out like a single tree in a vast, open field. Forgiveness is the only request that is listed conditionally.  If we don’t forgive sins against us our sins won’t be forgiven.  Later Jesus would explain that His shed blood purchases forgiveness for all.  If we say we don’t want this person forgiven we say don’t apply the blood!  If the blood isn’t applied to one, it’s not applied to any.  Remember as you pray for forgiveness that you choose to forgive those that have hurt you.  If we don’t, then we are putting ourselves on God’s throne and saying we want to be the their judge and that He never tolerates.

It is my prayer that this blog helped you to organize your prayer time and pray more effectively by following the pattern Jesus gave us.  God Bless

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 25: Enduring Trials

As a person is told they have 30 Days to Live, they face a trial few living today can identify with.  It would be the ultimate testing of one’s faith, facing eternity.  How we endure a trial like this ultimately clears up any questions about whether our faith is real or not.

This Mother’s Day was a difficult one.  It was the first Mother’s Day without my mom (see Facing Forever) and we went to see my mother-in-law who is in the hospital losing her battle with cancer.  What happens to your faith when real trials come?  My mother-in-law, while always having been a religious person, has turned to reading the Bible daily and praying more.  Is she afraid? Sure, but her faith has increased through this trial and she is actually being brought closer to God through it.

My wife and I are asking God for a miracle for her mother, but if one doesn’t come, our faith will not be shaken.  Why? Because we trust in God’s word that when a love one faces 30 Days to Live, the Lord is there.

Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. – Psalm 23:4

Our faith is not real if it cracks in a trial.  Good time faith isn’t really faith at all.  Even death can’t separate real faith from the believer.  Death is just another trial to endure and conquer.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.  And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and He never tempts anyone else. – James 1:12-14

No one sells books on “patient endurance” and it wouldn’t be a most popular sermon download on YouTube but it’s a key to God’s plan.  When we close our eyes on this planet for a final time, the crown of eternal life is given to those who have endured through their trial and still have faith in Christ in the end.

The last words I ever spoke to my father as he laid dying in a hospital bed were “Keep the faith.” and those are my last words to you today.  Even if the trial you face is death itself, keep the faith.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to remember that no matter what the trial is, you haven’t left me.  Help to remember also that you didn’t send me this trail but you will bring good things out of it, even if the trial is death.  I will patiently endure all hardship because I know you will carry me through it.  I love you.  Amen.

Thoughts

  • Have I lost faith during past trials?
  • If I were to face the death of a loved one would I blame God?

Action

  • Pray this week for those whom you know are in trails that they may not lose faith.

___________________________________________________

Written May 2010: prayers for Fran and our family gratefully accepted.

30 Days to Live – Day 24: Reality

Today the reality of 30 Days to Live hit us in a very personal way.  My wife (Pastor Joanne) found out that her mom (Fran) has terminal cancer.  As Joanne sat in the hospital room with her mom and other family members, the doctor told Fran to “get her affairs in order.”  Her response was, “So this is a death sentence.”  It is one thing to be writing about facing your final days on this earth it’s another when death actually is right in front of you with someone you care about.

While we are praying and asking for God to do a miracle, first responsibility is to make sure your loved one is ready for life after death.  Fran has believed in God and has been attended church regularly so there was no need to convince her of her need for God’s forgiveness.  Instead Joanne focused on forgiving others.

The truth is we are all under a death sentence.  Maybe not as brutal and short as the one my mother-in-law just received, but this life is short and we are not promised tomorrow.  We must all “get our affairs in order” to make sure we are ready to meet our Savior.  One place people usually overlook is forgiving those who have hurt you.

As we prepare for the next life we want our sins to be forgiven and if we want to be forgiven for our sins we must forgive others. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray He gave us an example that has become called The Lord’s Prayer.  In it Jesus prays this:

Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. – Matthew 6:12

As Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray effectively He knew that our prayers are useless if we refuse to forgive others.

Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. – Luke 6:37

Why is this such a big deal to God?  Because HE is the Righteous Judge.  If we decide to judge others we are in effect saying we want to sit on God’s throne and do His job.  He has never tolerated that, just ask an angel named Lucifer.

Prayer

Pray this 3 Step Forgiveness Process:

  1. I take back any authority I gave the devil in my life through unforgiveness, especially towards ______ for what they did to me.
  2. I choose to forgive this person for what they did to me.
  3. I ask you God to help me to forgive this person, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thoughts

  • Who has hurt me?
  • Have I chosen to forgiven them?

Action

  • Forgive all the people who have hurt you, now.

___________________________________________________

Written May 2010: prayers for Fran and our family gratefully accepted.

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 15: What’s My Life All About?

As a person looks at the last 30 Days of their life they often wonder what their purpose for living was.  Searching for answers some people may think “Maybe it’s about family.”  Others may think they made a difference in the planet by helping the environment but we all search for meaning at the end of our life.  What’s my life all about?  I submit to you this thought, only that which will live on in eternity matters.  Of the eternal things there is nothing more important than a soul saved from hell.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. – John 3:16-17

This is the most quoted verse ever but do we really understand it?  God doesn’t want anyone to perish and go to hell.  In fact, this is such an important concept that He was willing to separate the Trinity and send the Son to earth…to earth to suffer and die.  That’s how important the salvation of each and every person is the Lord.

Then he (the thief on the cross) said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:26-43

Even in His very last moments on earth Jesus was still reaching out to others, saving them from damnation.  He was clear on what His purpose in life was, ‘to seek and save those that are lost.’  We need to understand that the very reason we are still on this planet is to help connect others to Christ and to help them gain heaven.

Worshiping God is very important, but worship is better in heaven.  Studying the word of God is a key to our lives but Jesus is the Word made flesh and will spend all of eternity revealing new facets of Himself to us.  Fellowship with the saints (church) is important for our spiritual growth but we will be fellowshipping forever with all the saints in heaven.  There is only one thing we can do here on earth that we can not do in heaven, win a convert for Christ.

Our very purpose here on this planet, the reason we are still taking in breath is to make Christ known to others.  So why don’t we think about it more?  Why don’t we do anything we can to reach people for Christ, every day?

Prayer

Dear Jesus, please forgive me for not sharing the gospel more.  Forgive me for fearing what people would think more than them going to hell. Jesus help me to follow YOUR example. Even on the cross you were saving a soul from hell.  Cause me to have compassion for people that are far from you, even if they are difficult people to be around.  Give me opportunity to tell them the good news of salvation and give me the boldness to speak. Amen.

Thoughts for Today

  • Do I believe that saving souls from heaven is the call of every believer?
  • When was the last time I saw someone I prayed for or shared Christ with become a disciple of Jesus?  (A disciple is not someone who says a prayer but someone who leaves there old life and follows Jesus.)

Action List

  • Write down and pray for 3 people that do not follow Christ, for the next week.
  • Pick at least one of those people and spend time with them within the next week.  (Look for divine opportunities to talk about God or pray for them but don’t force it.  Build relationship first.)

30 Days to Live e-Devotional: Day 13 – What do You Believe about the End?

As we are examining how we would live if we had 30 Days to Live, it occurs to me that there has been an increasing emphasis on the end of life lately.  The world has been discussing the end of the earth, as we know it, with the 2012 hysteria and even the Left Behind series.  I have always avoided looking at the end times controversies until this year because I felt it was more important to look at how to live today.  I now realize that what you believe about the end of your life will influence how you live today.  Also…

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:16

Therefore, then even the book of Revelation will affect how we would live our last month on this earth.  Are we searching for deeper understanding or are just receiving whatever the latest fictional novel tells us? It’s really the whole fear-based and defeatist approaches I object to.  It is because of this that some times I gloss over end-time passages of scriptures. I used to believe that they were not relevant to today.   I’ve even made jokes like, “I’m a pan-millennialist.  It’ll all pan out in the end.”  Ok, enough with the collective groan.  It was funny in the 1990s.

So, when my many people in our church wanted to do a study on the Book of Revelation in regards to the 2012 Predictions in the news, I reluctantly agreed.   One of the things we learned was, HOW a person approaches the end of life, greatly influences HOW they live their time on the earth.

If a follower of Jesus has an “escape mentality” that God won’t let us suffer then if they face a 30 Days to Live death sentence from a doctor their faith may be rocked. An example of this happened in China. Mao Zedong and his regime slaughtered over a million people with over 50 million people dying under his dictatorship eventually. I am told that when the communist dictator took over and began to kill all Christians who wouldn’t denounce Christ, locals believed him to the Anti-Christ of the Book or Revelation.  Hundreds of thousands of believers backslid. They denounced their faith not just because of the threat of death but because they actually lost their faith.  Why?  Because they believed God would catch them away in rapture before this kind of persecution.  The thought, “If we were wrong about that maybe we were wrong about everything.” became the attack on their faith.

The attitude that “the end of the world doesn’t matter” can also be damaging.  How?  If a follower of Jesus never considers how their life will end they may live for the present only instead of eternity.  We should live like we only have 30 Days Left to Live.

Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave. – Revelation 1:17-18

We don’t need to fear the death, the grave or even the end of the world because they One who created it all in the beginning will be there to bring us home in the end.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to remember that we will all stand before your holy throne of judgment someday. Help me to live today with eternity in mind, thinking of your holiness as I make decisions. Help me not to compromise with sin.  Amen.

Thoughts for Today

  • If God were to ask you why should He let you into heaven what would you say?
  • What would you say to a person searching for truth who asked you about the end times?

Action List

  • If there is a sin you’re struggling with, confess it to your Small Group Leader or a trusted Christian friend.
  • Live today with eternity influencing your decisions.

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?

Trust is Earned

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 show you which path to take. – Proverbs 3:5-6

I have heard people say, “Trust is earned.” or “A person must show themselves to BE trustworthy before I’ll trust them.”  I want to ask a question…Has the Jesus done enough to earn our trust?

King David proclaimed God’s trustworthiness by attaching it to God’s character.

All He does is just and good, and all His commandments are trustworthy. – Psalm 111:7

If God is just and good then all He asks us to do must be just and good.  Therefore, we can trust what He says. The commandments He gives us in scripture are worthy of us trusting and building our lives on.

What are you building your life on?

I want to encourage you today, trust the Lord.  Trust Him with your hopes, your dreams, your future.  Trust Him with you relationships, your career, your present situations.  Trust Him with your past, your hurts, your disappointments,  your failures, your betrayals, your sins.

What part of your life have you not given to Him?

Who is my neighbor?

The Bible has a lot to say about neighbors.  In the Ten Commandments alone we are told:  not testify falsely against your neighbor;  not covet your neighbor’s house; not covet your neighbor’s wife; or their maid or pool boy; or their mode of transportation; or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16-17)

Jesus said, loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself is as important as loving God and the summation of the whole Old Testament law! (Matthew 22:35-40)

What does that mean to us today?  It means that we need to understand how to treat our neighbors right if we want to be right with God.

So, with this being such an important concept in scripture and the teachings of Jesus Himself, it seems reasonable that someone would ask, “Who is my neighbor?”  A Pharisee (a teacher of the Jewish law) asked that question in Luke 10:25-37.  Jesus responded with a story that we call the Good Samaritan.

A Jewish man was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road.  A priest walks buy and does nothing.  A church Deacon (Levite) looks at him but doesn’t help.  Finally a despised Samaritan stops and helps the Jewish man.

The Jews truly despised the half-breed Samaritans, they were unclean to them.  Damned by birth.  It would be like a 1960s African American man stopping to help a Klu Klux Klan man and the Pharisee knew this bigotry.  Jesus asked him a question:

Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?”

The Pharisee couldn’t help but replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus responded, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

His command to us today is the same. Be like the Good Samaritan.  If you are in a position to help someone, do it.  God will put people in your path, maybe even people you don’t relate to, maybe even people you have a prejudice towards…be Jesus to them.

The Call from Heaven

The words of the familiar, old Christmas Carole ring out to us.

O Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him, born the King of Angels

There is a call from heaven to behold the King. In Luke chapter to we see the story that inspired this song.  The shepherds working in the field had their lives interrupted by and unusual sight, an angel!

I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.

The Messiah’s been born.  He’s right in Bethlehem!  Go see Him!  In verse 15 we see the first response:

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Let’s go to the house where the Lord dwells and see what the Lord has done and what He has told us about.

Our response is the same today.

1. Go to Church.

First, we must go and see what the Lord has done and said in His house.  Christmas is the best time to go to church.  If you’re a believer, get there!  Go somewhere.  Next the shepherds had a reaction after seeing the Savior in verses 16-18.

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.

2. Tell Everyone What You Have Seen and Heard.

After seeing Him, they went and told everyone what had happened and what was said.  If we have seen the Lord, we must do the same. Look at verse 20.

The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

3. Return to Where You Came From.

The shepherds went back to their fields and their flocks.  They went back to work, school, family and friends.  Your “field” is where God has planted you for your everyday life.  After you’ve met Jesus, go back to your field and introduce other to Him.

Don’t come to church alone this Christmas.  Bring a friend, classmate, relative, neighbor or coworker.

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.

Encouragement

We all need encouragement sometimes but what should we do when it seems there is no one to encourage us?  The answer comes from King David.

David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD His God. – 1 Samuel 30:6 (kjv)

David encouraged HIMSELF in God.  There comes a point where you have to encourage yourself.  The people you thought were with you turn on you. You have no one to help you.

In David’s life he survived his leader turning on him (Saul), his family attcking him (Absalom), his own sin (that whole Bathsheba thing) and his friends that have pledged loyalty to him talking about stoning him.  How did he do it?  He learned early this simple truth, sometimes there’s only God and you so you have to get your encouragement directly from Him yourself.

David rehearse the past protection of the Lord to encourage himself.

The LORD who saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine! – 1 Samuel 17:37

Stand on the promise that God won’t allow you to be tempted more than you can take.  He will rescue you before you are overwhelmed.

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.
God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.
– 1 Corinthians 10:13

In closing, there are times when we must encourage ourselves.  The best ways to do this is to remember the good things God has done and to rehearse His promises to us such as the one just mentioned in 1 Cor 10:13.  So no matter what you’re going through, choose to encourage yourself today.

World’s Dumbest Criminal, a Lesson for Us

I love the TV show called “World’s Dumbest Criminals” (I know but I like to see dumb people get arrested.) Recently I saw a story of drug dealer name Daron.  The police had surveillance on him for over a month and came with an arrest warrant to pick him up.  They knocked on the door and asked, “Are you Daron…?”

Daron replies, “No, my name is Herbert Spinkleman.” Or some ridiculous similar name.

The police officer then looks at Daron’s forearm and points to his tattoo. “You have you name Daron tattooed on your arm.”

“No that’s my girlfriend’s name Da-Ron.”  He replied.

You can’t make this stuff up!  He was trying to fool the police pretending to be someone else and his name was tattooed on his forearm!  Then he denied it was his name!  Priceless.

Daron tried to pretend he was someone else but his true name was evident.  Many people do the same thing.  They say they are Christians but the name of Christ is not on them.  Christian means “little Christ”.  It’s like saying “Jesus Jr.” you look like your dad.

Many people call themselves a follower of Christ but the name tattooed on their arm is “liar, porn addict, judger of others, thief, fornicator, gossip” etc.  They try to fool people but hypocrisy is evident to most.

Jesus said, “Why do you say you love me but don’t obey my commandments?”
We know that many people will be shocked when their lives end because they will say didn’t we do all these “Christian things for you?” and He’ll reply, “Depart from me, sinner.  I never knew you.”

Don’t be like Daron.  Don’t try to fake out Jesus because you’ll only fool yourself and you also will be taken away in chains.

Why is the American Church in Trouble?

Don’t think the Evangelical church is i trouble in the US?  Consider these statistics:

•   The number of people in America that Do Not attend church has doubled in the past 15 years.

•   50% of  churches last year did not add one new person being saved

•   Only 15% of churches in the United States are growing

•   Just over 2% of churches grow because of new salvations

In the era of Mega-churches most believing churches are slowly dying. Why are some exploding while other shrivel?  I can answer this quesrtion best with an illustration from today’s sermon.

In Mark 2:13-17 Jesus calls Levi to follow Him and become His disciple.  Levi does, leaving his job, his neighborhood, financial security all to follow the Lord.

The next time we see Levi he has invited Jesus and His disciples over for dinner but he also invited his friends over.  The Bible calls them nortorius sinners.  The religious people couldn’t believe Jesus would eat with such scum.  Jesus replied that He didn’t come for those who think they are righteous but those who know they are sinners.

Levi understood what the Pharasees didn’t. From the moment we become followers of Jesus we must be inviting others to meet Him.  if we want God’s presence with us we must invite the people He wants to be around.  Sinners.

No new converts, none of God’s favor upon our churches.

10 Ways to Enhance Your Worship Service Experience

Have you ever left a church service and felt “I didn’t get anything out of that.”?  I think we all have.  It’s bad when the pastor says that…haha. Now, have you ever left a church service feeling that way AND heard someone else say, “Wow!  That was awesome.  I really met with God.”?  That’s a real eye opener.

I recently spoke to someone who said when they heard the excitement other people had they began looking at themself.  When they heard there were people saved, baptised and set free and they didn’t feel excitement, the knew it was them.  So how do adjust ourselves to get the most out of a worship experience and keep ourselves from growing indifferent?  Here’s 10 ways to enhance our worship experience.

1. Come Expecting a Good Service – As James taught us (James 1:6-7), we need to expect God to answer us.  This simple step many times bring the change in attitude we need.

2. Minimize Distractions – If there is a person who is always chatty near you, move.  I actually started sitting towards the front because I am visually distracted by people.

3. Change Your Routine – Sit in a different seat, serve as an usher, walk up front during worship (if your church culture allows that), visit a different church one Sunday, (Pastors don’t em-mail me it’s alright really.)  whatever it takes for some variety.

4. Hang Around After Service and Talk – You’ll be surprised how much chatting with some people for ten minutes will brighten your day.

5. Come Early – If your church has a place or time to pray do it, if not hang in the lobby and chat.  Bring an extra coffee and surprise someone with it.  Force yourself to be social.

6. Greet a New Person – Remember the first time you came to church? Help someone else to not feel nervous.  Say hello. Ask them if you can answer any questions for them.

7. Serve – Nothing adds the meaning of a worship experience like knowing you had a part in it being put together.  When someone reaches for the tissues you put there, it more than just blowing their nose.  They aren’t distracted loking for tissues so they heard the message and accepted Jesus for the first time as Savior. Guess what? You had a part in their escaping from hell.

8. Take Notes – We only remember 10% of what we hear but when we write it the % doubles.  If we review the notes later it triples.  It’s the eternal word of God, don’t treat it as common or unimportant.

9. Invite an Unchurched Friend – Nothing is more meaningful than seeing your church or even God through someone else’s eyes.  If that person meets the Lord and their life changes, it will be your best worship experience ever.

10. Experience God BEFORE the Service – Most Christians that don’t get anything out of the worship experience aren’t experiencing God during the week either.  I don’t know why but it’s like a cup that is being filled all week, smaller drops make it over flow.

Get to the church early and pray.  Ask God to meet with you. Ask Him to forgive you sins, forgive others who sinned against you that week.  Then give Him you issues, any distracting things and you’ll be ready.

Do these 10 things I guarentee you’ll have a meaningful and fulfilling worship experience!

Does Religion Leave You Feeling Lost?

Religion leaves you feeling lost but relationship connects you to God. Religion is man’s attempt to reach God or to earn His favor.  Real relationship with the Lord may begin with a hunger for God but even that hunger comes from Him because no one comes to repentance unless the Spirit draws them. 

Religion knows about God but through Relationship we can KNOW God.

Before I was born-again, I went to church almost weekly as a child.  I could tell you Jesus died for me, I could even quote some scripture but never knew the savior personally.  I was religious, I trusted in my church, my confirmation, even the cross on my neck but had never even met the Savior!

Religion is a list of Dos and Don’ts but relationship causes you to alter your behavior because of love.

Matthew 22:35-40 – One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Love causes us to fulfill the laws of the one we love.  In the absence of love the law is needed. 

Misusing History

In an article in Christian History Magazine, author Daniel Driesbach correctly points out that Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” metaphor was misused by the Supreme Court to redefine church-state law and policy in a way never intended.  I completely agree.

On New Year’s Day, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, endorsing the persecuted Baptists’ aspirations for religious liberty. The First Amendment, he wrote, denied Congress the authority to establish a religion or prohibit its free exercise, “thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”  That “wall” was built to protect the persecuted Christians from the tyranny of the government.  Remember just 25 short years before the people here were still part of England, a country in which the government said there is only one church, the Church of England.  To be part of any other church was a criminal offense.

If I may be so bold as to assume I can speak for Jefferson’s intentions (why not the Supreme Court did) his intentions were never to remove religion from political or public society.  It was Jefferson who said, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal, hostility against every form tyranny over the mind of man.”  Sounds to me like he wanted to protect us from limiting our religious freedom.

What bothers me the most is the phrase “separation of church and state” never appears in the Constitution but ONLY in this letter written in support of the Baptists.  Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment (literally) and say that it was Jefferson’s intention to separate all religion from the government…So What?  A president doesn’t have the power to change the Constitution and neither should the Supreme Court!  Here’s what the First Amendment to the Constitution does say…

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Excuse me but isn’t saying that we can’t have Christian symbols, prayers and other such “religious” observances in government and public forums a violation of that amendment?  The First Amendment never restrained religious expression, completely the opposite…it kept the government from restraining religious expression.

Why am I taking the time to write about this?  Because I truly believe that we as Christians should know the truth.   If we are to remain “one nation under God” we must be informed to defend our Christian heritage.