Star Wars…Awaken the Force in YOU

Star Wars: The Force AwakensMany people believe in an unseen force, a universal power that connects all life. This search for a ‘higher power’ connecting us is a reoccurring topic in all the Star Wars films. Anyone has watched any of the Star Wars franchise can tell you it’s called ‘The Force’.

The question is what is that force?

STAR WARS: The Force Awakens is officially the biggest box office smash of all-time passing Avatar, as I predicted its opening weekend in my last blog.

Toaists call this energy ‘Chi’. New age gurus and biometric feedback healers will refer the ‘energy of life’.  Shamans and Reiki practitioners call it the ‘Universal Life-Force’. It is most likely a combining of these ideals in these sources that shaped the idea of The Force for Star Wars.

100px-Yin_yang.svgSTAR WARS includes the Buddhist concept of Ying and Yang.

This is the belief that there is a connection between all opposite or contrary forces.  In good there is some evil, in evil some good.

Star Wars Director, George Lucas, while raised Methodist was largely influenced by this Buddhist belief. He called himself a Buddhist-Methodist.

The title for STAR WARS: The Force Awakens, gives hope to the universe, saying, “There’s something coming that will combat the evil in the universe.”  Christians feel that same way about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The Universal Life-Force in the Bible

Would it surprise you to know there is a universal-life force talked about in the Bible?

The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Genesis 1:2

In the beginning there was a force that created light, that created life!  The Holy Spirit hovered over the water waiting for the word from the Father, it’s time, “Let there be light!” and there was light created.

The Holy Spirit also live in the followers of Jesus. (1 Corinthians 6:19).

An invisible power that brings light, creates life from nothing and dwells inside us? It sounds like the force to me! But it’s not, in fact the Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’ at all but God Himself.

Nine times in the New Testament Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘He’ of ‘Him’ never once it.

I will send you the Comforter—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. John 15:26

Jesus clearly refers to God’s Spirit as ‘He’ and states that ‘He’ will tell you about me. (Jesus) 

There is little doubt that Jesus can’t be referring to some enigmatic energy.  He is describing a living being who speaks.  At other times the Holy Spirit is described as having emotions and a will, these are not characteristics of energy.

To the Christian, that means that God Himself flows throughout the universe.  The greatest hope is that He can dwell in us!

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. Romans 8:11

This is a promise to all who follow Christ. The Holy Spirit will live in you.

Want to awaken the force in you? Just ask.

Your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. Luke 11:13

Want to learn more about the real force running the universe…The Holy Spirit?  Contact me in a comment below or go to:

NoPerfectPeopleHERE.com

Read previous post: ‘Twas the Night Before Star Wars

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‘Twas the Night before Star Wars…’

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

That’s right they gave them a pre-release day on Thursday in most theaters. This could be the biggest movie of all time. Why?

STAR WARS contains the two biggest themes in story telling. First the classic good vs. evil and second the search for significance.

Good vs. Evil

The STAR WARS movie series uses the imagery made famous in David and Goliath. The smaller, weaker, people are oppressed by the larger, stronger, evil empire.  Good people often feel like underdogs, unable to make a difference in an evil world controlled by people stronger than them.  From the abused child to the traveler worried about terrorism there’s this sense of helplessness. At some point in our lives we all feel like the underdog.  STAR WARS taps into the message that there is hope for good to win, for the little guy to knock down the evil empire.

The Bible is full of stories where weaker, common, people did extraordinary things, overcoming great obstacles, and defeating great odds with God’s help.  You can win over the injustice in your life and you don’t even need a light saber!

The title for STAR WARS: The Force Awakens, gives hope to the world.  It says, “There’s something coming that will combat the evil in the universe.”  Christians feel that same way about the Christmas Story. There is a ‘force’ (the Messiah) that awakens in the world bringing hope.

The Search for Significance

In the original STAR WARS movie, Luke bemoans his existence on a nowhere farm.  He thinks, “There has to be more to life than this.”  How many people feel as they go to their daily routine?

STAR WARS taps into humanity’s search for significance.

All people want to believe life has meaning. Most believe that there’s some ‘universal force’ that is controlling things. It’s not just a religious thing. Many atheists believe in a ‘universal mind’ or some other life force linking us together.
Why?

We were created with knowledge of the eternal and the divine by our creator.  Something that tells us that there’s something bigger than us, more than what we can see.  The Bible says, “Even nature shows us that there is a Creator.”  In addition to creation, The Holy Spirit is all around us, bringing us life and guiding those who choose to follow His ways. He tells us there’s something more out there.

What can we learn from STAR WARS? 

That there is a desire in all human beings to know the meaning of life.  To know that there’s hope beyond their daily frustrations.  To know that good can win, especially when it looks like all is lost.

That is the message of Christmas.

It may look dark and hopeless now, but a star in the heaven announces that a force for good has awakened in the world.  The one foretold in prophesy, the Savior, the Son of God…Jesus.

Looking for Hope this Christmas?  Go to one of the STAR WARS Christmas Services at House of Praise, in person or on-line.

NoPerfectPeopleHERE.com

Go to Next Star Wars Blog: Awaken The Force in YOU

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

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.

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, Day 7: Do you want a good life?

Do you want a good life?

I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! – Deuteronomy 30:19

It sound silly but we have to choose to have a better life.  He wasn’t saying choose between “suicide and breathing.”  The Lord made it clearer by saying choose between blessing and cursing, between having a good life and terrible one.  Choose between hope for the future (That’s what He was talking about when He mentioned your descendants.) and hopelessness.

Do you want a good life?  It seems like a silly question but it’s not.  Our choices play a huge part in determining how good are life is.  God says choose life or death and then just in case we can’t get it, He say “OH!!!! That you would choose life!”  He’s yelling louder than any coach, “Please! Choose right! I love you and want you to have a good life.”

So, do you want a good life? Then choose to follow the ways that will bring God’s blessing, not the devil’s curses.

These 30 days can be the greatest spiritual growth of your entire life, if you’ll choose to do the work, to learn, to change, to have a good life.  I’m choosing change, I’m choosing LIFE.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to choose life today.  Help me to avoid that patterns that cause me to make poor choices. I give you my fears that may keep me from making good and Godly choices.

Thoughts for Today

  • What choices do I make that make my life harder?
  • How can I choose blessing instead of cursing today?

Action List

  • Make a good choice today that you have been putting off!
  • Choose to put God first today by spending 15 minutes with Him.

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.

Born to Die

We’re all dying from the moment we are born. The difference between us and Jesus is this, He came to this earth knowing His time here was short.  He lived with great purpose because He knew how limited His time was.  As we celebrated His Resurrection on Easter we learned how to make the most of this life, remembering how short it can be.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26

Do you believe in the eternal?  The majority of Americans do yet we spend so little time thinking about eternal things.

In the book Miracle on the River Kwai ther was a powerful seen involving allied soldiers who were captured by the Japanese during the World War II. These Prisoners of War (POW) were forced to work as slaves on a railway through the jungle.

One afternoon, a shovel was missing. The Japanese officer in charge lost his temper. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else. No-one moved. No-one said anything. The officer got out his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot. It was obvious that he meant what he said.

One prisoner stepped forward. The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death. The soldiers picked up his body, and carried it away.

There was a second tool count where is was found that no shovel was missing. There has been a mistake at the first count.

Why did this man step forward and say he had stolen a shovel then? This innocent man had sacrificed his life to save the prisoners. Jesus did the same thing.  He sacrificed His life to save the lives of those enslaved by sin.

Why was Jesus born on this earth?  To die.  His whole existence was for the purpose of dying for you and me.

He asks us today to die to ourselves and put His kingdom first (Matt 6:33).  Why?  Because we are all ding from the moment we’re born and only that which is done for God will last.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless, as it would be if there were no resurrection. – 1 Corinthians 15:58

God Bless, Pastor Lon

Prayer

Dear Jesus, thank you that you have given me assurance of eternal life.  Help me today to think about eternity.  Help me to live today in such a way that I will draw people closer to you.  Give me opportunities to love and serve you by loving and serving others.

Thoughts for Today

  • What would you do differently if you were going to face eternity in 30 Days?
  • Have you ever thought about the fact that our lives a but a moment compared to eternity?

Action List

  • Do one thing that has eternity attached to it.  i.e. Pray for someone, share Jesus with someone, forgive someone, do a random act of kindness for a stranger, serve God by doing something practical to build His kingdom…etc.
  • Write down one thing you did today that will still be important 1,000 years from now.
  • Tell me your ideas for eternal actions.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional

What would I do differently if I only had 30 Days to live? That’s quite a concept.  Most people give a flippant answer such as “quit my job and max out my credit cards”.  I don’t think that is what most people who really have one month left on this earth.  Take the 30 Day challenge to become the person you want to be in eternity.

Introduction

I’m so glad you decided to take this 30 day challenge to change they way we live.  It is my prayer that this resource will help us to Connect to God in a significant way.

This e-devotional is meant only as a tool, it doesn’t contain the answers to life’s big questions BUT God can use it to communicate to you.

If you will take these four simple steps I believe God will greatly impact your life in a powerfully positive way.

  1. Every morning, ask yourself what you would do if you had one month to live—then live that way.
  2. Each day read this e-devotional, pray 5 minutes about its contents and act on the changes you wish to make.
  3. Each day read scripture for 5 minutes. I also recommend the One Month to Live book as a reading resource
  4. Write down the top 3 changes you would make if you had One Month to Live.  At the end of these 30 days, evaluate where you are in making those changes.

Sound good?  Then let’s get started!!

Pastor Lon

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?

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.

Your Experience Does Not Entitle You to Lead

The statement by Nancy Ortberg hit me like the chill that you get when you first jump into a cool pool on a hot summer day.  At first there’s the gasp of air leaving the lungs and the and the tightening of my skin just like when we first react to the cold.  Then something strange happens.  There’s a soothing feeling that follows as your body adjusts and remember why you jumped in. Sitting in the sun had caused you to become heated an sweaty, you wanted to be cooled down.  The water shocks at first but them soothes as as it cools.  Nancy’s statement did the same thing.

As I recovered from the brief shock, there was a soothing sigh of “Yes, that’s why I came.”  She brought out many insights on leadership in her session.  Experience doesn’t entitle a person to lead calling and character do.  I often articulated to people that maturity isn’t measured in years but in how much of the fruit of the Spirit one grows.  I had long felt the same way about leadership.  “Just because you’ve been in the church 15 years doesn’t mean you should be an elder.” was one discussion but I struggled to make it clearer.

I the soothing that Nancy’s teaching brought.  Saul couldn’t face Goliath but a teen shepherd boy could.  (1 Sam 17)  David asked why no one would fight the giant.  the reactions were interesting.  First, David’s brother accused him of being prideful and wicked for coming to the battle but David was just following his father’s instruction.  David ignored his brother and went to others again asking why none of them defended the Lord’s name.  Finally they brought him to Saul.  Saul reluctantly relented to David’s story of the God giving him the lion and the bear.  “Alright, you can go but wear my armor.”  Saul breathed.

In other words, “Ok, maybe God has sent you but do it my way.”  Saul had the experience to lead.  He was a king and a warrior.  But God didn’t call a warrior.  God knew no warrior could stand against the might of a giant who was a warrior since he was a youth.  No God called a shepherd boy.  New methods emerged.  A sling and stone instead of a sword and a spear.  Faith was his protection not a bronze shield.

I know understood how to articulate to others what the Spirit of God had been showing me.  Calling and character are what gives people the influence to lead not title nor experience.

Thanks Nancy.  That alone was worth the price of the Catalyst Conference and we’re just getting started!

Today Matters in Eternity

Paul told us to forget the past.  (Philippians 3:14)  Forget all the good things we did and all the sin and failure.  Why? because if we keep looking back we will waste today.

Jesus also told us not to worry about tomorrow…

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. – Matthew 6:34

Basically, you can’t change tomorrow’s troubles by worrying about them so don’t waste today doing so.

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.  We need to live in the moment, carpe diem.  Not the way people live without God in mind, grabbing as much hedonistic pleasure as we can or building our own legacy so we feel significant.  No.  Grab today because God only made one.

The value of something is often determined by how rare it is.  I have a Vecchio statue that is a small version (28″ long) of the famous life size statue called “Equestrian” that is a tourist attraction in Venice Italy.  I won’t bore you with the details of how I came to own it but let’s think of why it’s valuable.  Yes, it is a beautiful piece of art but in general small statues (even those made by famous dead artists) aren’t worth the thousands of dollars that larger statues are, but this one is.  Why?  It’s rare.

Only six were believed to have been made and it was made by a method called the “Lost Bronze-Wax Method” which is an ancient art-form used to make bronze statues during that era. (Some artist resurrect that art form today.) A rare antiquity, made by a master craftsman, in a rare way.

What makes that statue valuable also makes today valuable.  Today is a beautiful masterpiece created by the universe’s greatest artist and He only made one.

Here’s the part most people miss.  God made today to count for eternity.  Great artists make creations that people want to enjoy thousands of years later.  God wants us to enjoy the fruit of today, the beautiful art work we can create with Him, for eternity.

If we will live today to create eternity in our heart then share that beauty with someone else, God will come along side us to create something amazing.  Like Mozart reaching around a child’s hands as they plunk out ‘chop sticks’ for the first time, playing a brillant symphony, God will make today an eternal masterpiece through your hands.

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.

What If…? Guarding Our Minds

We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. –  2 Corinthians 10:4-5

There’s a battlefield raging.  A place where planes called unknown drop bombs of fear and paratroopers of worry bombard day and night looking for a place to land and dig in.  That place is our mind.

To set up a defense against this aerial assault we must capture these rebellious thoughts and make them obey Christ.  What if I lose my job? What if I get cancer?  What if I can’t get into a good college? What if I never get married? What if… What if?

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? – Matthew 6:27

Worry is a meaningless waste of time at best!  At it’s worst; left unchecked it can kill you.  Worry actually creates biochemical reactions in our bodies. Doctors tell us worry can lead to a variety of illness ranging from indigestion to heart attack!

How can we control worry, capture those random fearful thoughts?

1. Look at what we are thinking about.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  – Philippians 4:8

Think about good things.  It’s simple but profound.  When you find yourself thinking “What if…” change the channel!  We have the ability to tell ourselves, “That’s not a thought from God.” And think about something else.

2. Look at who are you listening to?

Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. – Mark 4:24

Why would you take advice from someone whose life is a mess?  First listen to the word of God and what it has to say about you.  Then let the Spirit of God speak to you in prayer but then get around godly men and women who will speak truth!

Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for bad company corrupts good character. – 1 Corinthians 15:33

3. Look at where your focus is.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2

The Israelites were told to go into the Promised Land in Numbers 13.  They found what God had told them.  Grapes the size of basketballs!  A land flowing with milk and honey.  BUT they didn’t focus on the blessings, only the obstacles.  Yeah the fruit is awesome BUT there are giants.  Yeah it’s just like God said a good land BUT the cities are fortified and impossible to conquer!  BUT BUT BUT.  Don’t be a Butthead!  Don’t’ focus on the obstacles, focus on what God has promised you.

Capture the “What Ifs” before they paralyze in a quagmire of indecision, afraid to move.

Is Our God Safety?

When we allow fear to limit our actions we begin to serve safety instead of God.  Is risk-free living our ultimate goal?  Is being safe what the most important thing in life?

Think of this, a person who worships safety never accomplished anything note-worthy.  History is filled with the acts of the bold, the brave.  The fear filled don’t dream big dreams, risk-takers do.

When the disciples dropped their nets and walked away fro their jobs, neighborhoods, families…everything they knew, were they making the ‘safe’ choice?  How about Abraham when God told him to leave his people and everything he had ever known to go into a strange land?  God didn’t even tell Abraham where the destination of the journey was!

The worship of safety emasculates greatness.
– Max Lucado, Fearless

As a Christ-Follower you are called to greatness.  What is it that God is asking you to do that you’ve been afraid to try?  Well turn that computer off and go do it!

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.

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.

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.

Focus mean saying no.

Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple) said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done.”

It is the focus on making disciples that will make churches and individual believers great.  God gave us His authority for a reason, to make disciples.

Matt 28:18-20 – Jesus came and told His disciples, I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Loss of focus causes us lose God’s authority and eventually we become dry.  It isn’t sin that causes people to start to slide away from God, it’s loss of focus.  Once the focus is lost it will eventually lead to sin but it started by saying yes to seemingly good opportunities that weren’t focused on disciple-making.

What do you spend most of your time, talent and treasure (money) on?

Born To Die

We’re all born with a purpose to our lives.  Jesus was born to die.  His very purpose was to die for us so that we can find our purpose.  From the moment of His birth Jesus was a dead man walking.  Really, we all are…

Paul said, “I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

Why did Paul say that the most important thing to pass on is Christ’s death, burial and ressurection?  Because without His death their is no resurrection, without the resurrection, He hasn’t conquered death.  if Jesus didn’t rise then we won’t.  If He didn’t die then death still has power over us.
(1 Corinthians 15:58)

As Christ followers we are to go where He went.  To pick up our cross and follow Him.  The cross, an instrument of death and torture.  Jesus was calling us to die.  To die to our own life and to rise again in a new life, but it doesn’t end there.  Being born-again is only the beginning.

We must daily pick up the instrument of our death and follow Him.  Carry our own elecric chair, plug it, sit down and strap ourselves in.  Death of our own selfish desires, our own purpose of what we thing we should be doing it the only way to find God’s purpose.

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)

5 Vision Essentials

1. Find out What God is Doing

Most leaders make the mistake of thinking that change happens after you get a vision and work towards making it happen.  Success happens when a leader finds out what God is doing and falls in line with it.

When we saw that there were 20 people driving 20 minutes from a near by city to our former church we began to pray about how we could better serve them.  The main complaint was they couldn’t get their neighbors to come to the Sunday service because they didn’t want to go to another city for church.

The idea we came up with was to open a satellite campus.   This was in 2000 before we ever heard of Crag Groeshel or anyone else doing satellites.  We began slowly with small groups, then a mid-week service.  As the work grew over 75 people on Thursday nights we started a Sunday service.  What’s my point?  We saw God moving in an area and just joined in HIS vision. 

2. Money Always Follows Vision

If it’s the Lord’s will, then it’s the Lord’s bill.  He really will provide if you’re following His direction and being a good steward.  Also people don’t give to need, they give to vision.  If you don’t believe me then why don’t the ministries that have the greatest needs get the most money?  When times get hard, don’t shrink back on the vision and don’t be motivated by fear (2 Tim 1:7).   Remind people about the vision.

3. Make the Vision fit on a Napkin.

If you can’t explain the vision in a few short sentences then it will be too abstract to fully grasp and too complicated to remember.   All your processes and department visions need to be that simple also.  Our staff worked for a year to clearly define what makes a disciple.  Connect to: God-Church-Other (outside church).  When you do that you’re a true disciple.  Simple?  Yes, but deep enough contain the vision for discipleship.

4. Make Your First Answer Yes.

Worry about how you’re going to do something or how you’re going to pay for it later.  If you want creative, entrepreneurial thinking…if you want people to take risks and build synergy…then take a chance and say yes to their ideas!  People are filled by God with big dreams, don’t squash them!  I would rather have people try and fail than never attempt anything. 

On a related item, take risks on young leaders.  Resist the urge to wait a few years than until they’re more experienced.  David was a teen when he killed a giant and Mary was a teen when she gave birth to a savior.  Your young or newly saved people haven’t learned unbelief yet and aren’t stuck in the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality.  You want great ideas and passion?  Try new ideas from new leaders.

5. Don’t let Negative People Take Your Eyes off the Vision.

Whenever there is new vision or change taking place their will be negative people making noise about how they don’t like it.  This type of “barking” is primarily to gain attention and to feel important.  I even had someone leave the church because they felt our church should vote on the colors of the walls before we were allowed to paint!

Remember dogs don’t bark and parked cars!  If you’re moving, going somewhere you’ll hear the yipping.  If you’re sitting still it’s quiet but like a fine race car the church is meant to speed forward.

Personal Growth

In response to Bill’s comment, here are some thoughts on personal growth.  First, Personal growth really means growing as a person.  We should also work on physical, financial, mental and relational growth.  However, let me say that being a pastor, I’m going to focus on spiritual growth in this blog.

The most effective growth comes as a result of intelligent planning and honest evaluation.  Keep this in mind as I ask you the question, “What is your personal growth plan?”

The first time someone asked me that question my hesitation told my friend the answer.  Then I sheepishly blurted out something like I pray and read a lot.  His response was, “Do you have a clear, written plan?”  “Well no, of course not.” “Then I can pretty much predict how much you’ll grow over the next year.”  Truthfully I was little ticked off by the finality of the remark.  How could he say that?

As I thought and prayed about it, I realized I HAD a vision for my life and for our church too but just had never written it out. The Lord was very clear about how to handle a vision.  He told us to write our vision plainly and big enough so those running can carry the correct message to others. (Habakkuk 2:2-3)  Then the Lord reminds us this vision is for the future.  That there is some effort to fulfill it and that if it seems slow in coming, wait patiently.  I began to write out my goals for prayer, reading the word, reading other Christian books, even activating myself in the gifts God had given me.  I began to see the power of a written vision, the direction it brings.

With a written growth plan you have the ability to measure your spiritual progress, not in a way to fall into performance mode but in a way to stretch yourself press in deeper to the things of God.

We’ll look at how to design this plan tomorrow.