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You Are Witnesses

you-are-witnesses

 

Revelation 11 tells about a day when God will send two witnesses to prophesy for three and half years. Once again, God shows how merciful He is, even when man chooses his own way and deserves judgment. II Peter 3:9 reminds us, “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” Even when His judgment is imminent, God provides messengers of the Gospel to proclaim the message of salvation.

We are called to be Christ’s witnesses. In His last words before He ascended back to the Father recorded in Luke 24:48, Jesus said, “You are witnesses of these things.” Our church is here to help people find and follow Jesus  We list our vision statement with three C’s:

  1. Centered on God! We must love Him more! Far too many churches have an agenda that is more me-centric than Christ-centric. In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren said it well, “It’s not about you!” Tim Keller says this, “Any person who only sticks with Christianity as long as things are going his way or her way, is a stranger to the cross.”
  2. Connected to One Another! We must love people more! We need one another and being a part of the local church is where we fulfill that need. The Gospel Coalitions tweeted this, “Saying, ‘I need Jesus but not the church’ is like saying, ‘I need Jesus but not everything Jesus says I need.’” Love one another well!
  3. Concerned about our City and the World! We must also love more people! This is where we drop the ball the most. Most churches, that I am familiar with, are scriptural and relational but are not missional. Are we getting the good news out?   Are we being witnesses to those who are far from God? We not only need to love people more but we are called to love more people!

The Good News of the Gospel is all about how God loves us! Paul said it was God’s love that compelled him to spread the gospel to all who would listen. The gospel is all about loving well!!! When we are compelled by love, sharing the gospel with others becomes the church’s main mission. Peter Scazzero says it this way, “The sign of the Spirit at work is supernatural love, not gifts or successful works. This love requires a supernatural work of grace in the heart.”

This is why the hope for America is the church actively showing and sharing the love of God in our actions and in our message!

  • Have a servant’s heart! It starts with leaders who have a love and concern for others. When we send church planters to their communities we challenge them to go serve their city and then God will build His church. Remember, leaders, if you want people in your church to have a servant’s heart they must see it in you. Speed of the leader, speed of the team.
  • Love your city! When Jesus saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion and as He looked over Jerusalem, He wept. Daniel Im puts it this way; “Too many times we have a vision for our church but not for our city. Develop a vision for your city.” If your church closed its doors would anyone in your community even notice?
  • Glorify God and spread His fame! Be a church where the glory of your church takes a back seat to the glory of God. All of us need to talk more about the Gospel of Jesus Christ than we talk about our church. Hopefully, you are excited about your church, enjoy your church, and want to invite others to come to your church. However, make sure you tell them about Jesus. Tell them how wonderful a Savior you have and that you would much rather talk about Him because He is what it is really all about!

Your church has the responsibility of spreading the good news! In Luke 4:18, Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Later, in John 20:21, He says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

Why share the good news? Because you can join God in making what is wrong in the world right. That which is enslaved and in bondage can be set free through the liberty found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That which is broken and shattered can be mended. That which is diseased and sick can be healed. That which is despised and hated can be loved. That which is dirty and vile can be made clean. That which is wrong and far from God can be made right. All because of the Gospel!

NFL football player, Benjamin Watson, says it this way, “Obama can’t save us. Mrs. Clinton can’t save us. Mr. Trump can’t save us. The only one who can change the heart of the man is the Lord.” Acts 4:12 reminds us of this truth, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.”

Romans 10:14-15, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”  Do you have beautiful feet?

Healthy churches embrace their responsibility to be His witnesses!  Speak and show the love of Christ daily!

Three to Thrive

3_to_thrive

 

Years ago this is the statement made by a very well known preacher, ”It takes three to thrive!” He encouraged you to be faithful to Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. There certainly is great wisdom and benefit to being faithful but church attendance does not guarantee spiritual maturity. We should not forsake Christian fellowship and there is not a better place to grow then in the company of other believers.  We need the word God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God (community) to thrive spiritually.

The three to thrive this article addresses our congregational worship, spiritual disciplines, and participating in a small group. These three dynamics are very important for continued spiritual growth to occur. Every church needs to think through the systems they have in place to encourage that these three are understood, available, and can be easily followed. When a follower of Christ is personally involved in all three of these it enables them to spiritually grow faster, stronger, and continuously.

First, understand the importance of Sunday worship. Jesus encouraged those interested in following Him to “Come and See!” The first four months of His ministry were allowing them to watch and observe if He was for real. Sunday morning is one of our best opportunities to invite people to come and see that God is real. What other time do you have where people will feel comfortable attending? There are many entry points to introduce people to the church family but many are not comfortable when connecting through a small group, Bible study, or a prayer meeting.

Do you gear the services more toward the churched or the unchurched? Usually, the message is for the believers to strengthen them. Unbelievers cannot truly worship but they can be invited to participate and it is a wonderful thing for them to watch believers worship. It is a big step for someone who does not know if they believe or not to enter our world on Sunday mornings. One pastor said, “Our theology is for the churched, termed for the unchurched.” This time is also a great opportunity for a gospel appeal to be offered!

Second, emphasize the necessity of daily spiritual disciplines. Most believers know they should read their Bibles and grow but they have never been shown how to do that or what that looks like. Has your church developed a plan that everyone can easily follow and participate in? If a new disciple wants to go deeper in the word of God how do they do that at your church? Is there someone who can show them how to study their Bible and grow spiritually? Corporate worship is important but without personal private worship the believer will not thrive!

Consider developing a plan where everyone in your church is reading the same daily scriptures and challenge them to journal. This builds an environment where everyone is discussing the same truths and asking similar questions. Publish a scripture reading schedule so everyone knows what passage they are to focus on each day. Teach them to approach the scriptures asking a couple of questions. What is God saying here? What does He want me to do about it?

Third, participate in a small group. These groups are an opportunity to share what you are studying and discuss it further. This is where relationships are built and accountability can be developed. When people are not connected to a small group they will not thrive spiritually and many times will eventually drift away from church. This is where they can be cared for the best by other believers on a very personal level. This is the place where they can love and be loved, serve and be served, know and be known, and celebrate and be celebrated (Bill Hybels).

Do you have a system in place to connect people to a small group? It is not enough to just announce it from the platform. Consider ways to sign people up, recruit people to different groups, and give public testimonies of how these groups have helped someone to grow and develop spiritually. People need to realize that the group quality is diminished when they are not faithful to their small groups. In The Disciple Making Pastor Bill Hull says, “When people get to know each other, needs are identified and met. It is vital to good care of people that the church provides such a vehicle.”

What if all three were connected to one another? Our church is having a six-week campaign on The Bible Questions by Hal Seed and it connects all three of these around the theme of “Shedding Light on the World’s Most Important Book.” The elements of the campaign are this:

  1. The sermon on Sunday. The message is meant to hopefully make the Bible come alive and encourage people to want to read it more. The series enables the pastor to focus everyone on what they are to study and why. The messages are designed to prepare them for what they are going to be reading daily and what they will be discussing in small group.
  2. The daily reading. The book The Bible Questions was made available to everyone so they could read daily about the word of God. For four weeks they read a short chapter each day Monday through Friday. There is then a passage of scripture to read and questions to answer. This will take the average person 12-15 minutes to complete.
  3. Small Groups. Then the small groups come together to discuss what the pastor already preached and what they have read and studied during the week. The leader of the group is prepared to answer questions and lead the group into some deeper discussions on the content already covered!

Quoting Hal Seed from the book, “The more your brain has top-of-the-mind-awareness of God’s view of things, the less your heart will want to do the things that hurt you and other people.”

Healthy churches thrive because they have connected the dots of congregational worship, spiritual disciplines, and small groups!

The Law of Diminishing Returns

jogging

My youngest son, Benjamin, is a personal trainer and also trains people in CrossFit. Benjamin has been encouraging me to mix up my exercise schedule and not to do the same thing all the time. I sent him a text message and asked if in his training and education did they ever mention or talk about the law of diminishing returns? His response was, “Yes, sir. Kind of like when a person is sedentary and they start running a 12 minute mile three times a week. Initially they will see results but if they continue doing the same thing they will eventually quit seeing progress because you adapt.”

His response made me laugh because he knows I usually run 3-5 miles a day 3-5 times a week and pretty much at the same pace. He went on to say, “They will either have to run farther or faster to keep seeing results.” I texted him back, “Thanks! That helps me! You had to pick running, didn’t you?” He replied, “You have to know your audience!” This universal general law states the reality that the more you do the same thing over and over the less you will get the benefits from it. While it primarily has been associated with economics it can apply to several different areas of our lives.

When a person diets they can initially see incredible results the first week in losing up to ten pounds. Then the second and third weeks they may still lose 1-3 pounds but by week four they lose nothing. They are following the same diet faithfully and did not cheat even once. With the results beginning to diminish this is where they may choose to give up on the diet figuring it just isn’t worth the sacrifices they are making. Your body adapts and teaches itself to live on less and can even go into a starvation mode where it burns more muscle than fat, which is not good.

Churches need to make sure that they are not guilty of ignoring the law of diminishing returns. There are many areas where if a church is not careful it can put a lot of energy and effort into ministries, programs, and methods that continue to become less and less effective. Here are a couple of things to consider:

first, traditions can produce diminishing returns! There is nothing inherently wrong with traditions but unfortunately they can begin to take precedence over the Word of God. The mantra can be heard loud and clear, “We have always done it that way!” Traditions can become counterproductive when all they do is perpetuate the past in a way that places God’s will as secondary. There are many tools and aides available to us today that were not available to us just 10 years ago.

One example would be power point with video projectors and screens. While some may still not see their usefulness, we must remember that the worst way for learning to occur is by only hearing it but, when we also see it, we are much more likely to remember it. An old proverb says, “If I hear it I will forget it. If I see it I will remember it. If I do it then it will transform my life.” There are many new innovations and creative ideas that could help us in spreading the gospel more effectively and isn’t that the main objective anyway?

Second, buildings can produce diminishing returns! Okay, let me say it loud and clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with traditions and there is nothing inherently wrong with buildings! For years, many have said that the church is not brick and mortar but it seems like we really don’t believe it by where we put all of our time, effort, and money for a space used 2-3 times a week. The goal is not to build buildings but to build people and equip them to become more and more like Christ! Helping people who are non-believers to become new believers, maturing believers, mature believers, and then reproducing believers.

We need to change what we measure. Instead of measuring seating capacity we need to measure sending capacity. The church’s mission is to have an intentional spiritual growth process that moves people from being attenders to an army on assignment for their King. You don’t judge an army’s effectiveness by how well they do in the mess hall but, rather, how they do on the front lines of battle. Rick Warren says it well, “There is no biblical correlation between the size of a church and the strength of a church.

Third, music can produce diminishing returns! If you are looking for me to run down hymns or to promote a particular style you will be disappointed. If my personal musical preferences were followed the church services would sound way too much like the Beach Boys. The reality is that no one’s personal preferences should stand in the way of reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Go to church in Africa, Pakistan, or with Romanian Gypsies, and the music sounds distinctively different.

Here are a couple of things I would ask you to consider. Do songs have to be 100-200 years old to qualify as good Christian music? Are we not seeing good Christian songs being written today by very gifted and spiritual people? How do we determine what is “good” Christian music? Oh, let me answer this last one by saying that what “I” or “you” usually like determines it. Actually, you are hard pressed to find a description of “Christian” music in the scriptures but there are certainly Christian scriptural words!

Healthy churches are constantly evaluating not only what they do but also why they do it! Maybe it is time to take an honest look at things that worked great in the past but are not working anymore. Maybe now is a good time to ask what is keeping your church from being the church Christ wants it to be.

CENTRIPETAL VS CENTRIFUGAL

Centripetal vs Centrifigal

 

The message of Acts 1:8 is clear, but sometimes we do not grasp the full magnitude of the moment in which it was delivered. The disciples certainly appeared to be very hopeful that maybe this was the time for the Kingdom to be ushered in triumphantly. Then, instead of that occurring, Jesus ascends back to heaven and they are given their marching orders. We “get it” to a degree but look a little deeper and think about the seismic shift that the great commission asked them to make in their focus.

All through the Old Testament the people of God focused on the city of God, Jerusalem. They travelled there for the festivals and this great city was where their king sat upon the throne. The temple was built there and the Ark of the Covenant rested there. It almost appears to be a huge magnet that draws everyone’s attention, time, and worship. Even the woman at the well said, “Yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” It was the center of Old Testament worship, sacrifice, and service to God.

Now, in Acts 1:8, Jesus is instructing them to go out of this one city, Jerusalem, and go into all the cities of the world with the gospel. This major shift of focus and energy was to be embraced by all of the disciples present that day, all of His followers through the centuries, and all of His disciples today. Each and every church does not have a mission as much as the mission of God has churches to carry out that mission. Luke 19:13 makes this clear, “Engage in business until I come back.”

The centrifugal mission of taking His kingdom message to every city was replacing the centripetal mission of bringing outsiders into an earthly city. Centripetal force pulls everything to the center and creates a momentum (think black hole) that constrains anything from moving outward. This helps us to better understand this question; “Is your church more inwardly focused than outwardly focused?” In Subversive Kingdom, Ed Stetzer says, “Spiritual growth and maturity should not lead us away from contact with unbelievers but rather right into the midst of them.”

A great exercise for your church would be to make two lists. The first list is where you should write down every ministry that is focused on people already in the church. The second list is where you then write down every ministry focused on who is not in church. You may be shocked to find out that quite often 90-95% of all church ministries are focused on who is already there. How could you shift the focus outward? How could you better challenge and train your people to live focused on those far from God?

Centrifugal force creates a momentum moving and directing everything outward from the center. It is the exact opposite from centripetal force but both can be of equal power. Every church must ask themselves which force is the primary focus of their ministry and how that reality aligns itself with the scriptures? In 7 Steps to Transform Your Church, Bill Hull says, “The traditional church is talking out of both sides of its mouth, giving a hearty ‘amen’ to the Great Commission and an entrenched ‘no’ to the changes required.”

We are kingdom soldiers who are establishing kingdom outposts behind enemy lines. The reality is that we cannot reduce the mission of God down to attending services, Bible studies, and enjoying each other’s fellowship. The scriptures remind us repeatedly that we cannot fulfill the Great Commission by getting together a couple of times a week, teaching our best Bible studies, singing our best songs, and preaching our best sermons. These are all vitally important and valuable but they are to ground us in our mission and focus us on sending capacity not seating capacity.

Ed Stetzer in Subversive Kingdom also says, “We’re not just opening the doors and hoping for a good turnout. We’re opening our lives to show off the glory of our Savior by the way we live together, serve together, and reach out in Jesus’ name together.” The kingdom of God is compared to yeast, which means we have to “mix it up” to be effective. We are also told to be salt, which requires contact with world for us to have an impact in their lives. We are also to be a light unto the world and light streaks away and shines everywhere in every situation.

In Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount we are admonished by Jesus several times that “You have heard said but I say unto you….” One of those examples of having a kingdom impact is in verse 41, “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” While there is much to say about the context of this passage, one truth is clear, we need to be willing to go do more, sacrifice more, and give more as we represent our king. One truth though is that if we willing to go the extra mile that gives us more time to tell the one we are traveling with about Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Healthy churches work diligently and intentionally at moving away from centripetal force to being a centrifugal force church. The healthiest churches take Luke 15 seriously where it speaks about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Healthy churches are focused on the core, the crowd, but also the community. Our church strives to express it this way, “We desire to be centered on God, committed to one another, and concerned about our community. We must resist the temptation to be focused on the first two while neglecting the third.”

In UTurn Church Kevin G. Harney says, “The gravitational pull of the church naturally pulls us inward, toward each other. If we are going to move outward toward those who are lost, it will take more energy than most of us dream.”

 

Postnatal Care

postnatal pic

 

Once a baby is born, the first 20-30 minutes are crucial. This time is to make sure the baby is healthy and what steps might need to be taken to ensure their proper development. At one minute and at five minutes an Apgar assessment is performed that checks the heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, reflex response, and color. The newborn’s weight and measurements are taken and recorded. The baby is never more dependent upon others than when postnatal care is taking place.

When a person receives Christ as their Lord and Savior we need to consider how important the first 20-30 minutes are for them. All too often we celebrate, and we should, but we do not immediately begin to care for the infant in Christ. It is almost as if they are left to fend for themselves and we believe that they will just naturally grow and develop on their own. They are not ready to care for themselves and they need someone who will guide and help them at this crucial time.

There are two keys to spiritual growth.

  • First, you must begin taking steps immediately.
  • Second, you must continue to take steps constantly.

The first key is vitally important but what if you do not know what steps you should take? Yes, the individual believer is personally responsible for his or her own spiritual growth but we also are responsible to these new babes in Christ. We must be available to lead them on a path that will help them grow as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Paul makes this clear in Galatians 4:19, “My children, I am again suffering labor pains for you until Christ is formed in you.” Once someone takes the step to become a child of God we must then help him or her to grow and mature knowing that it does not occur just automatically. Consider the importance of postnatal care to the young believer. Someone must be ready to care for them in the areas they are unable to care for themselves by mapping out the next steps they need to take so they mature in the Lord.

What does postnatal care look like for the new believer?

  1. Have a designated caregiver! The first steps for a new believer can usually be accomplished more effectively in a one on one relationship with a more mature believer. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every time someone made a public profession of faith that they were immediately introduced to a caregiver? The journey begins with someone who can help guide them in the next steps of following Christ. The caregiver begins to assess the new believer’s needs.
  2. Relationships are immediately built and deepened. Titus 2 clearly shows us the importance of older men and women teaching and guiding the younger ones. This is not necessarily older in age but could also be older in their walk and maturity with Christ. Win Arn has said that a new attender needs six new relationships in the first six months for them to stay around; “Six to stick!” It probably must happen much faster in today’s world. The caregiver begins the steps toward strong relationships.
  3. The discipleship process begins immediately by teaching them about the next steps they need to take in their spiritual journey. What does it mean to be born again? What is baptism and why is it important? Why should they be faithful to attend worship services weekly? What does it look like to read their bible daily and develop a prayer life? Consider all of the things you want the new believer to experience within the first month as a Christian and be prepared to show them the next steps after that.
  4. You demonstrate to them that they are not on this journey alone. Sometimes they do not realize that help is available. If a mentor was assigned from day one of new birth then it would develop a culture where it is natural that every new believer has a caregiver until they can care for themselves and then help care for someone else. The goal is always to be moving them forward. Remember, the second key to spiritual growth is for them to continue to take steps forward.
  5. Keep them moving forward. Hal Seed, pastor of New Song Church in Oceanside, CA, says this about caring for new believers, “Newborns are pretty much helpless. They can’t feed themselves, change themselves, or help themselves in any way except to cry out for momma. Young children, on the other hand, can do many things for themselves. If children are coddled and never learn to take responsibility for feeding and clothing themselves, their personal growth will be stilted.”

“Likewise, if teens don’t start helping others, their character development is stunted and they wind up as self-absorbed and self-centered adults. Help your people take responsibility for themselves and then for others as early as possible.” Constantly moving the new believer toward being a self-feeder and showing them how to progress from the milk of the word to the meat is essential. Then the new believer becomes a maturing believer and the maturing believer can then become a reproducing believer.

Healthy churches care for their newborns. Colossians 1:28-29 says, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that they may present everyone mature in Christ. I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me.”

Learning Communities

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There are many resources available today for churches to get direction on structure and systems. They can help you to determine your core values, mission, vision, and a strategy of implementation. Leaders need to be committed to lifelong learning. Leaders need to be readers. While reading does not guarantee you are a leader, you probably will not be the leader you should be if you are not a reader. Be selective about what you read by getting recommendations from others you trust but also, do not be afraid to branch out.

One key to implementation and follow through is being part of a learning community. Join a “small group,” if you will, of other pastors and church leaders. Even if there are not any in your area, you might want to consider beginning one. These groups provide an opportunity to learn, stretch, challenge, and grow together. Prov. 15:22 says, “Plans fall when there is no counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” We know there are benefits from hearing other people’s perspectives and experiences.

We have implemented these learning communities into the Activate program (Pastor Huddles) and we are using them to promote church multiplication (Church Planting Clusters). In the education world these are described as, “a group of people who share common academic goals and attitudes, who meet semi-regularly to collaborate on classwork. Such communities have become the template for a cohort-based, interdisciplinary approach to higher education.” They also can benefit pastors and churches!

First, they provide a place of prayer support. These groups give us a place to not only share our blessings but also our burdens. They need to be a safe place where participants can share their struggles with complete transparency. There are challenges a church leader may be going through and perhaps he does not have anyone in his church with whom he can share. What if he is thinking about getting out of the ministry? What if he is struggling with depression? What if he has a conflict that he does not know how to handle? These groups are meant for people to come alongside one another!

Second, they provide excellent examples of good and bad ideas. We not only learn from what has worked but also from what did not work. How do you get through those times where your credibility has been challenged because of a failed project? What steps need to be taken to reestablish trust in your leadership if it has taken a hit? Remember, just because something worked (or did not work) in one church does not mean it will be successful in your ministry. Know your people, know your culture, and do not feel the need to copycat, although you can learn from one another’s experiences.

Third, learning communities can provide a reality check. We all need a good reality check at times to see if we are looking at the situation correctly. The old adage is true that sometimes you cannot see the forest because of the trees. It is also helpful to get other viewpoints. All of us will, at times, require a reboot on our perspective. These huddles and clusters can enable us to step back and see if emotions, burnout, or even bitterness could be clouding our ability to see things properly.

Fourth, these groups also provide accountability. When meeting on a regular basis we can help one another with implementation and follow through. This can happen by revisiting commitments made from the last meeting and asking each other what kind of progress is being made. Everyone in the group will come prepared to give updates when they realize it is an expectation for all group participants. Accountability and deadlines can be our best friends in putting the knowledge to use that has been gained from the time together.

Fifth, learning communities promote creativity. This “think tank” approach can stimulate ideas that come out of good healthy brainstorming. The use of a good white board can cause new fresh ideas to emerge as we throw out every thought that we can think of and see what sticks. Imitation is highly overrated while innovation is highly underutilized. Creativity is often stifled because we do not have these types of meetings in our regular schedules. We are driven by the daily demanding tasks of ministry and we can easily lose sight of the big picture.

Sixth, new friendships can be discovered and developed. Close friendships cannot be forced but happen naturally when we meet someone and it just clicks. These groups give an excellent forum for this to happen as they discuss vision, burdens, philosophy of ministry, and share each other’s hearts. Before long you are drawn to someone who has a kindred spirit and interests. Or maybe they challenge you to get out of your comfort zone. All of us could use more friends!

Lastly, they remind us that we are not in this alone. It is an encouragement to know that there are others on the same journey as you. They truly understand your struggles, challenges, and opportunities. It is an encouragement to hear from leaders who went through trials and came out the other side still committed and faithful (check out 2 Cor. 11). Remember that two are better than one and that a three-fold cord is not easily broken. There really is strength in numbers.

Find a group or form a group! If you need help with what it might look like or what kind of structure might work feel free to contact me.   Some of our learning communities have decided on a book to read together and then meet monthly to discuss it. Other groups have content given at the meeting that hopefully adds value to their leadership. These groups can even meet via the web through different available programs. It really is not rocket science and is more about taking the time and initiative to follow through.

Healthy leaders are committed to being a part of a learning community!

What Kind of Church Do You Want to Be?

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If someone decided to visit your church would they feel welcome, comfortable, and accepted? Why should someone decide to attend and what could they expect when they arrived? Do we make them feel like “outsiders” and do they wish they knew the secret handshake? Have you ever thought about how hard it is for someone to come in and participate in something that is like a different culture and language to them? Are you a church that is trying to reach the churched or are you pursuing the unchurched?

Would you welcome them if they did not believe like you do? They may come seeking but they are still unsure about this “born again” thing. They want to be a good person but not sure if they really do believe in God. They want more in their lives but they are pretty sure we think we are better than them. They desire a safe place to seek answers to their questions without fear of being ridiculed or ostracized. All too often we want people to behave right before they have the opportunity to believe right!

Figuring out who the church is isn’t a new struggle. It goes all the way back to the first century when all of the sudden Gentiles were becoming believers and began attending the synagogues. Thousands of Jews had been saved and then they began intentionally reaching out to the Gentiles. This was way out of their comfort zones because in many of their minds, “how could someone be a follower of the Jewish Messiah and not be Jewish?” Many were uneasy about “letting” them in and many were offended!

These Gentiles brought a lot of baggage with them because of their customs, traditions, values, and their eating habits. Not only had they placed their faith in Christ but all of the sudden they showed up in the synagogues and wanted to participate. This was a huge problem because they didn’t know the rules and didn’t have a clue about all of the traditions. What would the Jewish believers do? It seemed that the logical solution would be for them to require the Gentile believers to become Jewish! Case closed!

They gave them “the list!” You know those things they had to do and those things they had to stop doing. This was not just the Ten Commandments but over 600 commandments with commentary that had been added over the years. They needed to know how to dress, when to clap and when not to clap, and what instruments were allowed. They certainly didn’t want them bringing their drums and guitars into the church because everyone knew they were worldly. You see, many churches have always wanted to supply lists of what to do, when to do it, and who is allowed to participate.

The Jewish list (check out Acts 15) took it to a whole new level. If the Gentile men wanted to be a part of the early church they would have to have surgery. They would require them to be circumcised. That must have been a very interesting new member class to attend! The Jewish believers wanted them to submit to the entire Law of Moses. If they refused, they could not be members. Keeping the law was very difficult for the most dedicated of Jews but completely impossible for an outsider to even come close.

James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.” Peter addresses the problem in Acts 15:10-11 and basically says, “Are you kidding me? We don’t even keep the law very well. Why are you burdening them with these ridiculous requirements?” When Peter gets done, James stands up and declares in verse 19 that they shouldn’t do anything that would make it unnecessarily difficult for people who are turning to God.

Unfortunately, there always seems to be an invisible force that pulls many churches and Christians back into a graceless religion and legalism. It just seems so much easier to produce a list that everybody has to live by. It sure isn’t as messy that way but what happens to grace? Do not our hearts then become hardened to the people who need the message of the gospel the most? If not careful, we then become a church where we are a showcase for the saints instead of a hospital for sinners!

Here is the kind of church we should desire to be:

  1. Where guests and the unchurched are the most important people on campus!
  2. Where broken, imperfect people with every kind of story imaginable are saved a seat!
  3. Where doubters, skeptics, and unbelievers are welcome to come and see if it is genuine, real, and authentic.
  4. Where if you have a question about the Bible, faith, Jesus, or the existence of God you can ask your questions and still be accepted.
  5. Where we value those who are far from God the same way He does! (See Luke 15)

Col. 4:5-6 says, “Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” If we are not careful, our speech and attitude toward people far from God is full of salt and only seasoned with a little bit of grace!

We must answer the question above honestly and biblically, “What kind of church do we want to be?” Will we be keepers of the aquarium or will we be fishers of men?

DON’T PLAY FAVORITES

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Take a moment and think about the attributes of God. He is loving, forgiving, merciful, holy, just, righteous, and the list could go on and on. Do you ever think about His impartiality? God is absolutely impartial in His dealings with people. He has stated His love for the whole world and is not willing that any should perish. Deut. 10:17 says, “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe.”

We tend to show partiality by ranking and judging people by predetermined categories such as looks, clothes, social status, intelligence, athletic accomplishment, color of skin, and this list could go on and on as well. All of these are of no significance to God. We can all get star struck with the emphasis on celebrity-ism in our culture. It is amazing how much God speaks about not showing favoritism in the scriptures. Prov. 24:23 says, “These sayings also belong to the wise: It is not good to show partiality in judgment.”

Recently, I met a well know rap star in an airport. As we visited she said, “You don’t know who I am, do you?” I had to admit that I did not have a clue who she was and apologized. She responded, “No, actually it is kind of nice!” She was enjoying someone visiting with her as a person of worth not because of her fame or music career. It was kind of funny. She also said to me, “Well, you really don’t look like someone who is into rap anyway!” Then she laughed.

James 2:1 makes it clear, “My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” There are two things here that are incompatible: “My brothers” and “Favoritism.” Those two things are contradictory because favoritsm is when we lift someone up above others; judging them by appearance and on that basis giving them special favor and respect. It is the practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another!

Favoritism is judging purely on a superficial basis without consideration of a person’s true merits, abilities, or character. In Rom. 2:10 Paul said, “but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does what is good, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. There is no favoritism with God.” Then there was the big ah-ha moment for Peter in Acts 10:34-35, “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him.”

Jesus did not show favoritism! It made no difference to Him whether He spoke to the wealthy or a beggar, the virtuous or a prostitute, educated or ignorant, religious or irreligious, a law-abiding citizen or a criminal. His focus was on the worth of every individual and his over-riding concern was their souls. God’s impartiality is in His family tree as evidenced by Rahab the harlot and in where He was raised. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Grace Hills Church in NW Arkansas has a web page that says, “We don’t care how you’re dressed, how many tattoos you have, or who you’re voting for in 2016. We’re a church full of broken, imperfect people with every kind of story imaginable, and we’re saving a seat for you!” I love it! In Mark 2:17 Jesus said, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Is your church saving a seat for the broken and hurting with their habits and hang-ups?

Here is how we must apply these truths:

  • You cannot bribe, buy, or earn your way into heaven! Jesus is the only way, truth, and life! You are saved by grace through faith and whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. It is by grace alone, faith alone, and in Christ alone!
  • Prejudice has no place in the church of the living God! The old song says it well, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight!” If the church doors are not open to receive all then they should be closed for good!
  • Your value does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth! God sees your worth. He gave you life and sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for you so that you could have eternal life.
  • Your talents and giftedness have the potential to take you farther than your character can sustain you! Focus first on who you are and then work on what you do. Remember, what you do does not define you because God looks at the heart.
  • Man was not made to be worshiped! Many have succumbed to listening to the praise of those around them and it causes them to think more highly of themselves than they should think. The celebrity-ism of our culture is bleeding over into churches and we must be very careful.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

SMART GOALS FOR 2016

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Wow, the last day of 2015! Hard to believe but once again we are focusing on “out with the old and in with the new!” As we evaluate last year, and we should, we can walk through a W.I.N. to help us focus on these three areas:

  • What did you do well? What were the accomplishments in your life, family, and ministry in 2015 that brought you the most joy? What happened last year that when you think about it brings a smile to your face? Don’t forget to reflect on the positives and celebrate the wins even if they were small wins. We need to celebrate more often and remember that “we become what we celebrate!”
  • Where do you need to improve? What were some of your greatest disappointments of 2015? Everyone experiences challenges and failure at one level or the other. Every goal was probably not met and if all your goals were met maybe you set the bar to low? Is there is a skill set you need help with to make you more effective in the new year? Who knows what you need to know? Who out there could help you and how will you find them?
  • What will you do next? The key now is to think about what you will do differently in 2016? An often used discription of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results!” One example of this would be to ask, “Is your church reaching new people with the gospel?” Craig Groeschel gives us this challenge, “To reach people no one else is reaching, we must do things no one else is doing.”

You must focus on what is “next” in 2016. You also need to look back and as you remember you should:

  • Rejoice in what God allowed you to accomplish!
  • Repent where repentence is required!
  • Reflect on major life lessons learned!
  • Refocus your energy on new opportunities!

Here are things to consider as you enter the new year:

  1. What are your goals for 2016? What would make this year a great year? Have you spent time alone with the Lord asking His direction in setting your goals for 2016? If not, when is the soonest you could take a prayer retreat to hear from Him? Are you regularly placing yourself in the best possible position to hear from God clearly and consistenly? You never, no matter what your age is, mature past the need for prayer and hearing from the Lord daily!
  2. Why are these goals so important to you? God is really into motives! It is not just what you are doing but why you are doing it. Jesus made it very clear in the semon on the mount that in the areas of giving, prayer, and fasting we were not to practice these disciplines to be noticed by other people. Check it out in Matthew chapte 6. Your motivation should not be to be applauded by men, to impress people, or to show them how “spiritual” you are.
  3. What 2-3 goals are the most important and non-negotiable? You need to prioritze your goals and especially if you have 7-10 goals for the new year. Here is also where it is important to look back at last year. What was missing the most in your life as you look back? Is there anything you can do to change it? Maybe not but one thing that might help is to focus on what you do have and on what you can change!
  4. What are the most immediate actions steps you need to take to make these goals a reality? You need to make these “smart” goals ” (see below) and then write 2-3 action steps that are required to make that specific goal a reality. If my goal is to walk across the room then I must think actions: 1) stand up. 2) take required number of steps. 3) stop when there. Here is what you need to ask yourself about each goal, “What’s the very next thing I need to do to reach this goal?”
  5. What are your biggest prayer requests as you approach these goals? If prayer is not needed then maybe the goals are not big enough. Remember, faith is required! What if you didn’t step out in faith and ask God to do great and mighty things? What are you praying for? What if God answered everyone of your prayer requests? How many lives would be changed, transformed and how many souls would be saved?

Don’t be afraid to set God-given, Holy Spirit directed goals and then ask God to do exceedingly and abundantly above all that you could ask or think! Hearing from God is not enough. You must also take action on what He has commanded you!

  • Specific: Identify exactly what you want to accomplish.
  • Measurable: Quantify the result.
  • Action Oriented: Start with an action verb, not a to-be verb.
  • Realistic: Recognize and implement the power of incremental change over time.
  • Time-Bound: Set a specific deadline.

Slow to Anger

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The book of James is about behaving the way we say we believe. It is not enough to only hear the word. Also, it is not enough to listen to God’s word with an attitude of submission because the reality is that without obedience to God’s word it is of no benefit to anyone. The bottom line of true spiritual life is not a momentary feeling or a short-term commitment but continually living by the truths of the word of God. Obedience is required!

We are given three commands in James 1:19 that are to be embraced as we submit to the authority of His word. We are told to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Anger has gotten the best of most people at one time or another. One temper tantrum can unravel years of relationship and team building. One outburst can create hurt feelings, resentment, and bitterness that can take years to recover from. It is just like trust because it takes years to earn but seconds to lose.

The anger spoken of here is not that kind of explosive outburst that erupts and goes away as quickly as it happens. Also, the anger in James 1:19 is not just a fleeting moment that is observed by everyone and taken as a minor, innocent flare-up. This anger is an inner deep resentment that maybe only you and the Lord know about but it is smoldering inside of you. It is especially dangerous because it is privately held on to and internalized.  James is zeroing in on an anger towards the truth of God’s word that we do not like or agree with.

We become angry because the truth confronts us with our sin, it is in conflict with one of our personal preferences, or it convicts us of our incorrect thinking. The idea here is in harmony with what Paul said to the church in Galatia in Gal 4:16, “Am I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” Whenever we are confronted by the truth we have a decision to make. Will you submit to the truth, confess your sin, celebrate God’s forgiveness, and commit to obey? Or will you fight to have your own way regardless of the consequences to the cause of Christ?

In James 1:20 we are told, “Human anger does not reproduce the righteousness God desires.” Our anger does not accomplish what is right in God’s eyes. Yet, far too often we are angry about things that really do not matter. We must make sure that we get angry about what makes God angry not personal preferences and non-essentials. Churches have fought over the proper length of staff member’s beards, the brand of coffee they serve, and even whether the church should serve “deviled” eggs at the potluck, oops I meant to say “pot-blessing.”

This message of being “slow to anger” is so vitally important for several reasons:

  1. Your church is entrusted with the Great Commision and representing Christ in your community! John 13:35 says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Let’s make sure we get angry about what makes God angry not our personal preferences, pet programs, or petty problems.
  2. Your church needs to be a family of believers where the glory of your church takes a back seat to the glory of God! More than anything else we must desire for His name and fame to be known and spread. You should be excited about your church, enjoy your church, and be actively inviting people to your church but it is more important to introduce them to Jesus. Let them know you would love for them to come to church but even if they never do you are more interested in them!
  3. Your church must realize that how you face and maneuver through tension will determine your church’s culture and its future! What is the best way to teach the children? How do you best reach, involve, and minister to young couples? What is the best way to focus on making disciples? How do we develop a vibrant growing youth ministry? What programs should we consider stopping and shutting down because they are no longer effective?
  4. Your church must understand how vitally important it is to not move forward without knowing God’s mind and will! Tensions are a part of God’s plan to help us grow. They help us to trust Him more, take Holy risks, and to face our two biggest tensions: sacrifice and surrender. Will you be the kind of church that willingly and joyfully sacrifices comfort to be who God wants you to be? It will always cost us something and there is a price to be paid.
  5. Your church must take an honest look at what might be distracting you from fulfilling the Great Commission! Are you making disciples? In a recent Lifeway study on the survivability rate of church plants it was interesting to see that some of the evangelism techniques that many have frowned at are still being effecitive. The moral of the story is that any evangelism is better than no evangelism.

What are you doing to reach your community with the gospel of Jesus Christ? If we want to get angry why not get angry at ourselves because we have allowed non-essential things to dominate our lives while people need to know the love of Jesus. One visitor to an unnamed church said this after attending, “It’s like you invited me into your house and then ignored me when I arrived.” Now that is something to be angry about!