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DON’T FUMBLE THE HANDOFF

The race was about to begin and the excitement in the air was energizing.  My son Benjamin’s high school’s 4×100 relay team had qualified for state and was expected to contend for the Oklahoma 4A state title.  The gun sounded and they were off.  We stood up as my son’s team mate reached to him for the all important passing of the baton.  Then one of the greatest fears in any relay race took place – they fumbled the handoff.  It had not happened all year, why now? 

In a second their chances of advancing to the finals were over.  Unfulfilled expectations overwhelmed them because of one mishandled handoff.  The disappointment was real because they knew they were fast enough to make the finals and maybe even win but we would never know because they had not been able to pass the baton.  This story is painfully true to my family but we all survived and our lives moved forward.

Fumbling a handoff in a relay race has no eternal consequences but Christians are running a race that does matter in eternity.  We are to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus but what about the other runners in the race?  What happens when the time comes for us to pass the baton of ministry to someone else?  Are we fumbling the baton of leadership development?  Have many dropped out of the race because we fumbled the handoff?  Discipleship is the starting point, the sustaining practice, and the key to lasting impact.   

The only way to ensure the proper handoff of ministry is to continually be reproducing leaders in our churches.  The most important and crucial element in passing the baton is discipleship and disciple making.  Always moving forward and always reproducing through an easily reproducible process.  Thom Rainer has rightfully observed that, “Congested churches and stagnant believers are the antithesis of God’s plan.”  Could this explain why it is estimated that 90% of those attending on Sunday’s are passive in their walk with the Lord and the church?

The quality of a church’s leadership is directly related to the quality of its discipleship.  If we do not have a clear discipleship process then we should not be surprised when there is a shortage of leaders.  Neil Cole has said, “If you can’t reproduce disciples, you can’t reproduce leaders.  If you can’t reproduce leaders, you can’t reproduce churches.  If you can’t reproduce churches, you can’t reproduce movements.”  The lack of leadership development creates a bottleneck in the church which has been created by a lack of making disciples that make disciples.

In the book From Followers to Leaders Robert Logan and Tara Miller give a highly reproducible model of leadership development that they call the I/You approach. 

Stage 1:  I do the task and you watch me. 

Stage 2: I do the task and you assist me. 

Stage 3: You do the task and I assist you. 

Stage 4: You do the task and I watch you. 

Stage 5: You do the task and someone else watches you. 

Now that is passing the baton!   We must dedicate ourselves to the most strategic activity that any church can engage in; making disciples.  There will not be any kind of significant, lasting, or sustainable movement of church planting or church revitalization/renewal without meaningful discipleship.  It is the very task that Jesus focused His efforts on and invested most of His time and energy.  Alan Hirsch has said it well, “Only to the extent that we can develop self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted disciples can we hope to get the task of Jesus’ mission done!”

Don’t fumble the handoff!

I DIDN’T DO ENOUGH

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At the end of the movie Schindler’s List, the man who was personally responsible for saving 1,100 from the concentration camps is being thanked by those he rescued. They give him a ring that is engraved in Hebrew saying, “He who saves one life saves the world entire!” You would think he would have been very satisfied and maybe even a little proud of what he had accomplished. Instead, he says, “I could have got more out! I could have got more!”

Oskar Schindler begins to weep as he considers how he could have sold his car to the guard and maybe gotten ten more out. He then realizes he could have sold his lapel pin and gotten one more out. He is burdened and brokenhearted with the reality that he could have gotten one more person. While being thanked for the sacrifices he made and the generations he has preserved he is overwhelmed with the thought of how much money he had wasted and says, “I didn’t do enough!”

Three years ago we cast the vision to plant 100 churches in three years! The deadline has come and gone with a grand total of 88 churches planted. This was only possible because of so many working together to accomplish this goal. There are many exciting stories of God doing great things in the lives of many communities but let me say it loud and clear, it’s not enough! We can and should desire to do far more because people are lost, hell is real, and Jesus is coming back some day!

In Church Zero Peyton Jones says this, “Why did God hardwire each piece of fruit for multiplication, yet when we bear fruit, we see it as the endgame? If we were following God’s design for fruit, we’d know that like fruit, churches are packages for spreading seeds—for planting multiple churches. One seed becomes a tree, which becomes another seed factory….That’s what disciples do—they reproduce.”

Jones goes on to say, “Staying focused is a challenge, but if you keep breaking off church-planting seeds, seeking like a piece of fruit to be a seed-bearing package, then you’ll have no problem. Whether it’s the birds, wind, or weather, something will carry those seeds to another destination where they will be needed. Stuff doesn’t grow where it’s not needed, and this world is one needy place.” Here are some observations about our on-going church planting efforts:

First, let’s celebrate the victories! Let’s make sure we stop and praise the Lord for what He has done and for what He is doing. Sometimes we are not the best at celebrating but 88 new churches is something to celebrate. These plants are not only reaching English speaking people groups but also Russian, Spanish, French, Creole, Erdu, Arabic, and the Deaf! Hallelujah!

Second, let’s pray and ask God to send the next great awakening to America! Revival comes when we begin to cry out to Him with a holy desperation. All of the other great awakenings were birthed with people on their knees crying out to God for their nation. Oswald Chambers said, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; it is the greater work!”

Third, let’s remain committed and passionate about our church planting efforts! The temptation is to think we have enough churches and we should focus on strengthening the churches we have. We need more churches (estimated 650,000 more by 2050 just to keep up with population growth) and we need healthy churches to reach their communities with the gospel.

Fourth, let’s encourage one another and help one another! We really are better together and we must be careful to not see this as a competition. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people! If a gospel preaching church opens next door to us we should rejoice in the truth that more people will probably hear the truth and respond to it in faith.

Fifth, let’s make sure our churches are outwardly focused! There is always one more person out there that you can reach. We can make a difference for Christ! If we are not burdened for lost souls we need to ask God to burden our hearts once again. Every church must get out of their foxholes and once again get out on the offensive. Pew sitting is not a spiritual gift no matter what you may have heard!

Sixth, let’s be willing to give and sacrifice more! Have we done all that we can and is there not more we can do? Should church planters be struggling to meet salaries and budget while so many churches have far more than they will ever need? Is there a planter that has been by your church that would be greatly encouraged by your generosity? Has our prosperity caused us to become complacent?

Last, let’s do more in the next three years! Let’s pray more, witness more, give more, and plant more churches. If we were totally transparent and honest would we not say just like Oskar Schindler, “I didn’t do enough!” C. T. Studd put it this way, “I pray that when I die, all hell will have a party to celebrate the fact that I am no longer in the fight.”

Healthy churches reproduce and we are never more like the church in the book of Acts than when we are directly involved in church planting!

Missional Leadership

 

Leaders

There are now well over 200 million people in North America who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and that number increases by one million every year. There are over two billion people in the world who do not even have access to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Lord’s command to us is to “Go and make disciples!” We must stop sitting around making excuses for why that is not happening. We have deserted our responsibility and ignored His command far too long.

We love going to church, fellowshipping with one another, and even desire to serve in various ministries in our churches. However, we do not appear as committed to the mission of God by loving the lost, the last, and the least. In Barefoot Church Brandon Hatmaker says, “We settled for serving ourselves and serving as an event rather than serving those in need and living a new way of life that Jesus has called us to.” We are better at gathering than we are at scattering to share the good news.

Could it be that because we have so much we do not realize the desperate need of others? Hatmaker compares what Jerry Jones recently spent on the new Dallas Cowboy stadium to what a church in that area was spending on their new facilities. While it cost $16,000 per seat for 100,000 fans to watch “America’s Team” the mega church spent $43,000 per seat. His point is summed up in this statement, “We spend way more on ourselves than we do on reaching, serving, and loving those outside the church.”

The challenge is, and always will be, to think of others before we think of ourselves. We must be challenged to get our eyes off of ourselves and see the multitudes that desperately need someone to tell them about Jesus. Hatmaker goes on to say, “We need to develop a better understanding of the gospel of how it is both a message we announce and a reality we display to a lost and broken world.” We must be lead back to the mission of God by leaders who have their eyes focused on the harvest.

Catalytic leaders direct their disciples, churches, and network of churches in the implementation and expansion of God’s vision for evangelism, disciple making, and church planting locally and globally. They create movement and momentum in God’s mission. Their leadership invites others who have been searching for a way to get involved to join in the journey.

Dr Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Northwest, AR and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, preached at my tribes gathering of churches (Baptist Missionary Association) and challenged us that the time is “now” for us to reach our country with the gospel. Here are a few of the things he shared that challenged me:

  • “We’ve got a theological problem! We don’t believe people are lost anymore!”
  • “We’ve got an eschatological problem, we don’t believe anymore that Jesus is coming back!”
  • “We’re going to go with those who want to go with God!”
  • “We’re going to hang this sign up & they will come! Get a real clue!”
  • “Prayer is not an action it is the primary action!”
  • “Pastor rise up in your leadership and quit focusing on secondary things!”
  • “God didn’t call you to reach the 1950s! He called you to reach the people around you now!”

If we desire a missional movement then there must be missional leaders. Our DNA must be composed of a multiplication mindset that calls people away from maintenance back to mission. Our prayer is that God will raise more catalytic leaders. What characteristics define catalytic leadership?

  • Spiritual: They are not interested in positional authority but lead through the evidence of their calling and walk with God. Their lives are evidence of the power of God.
  • Missional: Order their lives around a missionary purpose with a passion for fulfilling the Great Commission. They live every day sent by their Master.
  • Visionary: Energized by a vision of a preferred future not the status quo. Motivated by God’s heart not a program or the latest methodological fad.
  • Pioneers: Extend the mission of God by embracing their essential calling as a missionary people. They are driven to carry the gospel to every nation and every people.
  • Entrepreneurial: Take calculated risks to create new environments for the gospel where multiplication can occur through relationship building.
  • Team Players: Prefer working with others as a part of a team. They believe far more can be accomplished working with others who share their values.
  • Courageous: Reawakening us to the truth of the gospel, its demands, and its implications. They are willing to pay a high price for the furtherance of the gospel. (Rom 9:1-3)

Tony Evans puts it this way, “God is not as interested in your ‘Amen’ as He is in your action!” A healthy church is an outwardly focused church!

Intentional Mentoring

 

 

Multiplying

   Intentionality is a missing ingredient in many leaders lives. It is not intentional (pun intended) but intenionality will not just accidentily happen because of the nature of how busy most of us are. There are fires to put out, too many irons in the fire, and we must admit thay it is very easy to become distracted. Jesus, the greatest leader ever, acted with intentionality. He intentionally choose the 12 men He would pour His life into. He intentionally went through Samaria so that He would have a meeting with the Samaritan woman. Over and over again you can see in the Gospels how Jesus acted out of intentioanlity. The fact is that intentionallity is needed in evangelism, discipleship, and leadership development.

     Without intentionality we will not make disciples! Without our making plans for it to happen it probably will not happen. Without a process in mind for how that occurs it probably will not occur. Look back to last weeks artice for a simple plan for intentionally building relationships with the unsaved and the first step is setting aside time, intentionally, to engage witht them. Leadership development will also require intentionality, just like Jesus, so that others can go where we go, see what we see, listen to how we handle certain situations, observe how we interact with others, and learn through on-the-job training.

     Bob Logan and Tara Miller have an excellent book on intentionally rasing up others entitled, From Followers to Leaders. They say, “For churches to accomplish their mission—their mission of bringing each person through the faith journey from discovering God to developing the fullest extent of their gifts and talents—some type of intentional resourcing system needs to be created…This resourcing system needs to be relational, flexible, and designed with the whole person in mind.” The book is an excellent tool (“path template”) to thinking through how you and your church can move an individual through the process of discipleship from before salvation to maturity in Christ.

     It is a call to how we not only need to be highly intentional but also highly relational. They remind us that “theories are linear; people are not.” The outcry of most leaders seems to be that they need more leaders, better leaders, and the right kind of leaders. Maybe we bear the responsibility for this shortage of leaders by not intentionally focusing enough effort on leadership development through disciple-making. If we have been focusing on leadership development then the end result would be the multiplication of leaders! Along our journey there should always be those going before us, those travelling along side of us, and those coming along behind us.

     Bob and Tara share the following Tips of Intentionality in From Followers to Leaders. “Many of us have the desire to develop others, but we don’t prioritize it. Below are a few ways to make sure we are focusing our time and energy in the most productive way possible.

  1. Ask God to lead you to people he wants you to invest in. Be sure to spend time in listening prayer. Recognize that sometimes the people he brings to mind are not the obvious choices. The twelve disciples are case in point.
  2. Be open to people in various stages of faith and ministry. Some of the people you choose to invest in may be current leaders, some may be emerging leaders, some may be brand new believers, and some not quite into the Kingdom yet.
  3. Decide on your priorities and commit to making sure you schedule will align with those priorities.
  4. Keep and use a calendar. Get out your calendar and schedule regular times to invest in those people God has brought to mind. Follow the principle of proactively investing in people, consistently each month, scheduling something intentional to make that happen rather than being random or spontaneous.
  5. Rather than just hanging out, have a clear purpose for meeting. Spending deliberate time really makes a difference, and the relational element will happen more naturally alongside a clear purpose.
  6. Recognize that leaders must be developed slowly over time. You cannot cram for this or do it all at once—regular deposits over time pay huge eternal dividends.
  7. Recognize that developing others is extremely important but rarely urgent—don’t be ruled by the tyranny of the urgent, and seek help if you are spending too much time putting out fires. If you are not proactive and intentional, meaningful investment in others is unlikely to happen.
  8. Prioritize your schedule. First list the highest priority meetings with potential leaders, then fit in other responsibilities around that.
  9. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Seek guidance from God about the number of people you can invest in and the level of frequency. Periodically reevaluate.

The Path to Multiplication

 

 

Multiply

The Path of Multiplication Multiplication is the path the New Testament church was set on in the gospels. Churches need to return to the path that Jesus led the disciples on in John 15 of fruit, more fruit, and much fruit. Some have taken this to be a numbers game but it is not. It is what Christ commands and what was demonstrated by followers from the 1st to the 4th century. The problem is that we are thinking addition while the bible teaches multiplication and while the world is multiplying at an alarming rate. “Early Christianity was not spread by professionals but by ordinary people whose names and deeds went unrecorded.” -S Addison

     In Disciples Are Made not Born Walter Hendrickson said, “The reason that the church of Jesus Christ finds it so difficult to stay on top of the great commission is that the population of the world is multiplying while the church is merely adding. Addition can never keep pace with multiplication.” The path to multiplication begins with death. John 12:24, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Every churches people are called upon to intentionally commit to die together so that others might find god’s Kingdom.

     Who is this path of multiplication for? Every born again believer! Is it for small churches or large churches? All churches! What ministries should be involved? Every ministry! Is it for the young believer or the mature believer? All believers! Is it for church planters or established churches? Both!!! We need to pray that God will raise up a generation of church planters who will transform their communities for Christ and for God to raise up leaders who love established churches and desire to see them multiply. “Reaching the harvest is the ultimate goal. Starting and multiplying new churches through the development of reproducing leaders is the only way we will be able to fully obey Jesus’ command to make disciples.” –Robert E. Logan

First, churches must be about making disciples. Disciple-making begins with the lost. We must once again become passionate about evangelism. We must embrace the mission of Jesus as our own and begin living as missionaries right where we are. A church planter needs to try to be meeting and building a relationship with a minimum 5 lost people a day. A great question to ask ourselves every week is, “Have I been a verbal testimony today to the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ. The path of multiplication begins when a church decides to go on mission with God. “A missional church thinking outwardly usually is a healthy church inwardly.” -Thom Rainer

Second, we must develop leaders for the harvest and from the harvest. Everywhere you look there is a leadership shortage. Pastors say they need more leaders. The temptation is to focus on the recruitment of leaders instead of reproducing them out of the harvest. If we do not reproduce them out of the harvest then soon the leadership pool will run dry. Every church must develop a strategy for helping new believers to grow because discipleship must be intentional.” Our future depends upon our intentionally developing the next generation of leaders because better leaders mean better churches. “If you’re not legacy minded, what you do ends with you!” -Chris Nicely

Third, develop an easily reproducible strategy. With our eyes on the Great Commission we must develop transferrable methods that empower ordinary people to do extraordinary things. What if every church (churches could also cooperate) developed a Ministry Multiplication Center? It might look like this:

  • Identify potential multipliers in your congregation. They need to be individuals who have been God-validated by their involvement in the local body. They have demonstrated their ability to evangelize, disciple, and multiply themselves.
  • Enlist them into a 9-month training program for multiplication. They will commit with others in an intensive time of instruction with a clear sense of calling towards church multiplication. The maximum number of students is eight.
  • Establish that the focus will be on church multiplication and leadership principles while always keeping a focus on biblical and theological understanding. They will meet once a week for 3-4 hours of intensive interaction in a “round table” format.
  • Each student comes prepared to lead the discussion on the assigned topic. Each student prepares for each class through assigned reading and come to class focused on practical application of theological truths.
  • Implementation of the learning occurs when each student is asked to write a church multiplication proposal at the end of the class. The proposal should undergo a thorough evaluation that focuses on their action plans and introduces some reality to them.

     The “what if” scenario is adapted from Raising Leaders for the Harvest by Robert E. Logan and Neil Cole and is only meant to be a template. It can be adapted for small groups, cell groups, satellite congregation, and more. The maximum might be eight but it would work one on one also. “Many leaders do not give themselves to developing other people because they have never had it happen to them.” –Reggie McNeal

     The path to multiplication is a path we can all travel but we must decide to make the journey, we must prepare for the journey, and we must be dedicated to finishing the journey! If your vision for your church is only your congregation it is too small a vision. The path to multiplication is to raise up leaders for the harvest and from the harvest through a more effective and reproducible process of leadership development within local churches, resulting in church multiplication movements.  Ask God whether your church should plant, parent, or partner!

Where Did We Go Wrong?

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     It was a dream come true to recently visit Providence, RI. This is where the first Baptist church in America was started over 375 years ago. This is also where the pursuit for religious liberty was forged. From these humble beginnings, Baptist churches were planted at an exponential manner and speed. In DCPI’s Churches Planting Churches materials Mark Williams says, “in 1750 there were approximately 200 Baptist churches but by 1950 there were over 77,000 with membership growing from 100,000 members to twenty million. It is likely that 12 to 16 million came to Christ through these new churches.” The history of our heritage is both exciting and bothersome!

     In a recent study about Evangelicals in North America, JD Payne reported that, “missiologists have labeled people groups ‘unreached’ or ‘least-reached’ when the evangelical percentage among the particular people examined is less than or equal to 2% AND when the total Christian Adherent population is less than or equal to 5%. Others have simply defined an unreached people group as one ‘in which less than 2% of the population are Evangelical Christians.'” In using this metric there are now seven states that qualify as unreached; Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Utah, Vermont, Maine, and Rhode Island!

     Where did we go wrong? What happened to our influence and legacy from where we began on American soil? The Providence metropolitan area is reported as 1.7% evangelical and qualifies as one of the most unreached urban areas in the United States. Since being exposed to these sobering statistics it has been a burden of my heart to do something about equipping and empowering someone to reach this city. The greatness of the need and the lostness of this area did not resolve the problem of who could go and effectively reach these people with the gospel. It would require the right person (called), in the right place (contextualization), and at the right time (connection).  

     First, God hears and answers prayers! The book of James reminds us that we have not because we ask not and that the urgent requests of God’s people are very powerful in their effect. God heard our cry as we asked him to raise up someone we could help to reach this unreached unevangelized area. God orchestrated a connection through a missionary in Thailand who had gone to seminary with a friend who had planted in Providence. It was a great day when we received an email asking if we would be interested in contacting his friend and see what might be done to begin building a relationship. We really are better together.

     Second, God is always way ahead of us! God never ceases to amaze me because long before we were praying about Providence, RI, the Lord was working in the heart of a man to prepare himself for the ministry. He accepted the call on his life to preach the gospel, plant a church, and begin evangelizing people who are far from God. Our first phone call was over an hour as he shared his journey and stated, “And I can tell you brother, the Northeast needs all the prayer you can send our way.” Deut. 31:8 says, “The Lord is the One who will go before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.”

     Third, begin faithfully serving the Lord right where you are! We must begin serving the Lord right where we are and do it right now. Thankfully, He and his family have not waited on us to obediently follow the Lord. Many are waiting for an opportunity to serve and the Lord wants to know what you are doing with the talents He has already given you. We talk about serving the Lord “over there” but what are we doing right where we are? Adrian Rogers said, “A change of scenery never guarantees a change of character!” This church planting pastor shared with me the challenges of reaching people in this unreached area and said, “This is fun!”

     Fourth, God is able and He is doing amazing things! The testimonies of how God is moving through the ministries of church plants and established churches are exciting to hear. He still is not willing that any should perish. Our vision statement for our church planting efforts is, “raising up a generation of church planters to transform their communities with the gospel!” As we obey His command to go He has promised, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” While in Providence, in a meeting with NAMB church catalyst, Shaun Pillay, he said, “Let’s stop talking about how hard the soil is and start talking about how great our God is!”

     Healthy churches do not wait to begin evangelizing their communites and are actively obeying the Great Commission. Having a building full of people who say they love God but do not love the people God loves, the lost, is unacceptable to a healthy church!

Are You Watching the Right Gauges?

Dashboard

The advances of technology have been amazing over the last ten to fifteen years.  This progress can be seen every day when you drive your vehicle.  The options now available on the steering wheel and dashboard of a car are amazing.  They used to only include; speedometer, odometer, water temperature, oil pressure, and a gas gauge.  Today you can answer your phone, manage the stereo, and set your cruise control from the buttons on your steering wheel.  The dashboard has a computer that can tell you when you have a low tire and when you need an oil change.  It can even calculate your fuel range, average fuel economy, and much more.

Even though these accessories are nice and make things much easier for us, the standard speedometer, odometer, gas gauge, etc, is still there.  These gauges or warning lights tell us how well the vehicle is running.  While it is very easy to become fascinated with all of the new bells and whistles you must keep your eyes on the gauges that matter.  Music can make a long trip far more enjoyable, and cruise control is awesome, but those advancements do not ensure that the engine has what it needs for its best performance.   Are you focusing on the right dials, on your life dashboard, which will tell you how healthy you are spiritually, emotionally, and physically?           

Wayne Cordeiro, in Leading on Empty, talks about twelve “dials” on the dashboard of an airplane.  He says,”Yes, a central concern is certainly getting from Point A to Point B in a timely fashion, but the lives and safety of those on board are more important.”  You cannot see the engine and know what the oil pressure or water temperature is without gauges but these critical components need to be monitored.  Cordeiro says, “My “dashboard” includes twelve dials that meter vital systems essential to my health and success.”  We must be focused on the dials and gauges that are true indicators of how well our lives are running in the eyes of the Lord.  Here are some gauges on the dashboard of life that really matter:

  • Spiritual Walk – Are you daily seeking Him and His face or are you just going through the motions?  Because of so many bells and whistles in church life today it is easy to interpret our activity as spiritual health, but not necessarily.  “If you aren’t getting your sense of well being vertically, you will shop for it horizontally and always come up short.” –Paul Tripp
  • Marriage and Family – Are you the spiritual leader in your home?  Does your family see the same person at home that they see at church?  You must not allow ministry to make you one-dimensional.  Take time to walk, talk, and pray together.  “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.” –Wm Bruce Cameron
  • Missional Living – Are you focused on those in your circle of influence who do not know Jesus Christ personally?  What are you doing about it?  It is estimated that there are enough people in churches right now to see the Great Commission fulfilled in our life time.  Right now!  “When it comes to the gospel, some Christians just click “like” instead of “share.” –Burk Parsons
  • Discipleship – Do you have a process of discipleship that is easily reproducible?  Is your process effective in producing healthy disciples?  Are you personally being discipled and are you discipling someone?  Everyone should have a Paul and a Timothy in their life.  “Do you really want to experience God?  Then go and make disciples!” –Francis Chan
  • Friendships – Do you have a social life where you spend time fellowshipping with friends?  Are you seen as friendly person that cares about others more than you care about yourself?  Every Christian should be willing to stand alone for God but should never have too.  “Fellowship is a place of grace, where mistakes aren’t rubbed in but rubbed out.” –Rick Warren
  • Church Life – Is your church intentionally carrying out the Great Commission?  Are you more focused on doing church than being the church?  Are you more inwardly focused than outwardly?  Are you program driven or people driven?  “Remember the Alamo!  It began as a mission, became a battlefield, and now is a museum.  Wrong trajectory for a church.” –Alvin Reed
  • Faith – Do you believe that you are complete in Christ?  Do you trust in your ability more than the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God?  Did you know you can take a day off and get just as much done? (Read Ex. 16)  A leader, in the area of faith, has been described as someone willing to build an ark in the dark!

Lately, I have participated in a small group of local pastors and preachers and we all graded our own personal life “dashboards.”  We gave ourselves grade letters, some used 1-10, with A- being the highest and C- being the lowest.  What kind of grade would you give yourself in these seven areas?  What kind of grade would your wife give you on your marriage and family gauge?  Now is a great time to put together your own dashboard, with your own personal gauges, and see what they are really saying!

A healthy church focuses on the most important gauges! 

Illusions of Grandeur

Illusions

   Illusionists can create situations where it is hard to tell what is reality and what is fake. With the use of sleight of hand, mirrors, and other techniques he convinces you that what you know is not real has happened. All of us have probably been spellbound by watching a skilled illusionist perform tricks where people disappear, seem to be cut in half, and many other feats. We can be easily fooled by hidden compartments, well timed distractions, very theatrical presentations, and because the hand is quicker than the eye.

     Something that concerns me greatly is, are there things in our churches and our lives that can create an illusion of spiritual health?  There are scriptures that have always haunted me concerning this possibility. Matt. 7 tells us that a person can have the illusion that they know God but the reality is that they have never known Him.  Rev. 3 teaches that a church can have the illusion that they are rich and in need of nothing yet they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Warren Weirsbe said, “To the public the Ephesian church was successful; to Christ, it had fallen.”

     Here are some things that can give a church the illusion that they are spiritually healthy:

  • Building and facilities: While having a location is a blessing, it can also cause us to focus on the wrong thing. Churches are meeting in movie theaters, schools, and under bridges reminding us that it’s not about the place but about what takes place when we worship. We have always said that the church is not brick and mortar but people.
  • Bells and whistles: Technology is great and there are many advancements that are a blessing to our services. The temptation could be to place too much emphasis on perfection and the production. The Bible reminds us that we can have the illusion of godliness but deny the power thereof.
  • Programs and activities: If we are not careful, we equate busyness with spiritual health. We must never allow activity to become a cheap substitute for our adoration of God. Jesus made it very clear that Mary had the right priority over her sister, Martha, in choosing to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Individual believers can also think they are spiritually healthy when they are not. Here are some mistakes we make that can give the illusion of spiritual health:

  • Comparing ourselves to others: There is often someone we compare ourselves to thinking we are more faithful, more dedicated, and more spiritual. The standard is not to be like others, nor better than others. The biblical challenge is to live, look, and love like Jesus. Jesus told Peter not to worry about John but focus on his own service and life.
  • Faithfulness: Never missing services and always attending everything does not guarantee you are spiritually healthy.  It is easy to go through the motions while developing the habit of being faithful, which is a good habit, but not having a close intimate relationship with the Lord.  15:8 says, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.”
  • Longevity: We can think that because we have been a believer 20, 30, or 40 years that we are spiritually healthy.  It is not so much the quantity of time but rather the quality of time in following Christ.  We can have the illusion that we are spiritually healthy because we have been a believer a long time!

     Psalms 51:16-17 says, “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”  Remember, God looks at the heart and is more interested in why we do what we do than He is in what we do!  God is into motives and it is very possible to serve Him and give the illusion of being spiritually healthy while our hearts are far from Him. 

     Healthy churches and healthy Christians examine their hearts and their motives in order to serve the Lord so that He is honored and glorified!  They are very careful to not allow anything to give the illusion that they are spiritually healthy.  Proverbs 16:2 says, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits (motives).” 

I CHOOSE MERCY

Mercy

My daughter Meredith has always had a very tender heart.  When she was little, she could cry the largest tears I have ever seen.  When she was 5 years old, she asked me if she could go outside and play in our back yard.  I gave her specific orders not to play in a certain area because we had discovered some fire ants.  When I glanced out the back window, guess where she was?  Immediately, I told her to come inside and asked her why she had disobeyed. The one gallon size tears began to flow. 

As we discussed her disobedience to my direct orders, I asked her what she thought I should do and if she thought she deserved a spanking.  She caught me off guard when she said, “Yes, but I choose mercy!”  Wow, that was the title of my last message, and I have to tell you that I hate it when people use my messages against me, especially my 5 year old daughter.  It was out of that encounter I was reminded of Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

There are three words I think we need to always remember:

#1.  Judgment – This is getting what we deserve.  I have heard people say, “Just give me what I deserve,” but I do not want what I deserve. The scriptures are clear that the payment for our sin is death, eternal separation from God.  Romans 5:18 says, “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”  Meredith deserved to be disciplined because she had disobeyed!

#2.  Mercy – This is where you do not get what you deserve.  2 Corinthians 4:1 says, “Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not;”  Paul was saying that the teaching of the gospel was what sustained him and kept him from fainting.  God shows mercy on us by withholding judgment on the unrepentant to give them the opportunity to receive Christ and he withholds it permanently from the redeemed.  Oh, I didn’t spank Meredith that day because I choose mercy too!

#3.  Grace – This is where you receive far more than you could ever deserve, earn, or gain.  Grace is the unmerited favor of God!  Romans 5:17 says, “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.”  Grace is God doing something for you that you could never do yourself.  Oh, by the way, not only did I not spank Meredith, we went and got an ice cream!

Recently, I ran across a new word, “Gracenomics,” and I was intrigued to find more out about it.  I have heard about autonomics, bionomics, economics, ergonomics, psychonomics, and one of my favorites, reaganomics, but I was unfamiliar with this one.  Upon looking further into this word, I found out that there was even a book entitled Gracenomics by Mike Foster with the theme of, “Unleashing the Power of the Second Chance.”  The idea is to give grace to everyone around us as God has given us grace.

During this Easter season, and every day of the year, may grace abound in our lives toward others.  My prayer is that we will live by the principles of grace as taught by the greatest grace giver of all times, Jesus Christ.  I know some do not like it when I have shared new ways of saying old truths.  Personally, I feel that it stimulates a greater awareness of whether or not we are practicing what we have said we believe.  Maybe a new way of expressing God’s truth could catch the ear or eye, hopefully the heart, of those seeking the truth.

The greatest way to teach grace is to practice it regularly.  We must never forget that we only have eternal life because of the mercy and grace of God in sending His son to earth in order to one day pay the price for our redemption.  Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

I agree with my daughter, “I choose Mercy!!!”