Church

The Stresses of Church Work

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I would never suggest that pastors and church leaders work harder than other people ... but church work has its unique challenges and pressures.

Here are five of them:

1. Ministry work is never done. It is open ended. There is never full closure. There is always more to do. It just keeps coming at you - day after day, week after week. There are no finish lines. Finish one counselling appointment and there's another one coming. Get through last weekend and there's another one coming. Preach that sermon and you'll need to start preparing the next one - and it needs to be even better (the continual pressure of forced creativity). Today a baby is born. Such joy. Tomorrow, a church member dies, a tense conflict erupts, or a married couple files for divorce. Such sadness and pain. It's an emotional rollercoaster. And it just keep going. Ministry is relentless. Listen to talk-back radio on Friday afternoons and everyone is saying, "Thank God it's Friday!" Listen to pastors and they're probably thinking, "My God, it's Friday!"

2. There are no boundaries. Ministry and church work will fill as much of your life as you allow it too. Most people have a job, a family and a church community they are a part of. There is usually appropriate segmentation between those spheres. Have a problem with someone at work? At least you can head home or to church and put it behind you for a little while. Have a problem at home? At least you can go to work and get it off your mind for a bit. Pastors don't have that privilege. Work is church is family. One big circle. If something isn't going well, it fills all your world.

3. Not everyone likes you and your family. This is really hard to understand - because us pastors  are such nice people! But it is a reality of life. Criticism will continually come and often from people who really don't even know you. 

4. You can never please everyone all of the time. At any given moment in time, someone is not happy with the way things are. There isn't enough worship, Bible teaching, evangelism, prayer, social justice, mission, or whatever. The sermons are too shallow or too deep, too funny or too serious, too long or too short. The music is too loud or too soft. The lights are too bright or the room is too dark. It goes on and on and on.

5. Much of your life is in the fish bowl. Everyone is watching you and your family ... all of the time. I can never forget going to a men's public toilet on my day off while Nicole was shopping. I was standing at the urinal doing what men do, when someone leant over and said,"Excuse me, are you Mark Conner?" They had heard of me and obviously wanted to chat. Can't even pee in peace!

All of this adds up to quite a lot of stress. No wonder there are 13,000 ex-pastors in Australia today and surveys reveal that 50% of those still in church work are emotionally depleted, depressed or clinically burnt out. It's not easy work.

That's why pastors need our support, encouragement, and prayers.

Of course, it is possible to not only survive the pressures of church work but to actually thrive as a pastor or church leader. How? Only through healthy habits


A Church United

John 17 is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus and it reveals what was important to him. After praying for himself (vs.1-5) and his disciples (vs.6-19), he prayed for all who would believe in him – for the church yet to born (vs.20-26). Nearest to Jesus’ heart was his concern for the unity of his followers. So how are we doing at being “united”, as Jesus prayed? The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that there were 34,000 denominations in the year 2000 rising to 43,000 in 2012. These are all “Christian” denominations, not those of other faiths or beliefs systems. All declare Jesus as Lord yet each has a distinct approach to areas such as leadership, structure, or a certain doctrine or emphasis. Some see themselves as right and others as wrong.

A Worldview Shift

Back in 1995, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me about seven “strategic shifts” that the church needs to make in our time [these are outlined fully in my book Transforming Your Church]. One of the shifts is a “worldview shift” which requires us to shift from a narrow local church focus to a much broader kingdom mentality. The “kingdom” refers to God’s work in the world. It is the domain where God rules. God rules everywhere but the expression of that rule is yet to be fully revealed. That is why we continue to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The “church” is a local expression of what the kingdom is like, made up of disciples of Jesus. It is local yet also global, made up of all true followers of Jesus. We are to preach the good news of the gospel and when people respond they are born into the kingdom of God then added to the church. God’s kingdom is much bigger than any expression of the local church. God’s work in the world is way beyond our small church community, as important as we may be.

How can we work towards helping Jesus prayer for the unity of his church become a reality?

1. Be Humble, not Proud. Each local church is special and unique and we should be proud of our church. It should be the best church - for us. However, we also need to value the uniqueness of others. No ministry or local church has it all or is God’s only instrument or the only one true church. We are a part of the body of Christ, which is made up of every Christian and every church that declares Jesus Christ as Lord. Humility demands that we have a sober or balanced view of ourselves. We all need each other. The Great Commission is too big for any one of us to fulfil. We need all churches and all Christian ministries working together to achieve God’s purposes. Praise God for the huge variety and diversity of ministries he is using today. After all, it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

2. Be Inclusive, not Exclusive. God desires us to seek to include others rather than exclude them. Christian love is expressed by an open, warm, embracing attitude toward other people, ministries and churches. We should look for common ground and not focus only on our differences (Philippians 1:15-18). God wants us connected to others, not isolated from them. God has called us to build bridges, not walls. In the Old Testament, there was only one nation of Israel, but it was made up of 12 different tribes, which were further made up of many different households and families. So it is in the church today. There are many different denominations, associations, networks and groups of churches and ministries. Each is unique and has its own distinctives, but we are all a part of the one true church. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We must avoid prejudice against other churches and ministries and watch out that we don’t develop stereotypes of other ministries based on gossip and hearsay, rather than personal experience.

3. Discern, Don’t Judge. It is sad to see the amount of people today who spend their time throwing mud at or criticising other Christian ministries, claiming that so-and-so is a false prophet or spreading heresy. Jesus does call us to discern ministries (by their fruit) but to go beyond this and place a judgment on a person is something we are strongly commanded not do. The apostles tell us to test all things, to hold on to the good, and let the bad go (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22. 1 John 4:1-3). The test is what people say about Jesus - who he is and what he has done. We should, however, place final judgement on nothing before its time (1 Corinthians 4:5. James 4:10-12). God is the true judge, and each person will stand before him (not us) and give account for all they have done. Christian love requires us to avoid a critical attitude that is quick to pull down and point out flaws in other people and their ministries (Matthew 7:1-5). We see this gracious attitude portrayed so beautifully in the advice that Gamaliel gave to the Pharisees when they were considering persecuting the early church (Acts 5:33-39). He told them that if a ministry was not of God, it would die down and come to nothing. However, if it was of God, they should leave it alone lest they be seen as fighting against God. We would be wise to take his advice today as we observe other ministries and churches.

4. Love, Don’t Hate. God has commanded us to love all people but especially other Christians who also love Jesus. We are to pray for God’s blessing on other churches and ministries. We are to rejoice when they thrive and sorrow when they struggle. We are working together for the benefit of God’s kingdom. We are not in opposition or competition with each other. We’re all on the same team. God is actually angry when we fight and hurt each other. Jesus said, “By this will all people know you are my disciples … by your love for one another” (John 13:35). God’s desire is that we come to the “unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3) and eventually to a “unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13). The world will know we are Christians by our love for one another, and that is demonstrated by how we relate to other churches and Christian ministries.

Conclusion

It’s a new day. God is breaking down the walls. He is bringing his body, the church, together as a mighty force in the earth. It will take the whole church, taking the whole gospel to the whole world, to complete the Great Commission. The last prayer of Jesus that we would all be one as he and the Father are one is one prayer that will be answered. Let’s work together for its fulfilment in our time. 

Reflection Discussion Questions

  1. Reflect on your experience with the local church. What churches have you been involved in and what have you learned from this experience?
  2. Consider your experience with Christians from other churches. What have you learned and what do you appreciate about different parts of the body of Christ?
  3. Read Mark 9:38-40. In what ways can we be like the disciples today? What does Jesus response teach us?
  4. What are some ways we can avoid the isolation that comes by being totally consumed with only our own church and its activities, needs or concerns?
  5. “Church-hopping” is a major problem today. What are some key factors a person would be wise to consider before changing churches?
  6. In what ways is Christian unity a tremendous “apologetic” (witness, defence or explanation) for the good news of Jesus Christ?

 


Navigating Transitions

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At a recent conference, I shared a message about "Navigating Transitions". 

Here is a summary of the main insights I shared:

1. Trust God for the Future.

Life is a journey with many seasons. We can have a sense of where we have come from, where we are now and where we are going. Seasons are marked by endings and beginnings. Occasionally, there are unexpected turns in the road. Some things are within our control while many things aren’t. 

Placing our trust in God is based on a belief that his providence is undergirding everything (Romans 8:28). Trust is active faith, not fatalism. We don't know what tomorrow holds but we do know who holds tomorrow in his hands. He is the Alpha (the beginning) and the Omega (the end). He has begun a good work in each one of us and he will complete it (Philippians 1:6).We can sleep at night because of that assurance.

Proverbs 3:5-6. Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. NLT 

In many ways, experiencing change is a little bit like letting go of one trapeze and you still haven't taken hold of the next one. That's a scary feeling! It requires trust in God that he will not let us fall and that there is a new trapeze for us to lay hold of.

We grow in our faith as we build experiences of God’s faithfulness. When David faced Goliath (a giant beyond anything he had fought before) he recalled God’s help in defeating the lion and the bear. We can do the same, as we recall God's faithfulness in the past. We know he will be with us today and tomorrow. 

2. Understand that the Church's Mission Remains the Same.

Each church's mission should be clear and should continue under the new leadership. Just like Moses passed the baton to Joshua, the mission is bigger than any one leader or group of people. There is more of the mission yet to become a reality as God's vision continues to unfold for the next horizon … then the next and the next. Just like individuals have a unique calling and purpose, so do churches. God has not finished using the church for his purposes yet.

3. Prepare for Change. 

Change is coming. People are never replaced but roles are. A new leader will have their own unuqie personality and style. Things will be different. That means some grief and loss - for me too. Endings require us to ‘let go’ of past (the way we were) yet endings make way for new beginnings.

Isaiah 43:18-19. Forget about what's happened; don't keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I'm about to do something brand-new. It's bursting out! Don't you see it? There it is! I'm making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Message Bible

Change is not something that many people like because it makes them feel uncomfortable. It implies leaving the old familiar ways behind and stepping out into new, uncharted waters. It definitely does not sound safe. However, God is in the change business and his plan requires us to change. We are not what God wants us to be yet. God is not finished with us. We must move on. We need to change and grow.

People hold the key to change, and the ability and willingness of individuals to change is the key factor to the future of any group. Change is a process that is both exciting and difficult, and resistance  to it is natural and should be expected. The key is to turn resistance into change-readiness. Change-readiness is an attitude that is open and receptive to new ideas, excited rather than anxious about change, challenged (not threatened) by transitions, and committed to change as an ongoing process. Change-readiness is taking actions to anticipate and initiate change, to challenge the status quo, to create instead of react to change and lead rather than follow.

Individuals and churches that are good react quickly to change. Individuals and churches that are great create change. We must be forward-thinking people. The apostle Paul made it his aim to forget the things that were behind and to stretch himself forward to what was ahead. He refused to become comfortable or complacent. From his point of view, this way of thinking is a mark of spiritual maturity (Philippians 3:10-15).

In case you had not noticed, God is a God of new things. He has made us new creations, given us new hearts, a new spirit and a new covenant. We live in a new day; we have a new name; we have a new commandment; we have been given new garments; His mercies are new every morning; we drink of the new wine; we are headed for a new Jerusalem and eventually a new heaven and a new earth. In the end, God makes all things new!

Embracing the new things God has for us implies leaving the old behind. It requires change and transition. God wants freshness in our lives not stagnation, staleness or sameness. God sent the manna to Israel fresh daily. It could not be kept for the next day or it would rot and stink (Exodus 16:12-31). In the same way, we need to keep receiving the new things God has for us. He wants us to be willing, open and ready to change. Let's be change ready rather than change resistant!

4. Keep Serving Faithfully Side by Side.

During seasons of change, it is important to look after yourself (Acts 20:28). Keep your spiritual tank full through prayer, feed on God’s Word, manage your internal stress, keep healthy and fit, and be sure to allow ample time for recreation – have fun, enjoy life, and do some things outside of ministry.

Rom 12:11-13. Don't burn out; keep yourselves fuelled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. MB

Times of transition also provide us with the opportunity to strengthen our relationships. Life is a journey and it's not just about us and God. He’s called us to do life in community with others. We are created with a need for relationship. It is ‘not good’ that we are alone (Genesis 2). During times of transition, change, and adversity, we need each other more than ever. Don’t isolate yourself. Spend time with some ‘safe’ people who you can be open and real with. Share your heart. Externalise your feelings. This often helps to bring clarity as you process what you are experiencing. Open conversation is vital.

Hebrews 10:23-25. Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. NLT

5. Pray for this Important Time.

Pray. Ask for God's wisdom and guidance. Read your own heart. Make your own calling sure. How is your own passion, enjoyment, fulfilment, dreams, capacity, fit, energy and growth? Is it time to push through some discouragement of complacency or maybe to give yourself more time settle in (possibly to a new role or new situation)? Or is God unsettling you for a time of re-positioning yourself? How's your own race going? I have always had the attitude of doing what I am doing now with the commitment that I may do it forever BUT holding it lightly enough so that I am willing to ‘let it go’ whenever prompted by God.

We can transition well. There are good times ahead!


Transforming Your Church

Cover Pic (small)When I became the Senior Minister of CityLife Church back  in 1995, I invested extensive time in prayer, study, research and reflection about principles for building a healthy and effective church. As a result, I was prompted to lead our church through seven "strategic shifts" over the next few years. This has resulted in much positive change and impact. 

Over the years, I have taught this material to many pastors and church leaders. Eventually, these principles were put into a book called Help Your Church Change and eventually an international version titled Transforming Your Church: Seven Strategic Shifts to Help Your Church Navigate the 21st Century. This was released in the year 2000 and then a completely updated and revised edition was published in 2010, with much additional matieral, including five new appendices covering topics such as church governance, the role of the senior minister, women in leadership, and self care for church leaders. This book has also been translated into Swedish, Indonesian and Russian.

You can purchase a paperback copy of this book from WORD Australia or City Christian Publishing in the USA (under the title Seven Strategic Changes Every Church Must Make). An eBook format version is also now available for Kindle at Amazion.

I pray that this book will continue to be a blessing to many churches and Christian leaders.


The Supper

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As we move towards Easter, let's take a look at the supper from Mark 14:12-26.

Part of our God-given humanity is the instinct to celebrate significant moments with significant meals (e.g. Christmas, birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries). Sharing a meal bonds a family, a group of friends, a team, a collection of colleagues together. The meal says more than words - about who we are, how we feel about one another, and the hopes and joys we share together. It’s not just about the food; the meal says something, it does something. We become a people who shared that meal together, with all that it meant to us.

The Jewish Passover celebration was such a meal, linking together generations of families around the story that told them who they were - God's people rescued from Egypt. Jesus takes this story and infuses it with new meaning, changing the script to point it towards the work he would do through his death and resurrection. He instituted a new meal - a new supper - for us to connect deeply with him and each other. 

This sacred meal is known by a number of terms including breaking bread, the table of the Lord, communion, and the Eucharist (which means thanksgiving).  Jesus instituted this practice when eating with his disciples just before his death (see Matt.26:26-29. Mark 14:22-25. Luke 22:15-20). Luke shows how the first disciples carried out the instructions of Jesus as they broke bread together regularly (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11. Luke 24:19, 30). This practice was originally associated with a meal (Luke 22:20. 1 Cor.11:25) but later became a separate celebration. Paul also commented on the Lord’s Supper when writing to the church at Corinth (1 Cor.11:23-26).

Six Dimensions of the Sacred Meal

Partaking in communion is not merely a religious exercise or tradition. It is intended to be a meaningful experience of God and His will for our lives, both personally and as a community of Christ-followers. We must not allow the routine of partaking of communion regularly turn it into a ritual rather than the significant celebration that Jesus intended for it to be. One helpful way to ensure that we retain the meaning of this sacred meal is to explore the breadth of its meaning. As we partake, we should look in at least six directions.

1. Look Backward. In the Lord’s Supper we look backwards to the redemptive work that Jesus accomplished through his death on the cross. His death was not an accident or that of a martyr. His death was a substitutionary one in that he took our place and paid the price for our sins once and for all so that we could be forgiven. This was a complete act of grace and not because of any goodness or merit on our behalf. We can now rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross knowing that he has done everything that needs to be done for us to be right with God. He suffered for us. His body was broken and His blood was split for our salvation. Communion is a powerful reminder of this foundation of our faith, which is in the finished work of the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is central to the Christian faith (Gal.6:14. Col.1:20). It may seem foolishness to those who do not believe but may it never be foolishness to the contemporary church (1 Cor.1:18). May we never forget the sacrificial gift of Christ’s life for us!

2. Look Forward. Communion is much more than a morbid recalling of the passion.  Believers “proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes (1 Cor.11:26).” In the Lord’s Supper we look forward to the time when the kingdom will come in full and we will enjoy personal fellowship with Jesus in a celebration meal together. We look forward with confidence each day knowing that our future is secure, whether we live or die. We look forward with joy at his return to earth to right all wrongs and to deliver us from sin and death. We also understand that there will be a day of account where we will be rewarded for the works we have done in this life. Finally, we look forward to a new heavens and a new earth – whether there will be no more sorrow, crying, pain or death (Rev.21:1-4). This accounts for the joy and gladness of heart in which the communion was celebrated (Acts 2:46).

3. Look Inward. Paul reminds us that the celebration of communion is also an important time of self-examination. Those who live in blatant sin when approaching the table are guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor.11:27-28). Communion times can be important occasions of looking inward at one’s heart and holding oneself personally accountable before God. The original Lord’s Supper was partaken of in the context of betrayal and denial. This should serve as a warning to us and a sober reminder to take heed lest we fall. Paul says that some become weak, sick and even die because of not handling this dimension of communion properly (1 Cor.11: 29-30). No doubt, Jesus’ teaching about reconciliation applies here (Matt.5:23-24).

4. Look Upward. The Lord’s Supper also looks upward as we remember that Jesus’ death on the cross and burial in the tomb was not the end of the story. His resurrection seals the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and that his death accomplished our full salvation. We now look up with conviction and joy knowing that the Savior lives and that He is seated at the right hand with the Father interceding for us (Heb.7:25). Jesus is alive! His resurrection is the foundation of our faith and the assurance that we too have been raised from the dead with him to walk in the power of a new life. We are citizens of a new kingdom. We seek for his will to be done and for his kingdom to come in all its fullness.

5. Look Around. Communion is also a time to reinforce the communal nature of this sacred meal. In John’s description of this time in Jesus’ life he includes the well-known story of Jesus taking on the role of a servant by washing the disciples feet (John 13:3-16). It was a powerful reminder of the calling we have to serve one another (Matt.20:20-28). That same evening Peter boastfully declared that he would never deny Jesus, even if the others did. This self-deceptive pride set him up for certain failure. Without others we can so easily fall away. We need each other’s friendship, encouragement, and accountability to stay faithful as we follow Jesus together. Communion is a time to look around and remind ourselves that we need each other. We are one body in Christ, regardless of differences.

6. Look Outward. Finally, there is an outward dimension to the Lord’s Supper. As Paul reflects on the communion, he reminds us that as we partake we “proclaim the Lord’s death” until he comes (1 Cor.11:26). We live in a world where people need to know the good news that Jesus has provided salvation from our sins through his death on the cross. Communion is a time to remind ourselves of those who haven’t heard or responded to this message. As we go from the table, we go with renewed commitment to pray, to love, and to share the good news of Jesus with others as we have opportunity.

As we can see, there is rich and deep meaning to this ancient practice. At communion we are to look backward (to Christ’s death), look forward (to Christ’s return), look inward (in self-examination), look upward (fellowship with God), look around (fellowship with each other), and look outward (to proclaim God’s word to others). May we all experience more and more of God’s amazing love for us as we celebrate communion together.

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. Which direction do you find most meaningful or easiest to look when taking communion?
  2. Which direction is new to you or something you haven’t thought much about?
  3. Discuss the symbolic meaning of the bread and the cup in communion.
  4. In the Old Testament, the entire family partook of the Passover meal together, including the children. What implication does this have for whether children should partake of communion or not today?
  5. Share with your family, friends or small group about what communion means to you. Pray for each other and then partake of communion together. 

Jesus' Ministry

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The Gospel of Matthew tells us this about the ministry of Jesus:

Matthew 9:35-37. Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a d shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields. NLT

Here are a few insights we can glean from Jesus' approach to ministry:

  • Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages in his region. Note the big picture vision and the strategic approach of achieving it step by step. What is your field of mission?
  • Jesus had compassion (to 'feel with') for people. The crowds of people were confused, aimless, without care and leadership. What do you see today when you look at the people around you?
  • Jesus provided ministry to meet their felt and real needs. What needs can you meet, what pains can you help heal?
  • Jesus saw the harvest opportunities as great but the workers as few. Not much has changed in 2,000 years.
  • Jesus prayed for more workers. The need was too great for one or a few people to meet. May we do the same today.

Four Kinds of Churches

Churchmuseum

There are four kinds of churches in the world today:

  1. The Museum Church. They are old and beautiful but empty (like the picture above). No one goes there. They are showpieces of past. Sadly, there is no spiritual vitality within their ancient walls.
  2. The Maintenance Church. These churches are a little better. They are almost empty ... but hanging on. Their mission is to survive, to maintain amidst the many drastic social changes. They refuse to change, members are dying off. Sadly, they too will soon become a Museum Church.
  3. The Ministry Church. These churches pursue Christian ministry to people within their walls. They have a full calendar of activities … Sunday worship (with free coffee and donuts), Bible studies, prayer meetings, good youth group, weekly choir, holiday services, summer camps, fellowship dinners. A quality staff of loving pastors and devoted members deliver its full-service programs. But there is no contact with people outside the church. They would rather stay securely this side of the Jordan than to cross into uncharted territory and engage in conversation.
  4. The Mission Church. These kinds of churches offer full service ministry, caring for their members, AND they reach out to serve their community, their city and other nations - sharing the good news of Jesus and taking his command to GO seriously. They go OUT the church door and INTO the world (locally and globally). They are actively crossing the street and going into the world.

What kind of church is yours?


Church Attendance in Australia (McCrindle Research)

Church-Attendance-ThumbAustralia has more churches (13,000) than schools (9,500), and more Australians attend a church service each week (1.8 million) than there are people in South Australia (1.6 million).

And while the latest Census results show that Christianity is the religion with which most Australians identify (61.1%), well above the second most popular religion in Australia, Buddhism (2.5%), less than one in seven of the Australians who ticked “Christianity” on their census form regularly attend a church.

Easter is a time of the year when church attendance increases, but what do the 92% of Australians who are not regular church attendees think of churches, and churchgoing in 2013? Check out Mark McCrindle's recent BLOG post for the latest infographic which shares the data, as well as additional information about perceived community needs. 

See also:


Creative Ways to Give Generously

PigWhenever you are prayerfully considering giving to a project of any kind, here are a few creative ideas to consider:

1. Give of what you already have. That could be something from you personal savings and investments or even a loan redraw.

2. Sell some of your assets. We see this occuring in the first church at Jerusalem when Barnabas sold a block of land and donated the proceeds to the work of the church (Acts 4:32-37). Put everything “on the table” making it available for God’s use. Maybe have a garage sale or put some unwanted items on eBay. Downsizing can have a very freeing affect on us, including reducing financial pressure (see Ecclesiastes 4:6).

3. Go without something (reduce expenses) and give from those proceeds. 

4. Stop spending unnecssarily by not buying more stuff and use those proceeds to give away. "Impulse buying" involves buying things we really don't need and is the number #1 budget buster. 

5. Earn more money and give the profits. Some creative ideas from people in our congregation include a person working overtime and giving those funds, a teenager mowing lawns and donating proceeds and a single mum renting out a room.

When considering giving, it is important to get the right balance between faith, wisdom and sacrifice (King David would not give an offering that did not cost him something). It's about equal sacrifice, not equal gifts. Everyone can do something. Sacrifice luxury not basic living … be radical but not reckless.

May God guide you as you seek him with an honest heart as to how and what you could invest in the work of His kingdom on earth. 


Giving to God's Work

Giving
A lot of organisations conduct various types of fund raising today, including churches. I value the Bible as God’s Word. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit and beneficial for every aspect of personal and church life. We know the Bible has a lot to say about “giving”, but what about “fund raising”? Interestingly enough, the apostle Paul, along with the many other things he did, spent many years raising funds from his churches for some needs in the church at Jerusalem. This is referred to in his letters as “the collection”. He gave some detailed instructions to his churches concerning their giving (see (1 Corinthians 16:1-3. 2 Corinthians 8-9. Romans 15:25-27). Let’s look at how he went about this and draw some lessons on “Giving to God’s Work”.

1. Give Willingly

Giving to God’s work is to be done voluntarily and willingly. It is not a command to give specific offerings like it is to tithe (2 Corinthians 8:8). It’s entirely up to you to choose whether you want to be involved or not. Paul was pleased when people were “eager” to give (2 Corinthians 8:3-5; 9:1-2). When God moves on people’s hearts they voluntarily and willingly choose to give to God’s work. There should not be any sense of pressure or obligation (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

No one “has to” give to any project. Giving is a heart issue and where your heart is, your treasure (or finances) will follow. When a person’s heart is in the church they are a part of, then they want to contribute as they are able towards it’s future.

2. Everyone Should Consider Giving

Paul encourages willing and voluntary giving but then he says “each one of you” should give (1 Corinthians 16:2. 2 Corinthians 9:7). It’s like you don’t have to give but you really should! Paul believes strongly in the cause he is raising money for and therefore he believe that everyone should contribute. He desires unity of vision and purpose amongst his churches. 

3. Prepare to Give

Paul did not resort to pressured giving or hasty decisions in financial matters. He encouraged each person to think and pray about what they should give. Each person was to “set aside” a sum of money during the week and then bring it to the church gathering where it was collected (1 Corinthians 16:1. 2 Corinthians 9:3). There are so many creative ways to give.

4. Give Proportionately

Paul asked people to give “in keeping with their income” or “according to their means” (1 Corinthians 16:2. 2 Corinthians 8:11-12). He understood that a person can only give of what he or she has, not what they don’t have. Paul’s desire was that there would be equality - not one “hard pressed” and the others “relieved” (2 Corinthians 8:13). God is pleased with “equal sacrifice not equal gifts”.

No gift is too small, in fact small gifts matter to God (read the inspiring story of what God can do with a little girl's donation of only 57 cents). Of course, those with greater financial capacity can help us by giving more.

5. Give Generously

Paul encouraged generous giving (2 Corinthians 8:20; 9:5-6). There are three aspects to generosity: giving based on wisdom (a calculated decision – “giving of what you have”. See 1 Corinthians 16:2. 2 Corinthians 8:11-12), giving sacrificially (“giving up something” - see 2 Corinthians 8:2-5,9) and giving in faith (believing God for a harvest on what we sow – see 2 Corinthians 9:6-13).

As you pray about giving, use wisdom; then add in as much sacrifice and faith as God directs you too. There is a powerful biblical principle at work when we give. We are investing in the kingdom and, in due time, there will be a return that is greater than what we give. This is a law, a principle and a promise from God’s Word. Giving is not just about sacrifice. It positions us to receive some tremendous blessing from the Lord. God blesses and helps those who invest in and help to build his purpose on planet earth. God is the God of “re-supply”. You can’t out give God! As Jesus once said, "It is more blessed to give than receive."

6. Give Joyfully

Paul encouraged joyful giving (2 Corinthians 8:2-3; 9:6-8. Romans 15:25-27).

Giving to worthwhile projects is not to be drudgery or a chore. It’s a joy to invest our lives in something that really matters.

7. Ensure Financial Accountability

Paul wanted to ensure that the church leaders took good care in handling the money given (2 Corinthians 8:18-21). Integrity was very important.

Integrity should be a high value, especially in the area of finance. Ensure propers systems and procedures for collecting, counting and spending donated funds. 

8. Excel in the Grace of Giving

Paul wanted his churches to excel, or be good at, giving, just as they were at other aspects of the Christian life (2 Corinthian 8:7). God is a great giver who gave his only Son willingly, sacrificially, generously and joyfully for our benefit. All Christian giving is our response of gratitude for God’s generosity to us (2 Corinthians 8:9; 9:15). Also, we are to be like him. This means becoming generous and giving people in every area of our life – time, service and finance. Giving provides for people’s needs, is an expression of thanks to God and causes people to praise God (2 Corinthians 9:12-14).


LEGO - the Exponential Impact of Connection

Lego 2Yesterday we talked about some lessons from LEGOLAND.

LEGO is so simple yet when individual bricks are joined together with others, they can contribute to the creation of something quite amazing and complex. 

Think about this:

  • Two 8 stud LEGO blocks can be combined in 24 different ways (remember that LEGO bricks can connect at the top and the bottom). 
  • Three 8 stud LEGO blocks can be combined in 1,060 different ways.
  • Six 8 stud LEGO blocks can be combined in over 102 million different ways!

Like LEGO, we have different capacities but yet with endless possibilities. Connect with God each day and connect with others around you. Be a part of the church that God is building. Everything really is awesome when you are part of a team. 


Lessons from LEGOLAND

LegoLEGO was invented in 1947 by a carpenter from Denmark by the name of Ole Kirk Christiansen. Before this breakthrough idea for a plastic toy, he suffered many challenges and setbacks, including his wife dying, a factory fire, and navigating the depth of the Great Depression. Today, LEGO is one of the top 50 brands in the world, it's a word in our dictionary, it's now a major movie, and most homes would have a few LEGO blocks laying around somewhere. LEGO has become a timeless toy for kids of all ages. Interestingly, Ole Kirk was a Christian and said that his faith in God and the support of his local church helped him through his darkest hours. 

What lessons can we learn from LEGO for our lives today?

Let's read some words from the apostle Paul first:

Ephesians 2:19-22 That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick (a prophetic reference to LEGO?), stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. MB

Paul refers to followers of Christ as (1) citizens of a new kingdom (no longer foreigners), (2) members of God's family (no longer orphans), and (3) bricks in the building God is constructing (no longer aimless) - his church. As a result of this amazing change, gratitude is the most appropriate response, along with taking serious our new responsibilities. 

Like LEGO we were designed to CONNECT - upwards to God and downwards to people. Everything really is awesome when you're part of a team.

Here are a few lessons from LEGOLAND that I shared with our church a few weeks back as we honoured the 2,615 volunteers who have served faithfully in our various ministries this year.

1. You are a part of the church Jesus is building. If you are a Christian, the question is not IF you are a part of the church but whether you have responded to God's call? Ministry is not optional for disciples of Jesus. We all have such great potential in God.

2. You have a unique contribution to make. Each of us has a unique SHAPE - Spiritual gifts, Heart (or area of passion), Abilities, Personality and Experience. Pray about your contribution, explore the possibilities, experiment with as many areas as you can, examine your feelings, evaluate your effectiveness, and expect confirmation from others. 

3. The church is incomplete without your involvement. Like a puzzle with a missing piece or a LEGO construction with one missing part, you are needed! Everyone may not be prominent but everyone is significant in God's work.

4. You will be rewarded for the work that you do. We don't give in order to get but in giving we do receive. As we serve, we grow personally, we often make great friends, we have the privilege of contributing to others, and God is pleased. There is an immediate and an eternal reward for using our gifts to benefit others. 

So, what's your next step? As we each do our part, the church of Jesus Christ will be filled with his presence and be a light to our needy world.


Love Your Pastor

I-love-my-churchA good friend of mine sent me this earlier in the week. I thought it was quite funny but had some good points. Let's always seek to love and encourage those who lead us, in whatever capacity. 

Pastors have a tough job. They get more kicks than kisses. If a pastor is young, he lacks experience; if he’s grey–haired, he’s too old. If he has five kids, he has too many; if he has none, he’s setting a bad example. If his wife sings in the choir, she’s being forward; if not, she’s not dedicated enough. If he preaches from notes, he’s dry; if his words are impromptu, he’s too shallow. If he spends too much time in his study, he’s neglecting his people; if he makes home visits, he’s not a good time manager. If he’s attentive to the poor, he’s after public approval; if he attends to the wealthy, he’s ingratiating. If he suggests improvements, he’s a dictator; if he doesn’t, he has no vision. If he uses too many illustrations, he neglects the Bible; if he doesn’t use enough stories, he’s unclear. If he speaks against wrong, he’s legalistic; if he doesn’t, he’s a compromiser. If he preaches for an hour, he’s windy; less than that, he has nothing to say. If he preaches the truth, he’s offensive; if he doesn’t, he’s wishy–washy. If he fails to please everybody, he’s hurting the church; if he tries to please everybody, he has no convictions. If he preaches tithing, he’s a money–grabber; if not, he’s failing to develop his people. If he receives a large salary, he’s mercenary; if he doesn’t, it proves he’s not worth much. If he preaches on a regular basis, people get tired of hearing the same person; if he invites guest preachers, he’s shirking his responsibility. Wow! And you thought your pastor had an easy life! How’d you like to change places?

Bottom line: love your pastor.

"Jesus ... gave some to be ... pastors." Ephesians 4:11 NKJV


A Place Called HOME

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Lost and Found

I heard an amazing story recently about a young boy in India who accidentally got separated from his brother and ended up lost. His name is Saroo Munshi Khan. He survived on the streets for weeks then was eventually taken into an orphanage where he was later adopted by an Australian family and grew up in Hobart, Tasmania. He was happy yet had this longing for home. Twenty-six years later, he found his way back to his hometown with the help of Google Earth where he was re-united with his family.

In many ways, we are all a bit like Saroo. We are lost people longing and searching for something, trying to find our way back HOME. Humans are restless. We have inner yearnings; cravings to belong, to connect, to find meaning and to contribute. For many people this leads them sooner or later to search for God. Saint Augustine once said, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.” An ancient songwriter wrote, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1).” A notable sage observed that, “God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). There is a God-shaped vacuum in the human heart that only He can fill. C.S. Lewis described it this way: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” More recently, the band U2 expressed it in their classic song: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Jesus came to call all those who are LOST (who have drifted from the Garden) to come HOME. The Cross is the place where the LOST can be FOUND and come HOME to the Father. The entire biblical and redemptive story is about God calling His people HOME. Then WE become his HOME … now and one day more fully (see Revelation 21:3). The apostle Paul puts it like this:

You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You're no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He's using us all - irrespective of how we got here - in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he's using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day - a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. (Ephesians 2:19-22. Message Bible)

Home Church

We find our home in God and then he makes his home in us, his people. The church is to be a home for those who have come to experience the Father’s love, sons and daughters of God. It is where we are to experience a spiritual family as God intended it.

We each have different things come to mind when we hear the word “home”. For some it is a physical place while for others it connects them more to an experience. We use phrases such as: “Home sweet home”, “A home away from home”, “Make yourself at home”, “Home-sick”, “No place like home” and “Homelessness”. Both positive and negative experiences can take place in what we call home.

We also have different things come to mind where you hear the word “church”. Like a family, no church is perfect. Each church has its own mix of healthy and dysfunctional aspects. Each of us has a range of both positive and possibly negative experiences with church. At CityLife, we want to be the very best church we can. Each church has its own unique personality and culture. During this series, we’ll be looking at some aspects of the kind of church we believe God wants us to be, including qualities such as welcome, love, community, contribution, mission, generosity and gratitude. We have a dream that is gradually becoming a reality. Of course, it requires us to stop just ‘going’ to church and start ‘being’ the church.

What about YOU?

As you think about today’s message, what is God saying to you?

1. Maybe you feel spiritually lost and sense that longing for home. God put that cry in your heart and he’s the one calling you to himself. Offer your life to him today. Come to the foot of the cross and lay your burden down. Start following Jesus today.

2. Maybe you do have a church home. You may have been there for years or maybe you are quite new. They say, “Home is where the heart is”. It’s easy to take for granted our home and what we have together. Ask God to give you a fresh heart of love for your church home. See it with new eyes. Commit yourself to work to make it the best home it can be. After all, we tend to get out of something what we put into it.

3. Maybe you’ve been treating your church more like a hotel than a home. It’s so easy to become a consumer of spiritual goods and services. We can come along to be served, critique the service then move on if we find something better up the road. That’s not what God intended. Jesus designed church to be a home – a family of people doing life together with God in the midst of them, not just a place we visit or an event we attend. Is it time to move from being an attender to becoming a member?

Two Challenges

While praying for our church recently, I sensed the Lord speak two challenges into my heart:

1. Re-dig the wells!” There is a story in Genesis where Isaac had to re-dig the wells his father had initially opened up but that had been filled with debris by his enemies (Genesis 26:15-18). He also took time to dig new wells of fresh water. Water speaks of the life of the Spirit. To be the home God intends us to be requires an increase in spiritual vitality. For that to happen we each have to re-dig our wells and ensure nothing is blocking God’s life in us, lest we become spiritually dry and of no use to anyone. You are the keeper of your spring.

2. “Go fishing!” I‘ve been doing some very amateur fishing lately. I don’t know a lot yet but I do know that when the tide turns the fish move and that’s when you are most likely to get a catch. Spiritually, you can feel the tide turning in our society and people are most open to God during those times of transition and also pain. The church is not here for us; we are here for the world. Our purpose is not to be entertained or become more comfortable, but to engage together towards our vision of seeing over 10,000 stories of transformation over these next few years. To do that, we all need to go fishing. Who is God moving on nearby you at the moment? Who is God calling home, that you could help show the way?

Sample Reflection Questions

1. Reflect on your own experiences of HOME throughout the stages of your life.

2. Where do you feel most at home? What is your favourite place? Why?

3. What has been your experience of church? In what ways can it be like a “home”?

4. Read the church’s We Have a Dream statement. What part excites you the most? What part do you think needs the most attention right now?

5. Consider the three possible responses to this message. Which one may apply to you right now?

6. Mediate on the two prophetic words. Which one spoke to you the most? How can you respond to it personally? 

7. Spend some time praying – for yourself, for family and friends, and your church.


Celebrating Pentecost

Spirit-of-pentecost-the_t_nvLast Sunday was “Pentecost Sunday” (8th June), a significant day on the Christian annual calendar, yet one that tends to receive little attention, compared to Christmas and Easter.  Pentecost Sunday occurs 50 days after Easter and is a celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church of Jesus Christ. Just like your personal story is much bigger than the time between your birth and death, in that you have roots and heritage reaching further back in time and hopefully a future legacy lasting beyond your lifetime, so our story as a church reaches back to our beginnings and into the future beyond our time as each generation continues to carry out the purposes of God. It is important to remember our faith tradition not merely with a sense of nostalgia about the ‘glory days’ but rather as a foundation for the dreams and visions God desires to give us for today.

The word “Pentecostal” is not used much in our contemporary culture and due to people’s various backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, there can be many stereotypes and caricatures about Pentecostals. For instance, one recent visitor to one of our church services told me they didn't find CityLife very Pentecostal. Initially, I thought maybe they didn't sense enough of the activity of the Holy Spirit but I discovered that what they meant was that they didn't find the service “emotionally manipulative”. As you can imagine, I was glad!

The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word pentekostos, which literally means ‘fifty’. Pentecost was one of three pilgrimage festivals or feasts celebrated by the nation of Israel in the time of Moses and it was celebrated 50 days after Passover (Lev.23:16). It was also known as the ‘festival of weeks’ (in Judaism it is called ‘shavuot’ which means ‘weeks’). It was primarily a harvest festival and a time of great joy. It is first mentioned in the New Testament on the occasion of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples, which was 7 weeks after the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:1-4). It became an important day for the church, marking its birth.

Modern Day Pentecostalism emerged in the early 20th century fuelled in part by a revival at Azusa Street in Los Angeles that began in 1906. It was primarily a renewal movement within Christianity with a special emphasis on personal experience of God, including the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Unlike many Evangelicals (some of whom are referred to as ‘Cessasionists’), Pentecostals believe that all of God’s work as recorded in the book of Acts is for today, including speaking in tongues (other languages), healing, and prophecy. Today there are over 500 million Pentecostals and Charismatics (evangelical denominations or believers who have embraced the work of the Spirit since the 1960s) around the world.

10 Characteristics of Pentecostal Churches

Here are some general characteristics of Pentecostal churches. It should be noted that some of these aspects are not limited to or the exclusive domain of Pentecostals.

1. An Emphasis on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings the church into existence and gives it life (Acts 2:1-4). The Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke, is really the Acts of the Holy Spirit done through the followers of Jesus in the first century. The entire Christian life (as well as church life) is meant to be done with and through the Holy Spirit. All people (men and women, young and old) can receive and minister the gifts or abilities that the Spirit gives for the benefit of others. This requires continual awareness (look) and attentiveness (listen), hence the importance of a prayerful life. Both the Spirit and the Word, as contained in the Scriptures, are vital to spiritual life.

2. A Passion for World Evangelisation. The Holy Spirit came upon those early believers to empower them to be witnesses for Jesus, not just to give them a personal experience (Acts 1:8). The Spirit enabled them to carry out the great commission (Matt.28:18-20) of taking good news of Jesus to the world, whether through personal evangelism church planting, social action or foreign mission work. Unfortunately, those first believers were slow to embrace this priority of outreach. It actually took persecution to get them out of Jerusalem and to other places (Acts 8:1-3). Eventually, they took the gospel to the then known world, with churches at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3) and Ephesus (Acts 19:26) leading the way.

3. A Heart for Compassion Ministry. In the first church, there were no needy ones among them, as people reached out in practical acts of compassion (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37). Helping the poor and needy was a high priority (Gal.2:10). Modern day Pentecostalism began among the lower socio-economic strata of society with many uneducated and marginalised people being filled with the Spirit. Over the decades, it has spread to more middle and upper class groups of people. Thankfully, there has been a shift recently, with a growing heart for the poor and needy emerging in Pentecostal churches. The Gospel is to be shared both in word and deed. Jesus himself went about “doing good” (Acts 10:38).

4. Expressive Praise and Worship. The first believers praised God with joy (Acts 2:46-47) and singing was a regular part of their church services as an expression of the life of the Spirit (Eph.5:18-20). Modern day Pentecostalism has been characterised by joyful praise and intimate worship, with voices raised, hands lifted up, and with a sense of celebration and vibrancy in the singing, which is less formal, liturgical or sombre than some church traditions. God is with us and we can experience him through the Spirit.

5. Cultural Relevance. From the very moment of the Spirit’s arrival, believers were empowered to speak the good news of Jesus in languages that the listeners understood (Acts 2:5-13). The core Gospel message doesn't change but our language, as well as the methods and means of communication we use, need to adapt to each audience. The apostle Paul even quoted local Greek poets as a means of connecting with philosophers and pagans in Athens in order to build as bridge to share the Gospel with them (Acts 17:16-34). Each new generation has different ways of communicating, including language, musical style, church facilities, and use of technology. Pentecostal churches have often been on the forefront of communicating the Gospel in culturally relevant ways.

6. Visionary Church Leadership. Although the Spirit filled all the first believers, he also used leaders such as Peter, James and Paul, along with elders, to provide leadership and direction to the churches. Pentecostal churches are often led by individuals with strong vision, as well as the ability to motivate people, rather than by bureaucratic structures. They are willing to take risks to advance the cause of Christ and tend to embrace a pioneering mode (“let’s create the future”) rather than a maintenance mode (“let’s preserve the past”). Of course, accountability and proper governance is vital. Isolated authoritarian leaders cause dysfunction, often leading to abuse and hurt and disillusioned people. Jesus calls us to a servant leadership style that empowers others and understands the wisdom that comes from many counselors. Character (fruit) is the vital foundation of Charisma (spiritual gifts).

7. Generous Giving. The feast of Pentecost included the bringing of a voluntary offering to God in proportion to the recent harvest. In the same way, the first church was characterised by generosity, something that pleases God (2Cor.9:7). Many Pentecostal churches have taught and modelled generosity. Or course, our motive is not to ‘give to get’ but one that sees blessing as a ‘by-product’ of generosity.

8. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals believe that the baptism of the Spirit is available for all followers of Christ and is an experience that can occur at or subsequent to conversion. In the narrative of the book of Acts we read that the primary evidence of this infilling was the ability to “speak in tongues” or other languages. This personal prayer gift is for the benefit of personal prayer and building oneself up (1Cor.14:1-4. Jude 20), as well as boldness to witness (Acts 1:8). This experience is not necessary for salvation, it is not a mark of spiritual maturity (1Cor.13), and is not for use in public church services when outside guests are present (1Cor.14:22-25). All Christians have the person of the Holy Spirit living within them but the baptism of the Spirit adds another powerful dimension to the believer’s life and ministry. The apostle Paul spoke in tongues frequently, showing its benefit (1Cor.14:18).

9. Prophecy. Another indicator of the Spirit’s infilling is the ability to prophesy, which is a speaking out of the heart and mind of God, as prompted by the Spirit. This was a normal part of the life of the first church (Acts 2:17; 19:1-7) and of Pentecostalism around the world today. To prophesy literally means to ‘bubble up’, indicating the movement of the Holy Spirit on our spirit, either in the form of a whisper, a prompting, an impression, a vision or picture, or a word. God still speaks today – to individuals and to churches. Prophecy today is not authoritative on the level of inspired Scripture, but must be taken seriously by both testing and responding to it accordingly (1Thess.5:19-22). Generally speaking, prophecy is for personal encouragement, strengthening and comfort (1Cor.14:1-4), not direction or rebuke.

10. Prayer for Healing and Miracles. The first church was born in an environment where God healed and did supernatural things (Acts 2:43; 3:1-10, etc). Pentecostals believe that God still heals and does miracles today. He sets people free from the work of the enemy (deliverance from demonic strongholds). God intervenes in human situations, bringing about change. Not everyone was healed in New Testament times (1Tim.5:23. 2Tim.4:20) nor is everyone healed today. This is not necessarily an indicator of a lack of faith or sin in a person’s life. We live between the ‘now’ and ‘not yet’ of the kingdom. Already (‘now’) Jesus has conquered Satan, sin, sickness and death but ‘not yet’ do we see the full enactment of that victory, which will occur at the return of Christ, when there will be no more crying, pain or death (Rev.21:4). Pentecostals need a theology of suffering to allow for those ‘if not …’ moments (Dan.3:17-18), while believing that God’s grace and comfort are always more than enough for whatever we may go through. Our job is to pray and believe; God’s job is to heal and to move by his power.

Pentecostalism is part of my story and it is important to remember our roots and our faith tradition. Embrace that unapologetically, while walking with humility, understanding that none of us has all the truth. We all see and know in part (1Cor.13:9-12). I love the entire church – ALL of Christ’s body, including anyone who calls Jesus ‘Lord’ (1Cor.12:3), be they Baptist, Anglicans, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists or Presbyterians. We are not in competition with each other! Thankfully, we are living in a time when ‘labels’ are less important and relationships (with Jesus and each other) are becoming more important.

Fresh Empowerment

King David was anointed with oil three times - as a shepherd boy, as king over Judah, and eventually as king over all Israel. Each anointing involved a further empowering of the Holy Spirit in his life. The author of Psalm 92 (possibly David) said, “I have been anointed with fresh (or fine) oil” (Ps.92:10). Sometimes we need an oil change. We need a fresh touch of the Spirit on our lives. The apostle Paul would later write to the church at Ephesus, “Be filled with the Spirit …” (Eph.5:18). The present continuous tense of the Greek phrase “be filled” literally means “be continually filled …” Position yourself to continually receive the ongoing infilling of the Holy Spirit in your life and ministry. After all, it is impossible to live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is really the life that Jesus lived back then lived now by His Spirit through me. May each of us experience a fresh Pentecost in our lives at this time!

Reflection Questions

1. When did you first hear the word “Pentecostal”? What did it mean to you?

2. What has been your experience of Pentecostal Christians or churches? Think about both positive and negative experiences, if there have been any.

3. It’s been said that if we have “the Word without the Spirit we will dry up, the Spirit without the Word we will blow up, while with the Spirit and Word we can grow up.” Reflect on the importance balance between the Spirit and the Word.

4. The natural tendency of every church is to become inward focused. How can we continue to fuel a passion for evangelism and outreach in our personal lives?

5. There is a lot of “end times” hysteria around today in some circles, with a focus on the immanent return of Christ. How can we live ever ready for Christ’s return yet with the wisdom and foresight that he may not return in our generation (and therefore being busy with the work of the kingdom, which includes creation care and social justice)?

6. Reflect on your experience with different forms of church services, including various styles of singing.

7. Consider the concept of “cultural relevance”. How can irrelevant cultural packaging hinder the reception of the Gospel by the listeners?

8. Much has been made about the “prosperity gospel” – the belief that God wants everyone to be rich and that if people would give generously God will make that a reality for everyone. How can we develop greater faith to be generous givers while not degenerating into a giving that is only motivated by personal gain?

9. What has been your experience with church leadership over the years? Reflect on the different approaches that different cultures have in the way they relate to leaders. Take time to pray for the leaders of your church, that God will watch over them and their families, as well as give them wisdom, courage and faith to lead the church forward in God’s way.

10. What has been your experience of the baptism in the Spirit? 

11. What has been your experience with prophecy (either giving a prophecy or receiving one)?

12. Read 1 Corinthians 13:9-12. How should this affect our attitudes with Christians from other churches and denominations?

13. In what ways can your small group live out and express all of these aspects of Pentecostalism?

14. Which characteristic are you personally most passionate about?

15. Take time to pray for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit in your own life.

Recommended Reading

The Century of the Holy Spirt by Vinson Synan

The Beauty of Spiritual Language by Jack Hayford

Pentecostal Theology: A Theology of Encounter by Keith Warrington

Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom by Steven J. Land

Pentecostalism: A Very Short Introduction by William K. Kay


Church Greeting Teams - The Search for a Friendly Church

Greeting-at-ChurchWhen in the USA recently, one of our church staff members visited two large, well-known churches. The facilities and church services were first class, but at both churches ... no one spoke to him. Sadly, this is all to commonplace today. Have we become high-tech and low-touch? 

Here is a great article by Will Mancini called Smiling is Not Enough: Top 10 Mistakes of Church Greeting Teams.

The team at Auxano enjoys playing the role of “secret worshipper” when we take a church through our visioning process called the Vision Pathway. We call it a guest perspective evaluation. As I prepare to debrief a church again tomorrow, I want to share some general insights on welcoming ministry and hospitality for guests. Here are the top ten mistakes I see when volunteers are helping me as a first time guest:

#1   Volunteers have not thought in advance about my next step as a guest so they don’t know how to guide the conversation with me.

#2   Volunteers  are talking with friends and don’t notice me.

#3   Volunteers are doing task work and are not available or responsive the moment I show up.

#4   Volunteers generally hesitate when I initiate with a question.

#5   Volunteers don’t know where the most pertinent information is located.

#6   Volunteers  tell me what to do with no information or tools or other people to help me.

#7   Volunteers generally look preoccupied, distracted or unsure of themselves in their non-verbals even when being friendly.

#8   Volunteers are unaware of the basic “how to” questions for checking-in children of every age.

#9   Volunteers don’t introduce me to others at the church.

#10 Volunteers gave me written information that is not important, pertinent or strategic (sending me on a b-line to the trash can).

If you want more resources on welcoming ministry and church guest services, check out VisionRoom.com and follow Bob Adams who works as Auxano’s Vision Room curator and guest services maven. Here is a list of resources on his blog.


What do Protestants think of Pope Francis?

Pope-francis_2541160bA recent article from the Barna Group:

March 18, 2014 — He was the most talked-about person of 2013 and winner of TIME’s “Person of the Year” award. Google Translate coders have set his name to translate as “a better world.” Yet Pope Francis insists that he is “a normal person,” and has no desire to be “a superman or a star.”

Some religion columnists and commentators attribute the public’s esteem to his humble insistence that he is ordinary. In fact, humility may just be the pontiff’s paradoxical trademark. The Washington Postsummed it up in one headline: “Like Pope Francis? You’ll Love Jesus.” The Post is not alone in pointing out that the pope’s actions, words and demeanor are often reminiscent of the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels. Humility may be exactly the kind of “ordinary” Pope Francis hopes will become the norm among all of those who claim to follow Christ. 

It’s widely accepted that Catholics love the Holy Father, but what about people of other traditions? Some have called Francis a pope for Protestants or for Millennials, but what do these groups actually think of him? And if his influence is so far-reaching, what has been the impact of the so-called “Pope Effect,” one year into his papacy? 

A new study conducted in late February 2014 by Barna Group examines the impact of the new leader of the Catholic Church on the U.S. population, including the nearly half of Americans who identify as Protestants.

The World’s Most Well-Known Religious Leader
Just last March white smoke billowed above St. Peter’s Square and then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis I, head of the Roman Catholic Church and leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. In a single year, Pope Francis has become the most well-known religious leader in ministry today. 

Of all U.S. adults surveyed, 62% say they are somewhat or very familiar with the pontiff. Not surprisingly, Catholics take the lead at 99%. Among practicing Protestants, 58% say they have a working familiarity with the pope. 

Second to Pope Francis is Billy Graham, the famed evangelist who has been in public ministry for 65 years. Sixty percent of adults say they are familiar with Rev. Graham. The third-most well-known religious leader is the Dalai Lama; just under half of all adults (49%) say are somewhat or very familiar with him.

Popularity, Power and Public Critique 
Familiarity is, of course, not the same as favorability—but Pope Francis receives positive marks among a majority of U.S. adults (54%). About one-quarter (26%) say their opinion of the pontiff is neutral, less than one in 10 (7%) view him unfavorably and 14% say they don’t know enough to have an opinion. More than half of all adults (54%) say Pope Francis is an improvement on his predecessor (among practicing Catholics, it’s a two-thirds majority). When asked to identify how well certain words describe the current pope, nearly nine out of 10 Americans say he is very or somewhat honest (87%), compassionate (88%) and intelligent (86%). 

Practicing Catholics take the lead in giving him high marks: an overwhelming 98% have a favorable view of the Holy Father. In contrast, just 45% of practicing Protestants express a very or somewhat favorable opinion, and among non-mainline Protestants even fewer have a favorable view (37%). 

On a generational scale, positive views of the pope increase among older adults. While only 41% of Millennials see him in a positive light, favorability is higher among Busters, also called Gen-Xers (51%), and Boomers (63%). The generation most favorable toward the pontiff is the cohort to which Pope Francis belongs: the Elders, two-thirds of whom view him favorably (66%). 

But what about dissenters? The largest demographic to express negative views is practicing non-mainline Protestants, one-quarter (26%) of whom feel somewhat or very unfavorable toward the pope. Specific critiques of Pope Francis range from descriptions of him as out of touch (22%) to the more serious allegation that he is corrupt (17%). While he has sometimes been cast as the pope for faith-jaded Millennials, young adults are notably skeptical about the pontiff’s integrity: 37% say he is somewhat or very corrupt, more than twice the national average. 

Adults are evenly split on whether Pope Francis—often billed by the media as progressive compared to former pontiffs—is too liberal (27%) or too conservative (27%) on social issues. Four in 10 adults (39%) believe the pope is too powerful. 

These critiques uncover some notable denominational and generational differences. For example, just 8% of practicing Catholics say the pope is either somewhat or very corrupt, while 22% of practicing Protestants say so. The leading groups to disapprove of the pope as too liberal include non-mainline Protestants (51%) and, perhaps surprisingly, Millennials (36%). On the opposite end of the spectrum, those most at odds with Pope Francis as being too conservative on social issues are also non-mainline Protestants (30%) and Millennials (38%).

Continue reading article ...


What God can do with 57 Cents

Hattie_may_0A sobbing little girl stood near a small church from which she had been turned away because it was too crowded. “I can't go to Sunday School”, she sobbed to the pastor as he walked by. Seeing her shabby, unkempt appearance, the pastor guessed the reason and, taking her by the hand, took her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday School class. The child was so touched that she went to bed that night thinking of the children who have no place to worship Jesus.

Some two years later, this child lay dead in one of the poor tenement buildings and the parents called for the kind-hearted pastor, who had befriended their daughter, to handle the final arrangements. As her poor little body was being moved, a worn and crumpled purse was found which seemed to have been rummaged from some trash dump. Inside was found 57 cents and a note scribbled in childish handwriting which read, “This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday school.” For two years she had saved for this offering of love. When the pastor tearfully read that note, he knew instantly what he would do.

Carrying this note and the cracked, red pocketbook to the pulpit, he told the story of her unselfish love and devotion. He challenged his deacons to get busy and raise enough money for the larger building. Church members donated a total of $250 (a large sum of money at that time) and a house across the road was purchased, providing more space for the Sunday school. The over the next 5 years, the church and ministry grew, and more money came in. This little girl's unselfish love had paid large dividends.

When you are in the city of Philadelphia, look up Temple Baptist Church, with a seating capacity of 3,300, and Temple University, where hundreds of students are trained. Have a look, too, at the Good Samaritan Hospital and at a Sunday School building which houses hundreds of Sunday scholars, so that no child in the area will ever need to be left outside during Sunday school time. In one of the rooms of this building may be seen the picture of the sweet face of the little girl whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history. Alongside of it is a portrait of her kind pastor, Dr. Russel H. Conwell, author of the book,  “Acres of Diamonds” - a true story.

Goes to show what God can do with 57 cents!

Be encouraged in your giving to God's work.

Templeuniversity1900&2010

[There are a variety of versions of this story circulating on the internet. Some of them have been embellished somewhat. The above details are based on the first hand account of Rev. Russell H. Conwell, as delivered in his sermon on 1st December 1912 at Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia] 


7 Predictions for American Churches in 2014 (by Thom Rainer)

ChurchPredicting is as much of an art as it is a science. And if any prognosticator is honest, he or she will tell you that they don’t always get it right. I know. I certainly don’t always get it right.

But I don’t pull my predictions out of thin air. To the contrary, each of them has a reasonable explanation. For these seven predictions, I gleaned from several sources:

  • Data-based research, particularly LifeWay Research.
  • Trends that are already underway and gaining momentum.
  • Conversations with hundreds of church leaders.
  • My own experiences, based on 25 years of consulting and research of American congregations.

This year I am adding a new feature, a confidence factor. For example, if I said I had 100 percent confidence that a prediction would become reality, it would mean that I have absolutely no doubt about it. None of these predictions have a 100 percent confidence factor. But none of them fall below 70 percent either. That means I have a fairly high level of certainty about each of these trends.

The order of the trends is random. They are not ranked in any particular priority. I actually have 14—I will share the other seven in the near future.

1. Increased church acquisitions. Smaller churches will seek to be acquired by larger churches in increasing numbers. One of the big factors is simply personnel cost. Many smaller churches can no longer afford to pay a pastor a salary and benefits, particularly health care benefits (75 percent confidence factor).

2. Downsizing of denominational structures. Many denominational structures are becoming smaller because their churches are declining. Others are feeling economic pinches. This trend of smaller and more efficient denominational structures at all levels will only become more pervasive in 2014 (90 percent).

3. Decline in conversion growth. American churches that grow are more likely to get their growth at the expense of other churches. Evangelism is waning in many churches, and fewer non-believers are becoming Christians. The negative reaction to programmatic evangelistic methods has evolved into an overreaction. Too few churches emphasize personal and church-based evangelism (75 percent).

4. More megachurches. The data are clear that there are more megachurches (average worship attendance of 2,000 or more) today than a year ago. There is also little doubt the trend will continue. The only uncertainty is whether or not the rate of growth of megachurches will continue to climb (85 percent).

5. Greater number of churches moving to a unified worship style. For years a noticeable trend was churches offering different worship styles. The most common was the offering of two services: traditional and contemporary, though the definitions of each were elusive. In the next year we will we see a reversal of that trend, as many of those same churches decide to move to one common worship style (70 percent).

6. Increased emphasis on high-expectation church membership. For decades American congregations as a whole lowered their expectations of church membership. One could be on a church roll in many churches and not even attend worship services for years. We will see a gradual reversal of that trend in 2014 as more churches move to higher-expectation membership (70 percent).

7. Increased challenges for congregations to build and acquire land due to restrictive governmental policies. American churches will experience more frustration with governmental authorities as they seek to expand, build, and acquire land. Part of the reason will be due to the authorities’ concern about traffic and congestions. Another part is the underlying concern of losing a property tax base to a nonprofit organization. In a few cases there will be outright animosity and prejudice against Christians and churches. (80 percent)

Visit the original article to give feedback on these seven trends. 


International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

IDOP-2013During the month of November, many churches around the world set aside time to prayer for the persecuted church. Believers in countries such as Egypt, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam face violence, imprisonment and even death because of their faith in Jesus Christ. There are other places in the world such as North Korea where acts of persecution take place, but we don’t see or hear of it. Brother Andrew of Open Doors once said: 'Our heroes are not with us simply because they are in prison.'

IDOP is a time set apart for us to remember thousands of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who suffer persecution, simply because they confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

Gospel for Asia (GFA) reports that more than 14,000 people around the world are martyred for their faith each year, though that number only includes reported cases. Christians who aren't killed are sometimes beaten, deprived of food or imprisoned. Believing children are sometimes rejected by their families or turned away from their schools. In other cases, the homes of believers are burned down by their persecutors.

"Jesus promised his church that there would be persecution and tribulations," GFA Founder and President K.P. Yohannan said in a statement. "Tens of thousands of believers, missionaries and pastors are experiencing the reality of persecution on a daily basis. Yet they recognize the honor it is to suffer for his sake. May the Lord lead us with his burden to intercede for these brothers and sisters."

More than half a million churches in 150 nations participate in the IDOP each year, according to the event's website. Some organizations are encouraging believers to observe the day of prayer on Nov. 3 and others on Nov. 10, but Dykstra says Christians need to also make an effort to pray for persecuted believers year-round. American believers can also offer their support, he says, by speaking up about persecution to their representatives in Washington, by getting involved with campaigns by Open Doors and other like-minded organizations and by becoming more mindful of the global church.

"Become a global Christian…Be informed about the status of Christians wherever they are. When you read, watch or listen to the world news, think about how believers are being attacked," said Dykstra.

Each year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List, which ranks the 50 nations where Christians are most persecuted for their faith. North Korea has held the top spot on the list for the last 11 years, as Christians there are often arrested, tortured, forced into labor camps or executed under the Communist regime. Other nations in the World Watch List's top 10 are Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea.

Why not explore the variety of resources on the IDOP website or Open Doors One in Prayer and join Christians worldwide in praying for persecuted Christians this November.


8 Commitments for Small Group Leaders (Mark Howell)

LGsAny church with over 50 people needs some form of small group ministry so that genuine relationships are developed and discipleship occurs. Whatever form of small group ministry you may, have is a helpful article on small group leadership by Mark Howell:

Whether you use a low or high bar of small group leadership, I think all of us have hope that our leaders will do more than open their home, facilitate a discussion or convene a meeting.   And … I think some of us have begun laying the foundation for a kind of leadership pathway. See also, Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar and Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.

Not long ago I noticed a post on Thom Rainer’s blog on the 8 Commitments for Bible Study Leaders. As usual, it was very well thought out and extremely helpful, but it seemed to be primarily focused on the role of a Bible study teacher. Important … but not targeted to the small group leaders many of us are identifying, recruiting and developing.

Here are the commitments I’d like my small group leaders to make:

1. I will make my daily, living connection with Jesus Christ a priority — being in community with Him is the foundation for all community. How will a new leader know what this means? It will have to modeled by a coach or mentor. Remember, whatever you want to happen at the member level will have to be experienced by the leader first.

2. I will lead an exemplary Christian lifestyle — group members watching me will see an obedient servant of Jesus Christ growing in maturity. How will this happen? The expectation that this will happen outside of ministry leadership modeling servant leadership is pure fantasy.

3. I will convene my group regularly (2 to 4 times a month). For members of a group to truly experience what it means to have the sense of family, to grow spiritually, to have impact … being together will be the norm. See also, The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.

4. I will provide personalized care and development for each of my members, using the Spiritual Health Assessment and Spiritual Health Planner. A level of intentionality will pervade the experience.

5. I will assist in the identification and development of potential Life Group Leaders within my group. This doesn’t just happen … at least very often. It must be modeled. It must be built in to the culture.

6. I will maintain great communication with the Community Life team. We are stronger together. We work better as a team. Everyone benefits when small group leaders acknowledge their role in the larger community.

7. I will gather with the other Life Group Leaders in my coaching huddle for training and encouragement. We all need to pay attention to the examples of the leaders just ahead of us. We also need to meet the needs of the leaders just behind us. Although it is counter-cultural, we need each other and we are in this together.

8. I will attend scheduled gatherings for training and encouragement. Again, we are all part of a larger community. We weren’t made to stand alone. We were made to do this together.

Here’s the key: If you want your small group leaders to do more than open their home, facilitate a discussion, or convene a meeting … you need to implement a leadership pathway and a very early step is to introduce a set of commitments.

Feel free to take these commitments and adapt them to fit your context. As I’ve noted before, I’m sure that Carl George and Brett Eastman played a part in the origin of these 8 commitments. I’ve been using these basic ideas for so long I can’t remember exactly where I stole them.

Two additional resources that will help you develop your own commitments are Steve Gladen’s Small Groups with Purpose and Bill Donahue’s Leading Life-Changing Small Groups. I highly recommend them.

[Source: Mark Howell]


The Prophetic Ministry

ProphgThe ministry of prophecy is to be an important part of the local church and the development of every church leader. This is a biblical concept and was used often in the appointment of leaders to various roles and ministries in the early church (see Acts 13:1-3. 1 Timothy 1:18-19; 4:14).

The Prophetic Ministry

A prophet is someone through whom God speaks His heart, mind and will.

The Old Testament concept of a prophet is “one called (by God) to speak for God”. God spoke to and through prophets. A prophet was not independent. They spoke God's message, not their own. Prophets were referred to as: God's mouthpiece (Jeremiah 1:9), God's messenger, God's representative or God's interpreter. Their primary function was to speak the heart and mind of God to their contemporaries, not just to predict the future. They were to be judged by their fruit, their godliness, their obedience to the commands of God, the accuracy of their prophetic word and whether their word was fulfilled or not.

In the New Testament, the prophetic ministry continues as an important part of God’s plan. All believers can prophesy at times under the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17; 19:6). Some within the church have the “gift of prophecy” that enables them to move in prophetic ministry on a regular basis (1 Corinthians 12:10). A few are called to be prophets, a ministry given by Jesus to equip the believers for the work of the ministry so the church may grow (Ephesians 4:11-16. 1 Corinthians 12:29).

The Prophetic Process

How does a prophet receive a message from God?

God reveals His mind, heart and will through different methods of communication. These include visions, dreams, an audible voice, riddles ("dark sayings"), angelic messengers, or the word of the Lord (see Numbers 12:1-10). This may be in the form of a prompting or an impression. All revelation comes by the Spirit and involves "hearing" or "seeing" things from God. A prophetic ministry must first "hear" or "see" what God is saying or doing.

How does a prophet share a message from God?

A prophetic message is usually spoken (through prophecy or preaching) but may be written down, demonstrated or illustrated. The message declares God's heart and mind to His people. The people’s response determines the consequences.

The Purpose of the Prophetic Ministry

God has given the prophetic ministry for the benefit of believers and the ongoing ministry of the church. Here are a number of things that the prophetic ministry can do:

1. Strengthening (1 Corinthians 14:3). The prophetic ministry can build up, edify and promote the spiritual growth or progress of people. It strengthens their spiritual life. See also Romans 14:19; 15:2. 1 Corinthians 14:3, 5, 12, 26. 2 Corinthians 10:8; 12:19; 13:10. Ephesians 4:12, 16, 29.

2. Encouragement (1 Corinthians 14:3). The prophetic ministry can bring personal encouragement to people from the Lord. It can stir up and challenge in order to bring about growth and progress.. See also Romans 12:8; 15:4, 5. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. 2 Thessalonians 2:16. 1 Timothy 4:13. Hebrews 6:18; 12:5; 13:22.

3. Comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3, 31). The prophetic ministry can bring comfort and healing to a person. God ministers his love, compassion and grace to those who are in need. See also John 11:19, 31. 1 Thessalonians 2:11; 5:14. 

4. Insight (1 Corinthians 14:31). The prophetic ministry can bring knowledge, revelation, instruction and teaching to a person to help them in their spiritual life and ministry. It is a “discipling” ministry used by the Lord to instruct. See also Matthew 11:29. 2 Timothy 3:14.

5. Equipping (Ephesians 4:11-12). The prophetic ministry can equip people for ministry. This concept has the idea of: fitting and preparing fully for effective service; adjusting into proper order and arrangement; to prepare for a purpose. See also Matthew 4:21 (“mending nets”) and Galatians 6:1 (“restore”). Prophetic ministries are also called to teach people to hear God's voice for themselves.

6. Impartation (Romans 1:11). The prophetic ministry can impart spiritual gifts to a person. A “gift” is: a gift of grace; a favour which one receives without any goodness of their own; God’s enablement by the operation of the Holy Spirit; extraordinary power and ability. See also 1 Timothy 4:14. 1 Corinthians 12:4, 9, 28, 31. 2 Timothy 1:6. 1 Peter 4:10.

7. Vision (Acts 2:17). The prophetic ministry can bring a revelation of God and his purposes. It can give direction and purpose through understanding and knowing the plans of God. It comes to stir, challenge, create faith and a sense of urgency about the things of God. It arouses us from complacency and apathy and motivates us to action and fervency. See also Amos 3:7-8. Ephesians 1:17-18. Proverbs 29:18 where "no vision (revelation, prophetic insight, knowledge of God) causes people to perish (dwell carelessly, be apathetic, lack motivation)." Prophecy communicates God’s intentions (Acts 21:10; 11:27. Revelations 22:6. 1 Chronicles 28:12, 19. Acts 11:28; 21:10-11).  

What a wonderful gift of the Spirit prophecy can be when it is used for these purposes.

Of course, responding to the prophetic word appropriately is vital ...


For Parents with Young Children in Church

KidsA friend pointed me to a very good article recently in the Huffington Post religion section by Jamie Bruesehoof to parents with young children in church (especially relevant when kid's church is having a break during the school holidays!). Here is it:  

You are doing something really, really important. I know it's not easy. I see you with your arms overflowing, and I know you came to church already tired. Parenting is tiring. Really tiring.

I watch you bounce and sway trying to keep the baby quiet, juggling the infant car seat and the diaper bag ('nappy bag' for the Aussies) as you find a seat. I see you wince as your child cries. I see you anxiously pull things out of your bag of tricks to try to quiet them.

And I see you with your toddler and your preschooler. I watch you cringe when your little girl asks an innocent question in a voice that might not be an inside voice let alone a church whisper. I hear the exasperation in your voice as you beg your child to just sit, to be quiet as you feel everyone's eyes on you. Not everyone is looking, but I know it feels that way.

I know you're wondering, is this worth it? Why do I bother? I know you often leave church more exhausted than fulfilled. But what you are doing is so important.

When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn't about Bible study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together. When you are here, I have hope that these pews won't be empty in 10 years when your kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they are learning how and why we worship now, before it's too late. They are learning that worship is important.

I see them learning. In the midst of the cries, whines, and giggles, in the midst of the crinkling of pretzel bags and the growing pile of crumbs, I see a little girl who insists on going two pews up to share peace with someone she's never met. I hear a little boy slurping (quite loudly) every last drop of his communion wine out of the cup, determined not to miss a drop of Jesus. I watch a child excitedly color a cross and point to the one in the front of the sanctuary. I hear the echos of "Amens" just a few seconds after the rest of the community says it together. I watch a boy just learning to read try to sound out the words in the worship book or count his way to Hymn 672. Even on weeks when I can't see my own children learning because, well, it's one of those mornings, I can see your children learning.

I know how hard it is to do what you're doing, but I want you to know it matters. It matters to me. It matters to my children to not be alone in the pew. It matters to the congregation to know that families care about faith, to see young people... and even on those weeks when you can't see the little moments, it matters to your children.

It matters that they learn that worship is what we do as a community of faith, that everyone is welcome, that their worship matters. When we teach children that their worship matters, we teach them that they are enough right here and right now as members of the church community. They don't need to wait until they can believe, pray or worship a certain way to be welcome here, and I know adults who are still looking to be shown that. It matters that children learn that they are an integral part of this church, that their prayers, their songs, and even their badly (or perfectly-timed, depending on who you ask) cries and whines are a joyful noise because it means they are present.

I know it's hard, but thank you for what you do when you bring your children to church. Please know that your family -- with all of its noise, struggle, commotion, and joy -- are not simply tolerated, you are a vital part of the community gathered in worship.

[Source]

Reaching Millennials

Gen yResearch in America shows that 59% of millennials (also known as Gen Y) drop out of church after attending regularly as a teenager. For the past decade, Barna Group has been working to understand this important age group. After interviewing more than 27,000 millennials and conducting 206 studies of this group, they have amassed a significant body of knowledge on millennials. Now they are sharing that knowledge via a special section of their web site that contains research, articles and carefully curated information on this elusive and often confusing age groups. Check it out at barna.org/millennials.

In many ways, Australia is a unique environment that has major differences to the American context, but there is much we can learn from this research as the church continues to seek to pass on faith to the next generation and reach out to young people with no Christian background. Of course, we are very thankful for the many churches and youth groups that are doing well in reaching young people today. May their tribe increase!


Choose Your Own Adventure

AdventLife as Adventure

Have you ever thought of your life as an adventure? Our kids used to love reading the Choose Your Own Adventure book series when they were younger. The stories are formatted so that, after a couple of pages of reading, the reader, as the main character in the story, faces two or three options, each of which leads to more options, and then to one of many endings. The number of endings could range anywhere from 12 to 40. This allows for a realistic sense of unpredictability, as the reader chooses their own adventure. Life is a lot like that!

Every adventure starts with a calling or mission then proceeds through various challenges and struggles to an eventual destination. Adventure requires making a choice to step out of our comfort zones of safety into the risk of unknown worlds of opportunities.  There are dragons to slay and mountains to conquer. You choose you own adventure.

Have you ever thought of your life as an adventure? Every adventure starts with a calling or mission then proceeds through various challenges and struggles to an eventual destination. Adventure requires making a choice to step out of our comfort zones of safety into the risk of unknown worlds of opportunities.  There are dragons to slay and mountains to conquer. You choose you own adventure.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” [Mark Twain] 

 "A ship is safe in harbour, but that's not what ships are for." [William Shedd]

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” [Helen Keller]

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone ... I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” [J.R.R. Tolkein in The Hobbit]

Father Abraham

Genesis 12 is the central passage of the book of Genesis. Here we move from the history of mankind, beginning with the creation of the world by God, to the history of Israel as a nation, beginning with the story of Abraham. Into a situation of hopelessness and barrenness, with no foreseeable future (Gen.11:30), God spoke and called Abraham to leave home and follow Him (Gen.12:1-3). Abraham was to become the “father of all who believe” (Rom.4:16). Abraham’s story introduces journey as a metaphor for the life of faith. We are called to follow God in a life of pilgrimage, moving with God through life, in a multi-generational journey of faith – an adventure.

The Adventure of Your Life

Like Abraham, God calls you to follow him … on this adventure called LIFE. But that invitation requires a response. We have a choice to make. Abraham was a man of faith and action – he went, he took, he entered, he built, he journeyed, and so on. He obediently acted on the revelation he received, despite the tensions created by his own age and the barrenness of his wife.

God’s will is not something extremely hard or unenjoyable. The apostle Paul called God’s will “good, pleasing and perfect (Rom.12:1-2).” Jesus described his burden as “easy and light” (Matt.11:28-30) and said he came to give us a “rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10)” in contrast to the thief who wants to steal, kill and destroy. There is much freedom in God’s will, with few prohibitions and many possible choices (Gen.2:16). Even God’s commands are “for our good” (Deut.6:24). Who will we trust? Yes, there is a cost to discipleship … but there is also a joy.

1. God is your companion and guide on your adventure.

God called Abraham into a relationship with Himself and to be a part of His covenant purpose for the world. In responding to God’s call, Abraham moved from being a pagan who worshipped many gods to becoming a worshipper and “friend” of Yahweh, the true God of heaven and earth. This was a conversion by faith and obedience, in response to a revelation from God.

God calls us too, as children of Abraham, into relationship with Himself. God speaks to us be His Spirit and His Word. Like Abraham (Gen.12:7-9), we are to respond by building an altar of worship and prayer in our lives, as an expression of our devotion to God. Our adventure is about honouring God, growing in our relationship with him, and seeking him for guidance along the way.

It’s a call to PRAY. Prayer is simply conversation or dialogue with God – sharing whatever is on our heart with him and listening to the voice of his Spirit. Through faith and complete trust in God we can overcome the unbelief, doubt, discouragement, and apathy that so often hinders our prayers.

“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.” [Saint Augustine of Hippo]

2. Your Adventure is a Shared Experience

Abraham was given two instructions: (1) leave and (2) be a blessing. Intertwined with these instructions, were two sets of three promises each. In the first set, God expressed a commitment to Abraham to make him into a great nation, to bless him, and make his name great. In the second set of promises, God said he would bless those who blessed Abraham, curse those who cursed (or showed disdain or contempt), and that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him. This was the highest goal for Abraham’s calling. God was working through one family for the benefit of all families. This included sharing the knowledge of God, which Abraham had possibly already engaged in with those he had taken into his household (see Gen.12:5).

We too are called to be a part of a community of faith, the church. No one is to do life alone. Together we can discover meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging. From there we too can SHARE with others the good news about the God we worship and serve. Church exists for mission – for others. This starts with hospitality and flows out to sharing our faith in God.

3. Your Adventure serve a greater purpose.

In the middle of two sets of promises, God instructed Abraham to “be a blessing”. That is, Abraham was to let this blessing work in him and his family in order that he might become the agent through whom God might bless others. Unfortunately, blessing for the entire world never became a program for concerted action by God’s people until after the ascension of Jesus.

In the same way, Jesus calls us to follow him, to go into the world, and to be a blessing to whoever we come into contact with. Our adventure is for others. It’s about contribution, service and making a difference. God has shaped us for a specific purpose and he has some good works for us to do (Eph.2:8-10). Use your gifts to SERVE others.

Our Response

As a response to God's relentless love for us, and the adventure that he has called us to embark on, we want to commit ourselves afresh to be devoted to God this year - to PRAY more passionately, to SHARE our faith more intentionally, and to SERVE with our gifts more wholeheartedly. As we do, we will see a greater fulfillment of our mission to be fervent followers of Jesus Christ reaching out to our world.

Reflection Questions

1. Reflect on a time when you stepped out of your comfort zone to do something new.

2. What inspires you most about Abraham and his response to Gods call?

3. Consider the difference between pioneers and settlers. How can we keep that sense of adventure in our journey of faith?

4. Reflect on “God’s will” for our life and the different ways that he guides us.

5. Consider the concept of “motivation.” The first believers “devoted themselves” to some important practices (Acts 2:42-47). Where did this inner motivation come from and what fuelled it?

6. Remind yourself of an answer to prayer that really built your faith in God.

7. Write out your own story of coming to faith in Christ. Who shared with you?

8. Make a list of some people in your world who you would love to come to faith in Christ this year.

9.  What are some of the joys or benefits of serving through volunteering (inside or outside church)?


The Search to Belong

BelongIn his most recent book, What Makes Us Tick?, Australian sociologist Hugh Mackay observes that “from the family to the workplace, from the school gate to the local coffee shop or pub, and from religious, political or sporting affiliations to friendship circles, both online and offline, we are as socially interdependent as ever. Our default position, as humans, is together, even for those of us who cherish time alone ... We need to belong.” He goes on to say that “this desire to belong drives our attachment to two kinds of groups: herds and tribes ... The herd, typically comprising seven or eight people linked by friendship, a common interest or purpose – nurtures our confidence and self-respect, and wraps us in the kind of security blanket only membership of a small group can provide. The tribe gives us a larger-scaled, more corporate, more public – and sometimes noisier and more passionate – sense of identity and belonging.” As followers of Christ, we believe that this desire to belong was placed in the human heart by God. It is a reflection of the image and nature of God, who is a community of three persons living in loving relationship to such a degree that they are truly ONE. God IS love and we were created just like him – to love and be loved; to belong … somewhere.

There are many ways and place in which we can experience a sense of belonging, such as our family, with our friends, and in various groups we are a part of. One of the most important groups God calls us to be a part of and to belong to is the church. The church is the one thing Jesus said he would build (Matt.16:16-18). It is a community of people called together for a common purpose. Being a disciple of Jesus means entering a relationship with God and then becoming a member of his family, where we do life together with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Church is NOT primarily a place you ‘go to’ or an organisation you join. It is a family you become a ‘part of’ and ‘belong to’ (read Acts 2:37-47).

A Program Shift

Back in 1995, I was inspired about the need for churches to embark on a “program shift” – a shift from events to relationships. People need to belong not just believe. Rather than sitting in a large church gathering a few times each week (in rows), it's better for people to attend ONE weekend church meeting, be involved in ONE small group (sitting in a circle), and then serve somewhere. I believe that this approach, along with personal devotional time, positions a person for growth in Christ. After all, THE mark of a mature church is LOVE (John 13:34-35), something that cannot best be experienced in crowds of people.

God desires that we experience meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging, especially in a world increasingly characterised by individualism, loneliness and isolation. In a large church, the best environment for this to occur is within a small group. That’s why healthy churches have adopted some kind of small group strategy. Of course, merely gathering a few people together doesn’t guarantee close relationships or a sense of belonging. There are some factors that are vital for genuine community to become a reality for any group - whether that be a small group, a family or a work team.

Great Groups

1. GIVE something to your group. Approach your group with the intention of ‘giving’ something to the group rather than just being focused on ‘getting’ something out of it. This is a kingdom principle taught by Jesus who said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).” Our life is most full and most joyful when we are busy being a blessing to other people rather than when we are totally centred and focused on our own needs. Any group made up of individuals who are simply in the group for what they can get out of it are bound to become dysfunctional. We need to embrace kingdom values – it’s in giving that we receive (Luke 6:38). Commit to making a contribution to your group.

2. RESPOND to the needs of others. The apostle Paul tells us, “Don’t look only for our own interests, but take an interest in others too” (Phil.2:4). The overwhelming emphasis of the New Testament teaching about church community is a mutual responsibility between believers to look out for “one another” and then respond to one another’s needs. Great groups are not made up of a leader who is desperately trying to pull everyone along to a meeting and then trying to meet all their needs. They are a place of mutual friendship where the entire group is committed to each other. This requires that we look and listen to those around us, being attentive to what is happening in their lives. See a need and then do your best to meet it or at least be a support to them.

3. OPEN your life to others. The level of intimacy or closeness in any relationship or group is directly related to the level of openness. Paul modelled a life of transparency and authenticity (see 2 Cor.6:11), continually being open and real about his struggles and the challenges he was facing (see 2 Cor.4:8-9, 16-18; 6:3-10; 7:5-6; 11:23-29; 12:7-10. 2 Tim.3:10-12), and Jesus did the same (Matt.26:36-38). Share how you are really doing (Jas.5:16). Our need is often a gift to someone else who may find joy in meeting that need or at least helping us through. Obviously, there are levels and degrees of openness and we need to discern what is appropriate in each relationship. Greater openness should only occur where we feel ‘safe’ and where we have established ‘trust’ with other people.

4. UNDERSTAND that relationships are essential to personal growth. Life change takes place best in the context of relationships. Character qualities such as patience, kindness and forgiveness are best developed in real life interaction with others. It is in the very process of doing life with other people that we grow and mature. Even a challenging relationship can be powerfully transforming (Prov.27:17). Every group has people who are different than you. These kinds of relationships provide the opportunity for us to grow. They draw us out of our comfort zones and stretch our loving capacity.

5. PLANT your life in the soil of God’s love. Groups are imperfect, as are the people in them. If we don’t recognise this reality, we can set ourselves up for disappointment. Don't put too much pressure on any one group to meet every need in your life. Ultimately, we need to build our lives on God’s love. His love provides us with acceptance, security, significance and value (Eph.3:14-21). God desires us to be rooted and established on his love – not our performance or people’s opinions of us.

Conclusion

Everyone wants to belong. Church is a family where people can experience meaningful relationships. Each one of us contributes to that becoming a reality. Small groups have the potential to be a place of loving relationships characterised by care, discipleship, ministry and outreach. Let’s work together to create environments where the Holy Spirit can move and bring about change and growth in our lives.

Reflection Questions

1. Reflect on Hugh Mackay’s comments about the human desire to belong, and especially his observations about “herds” and “tribes.”

2. Read Acts 2:37-47 and imagine what church life was like in the 1st century. What would it have felt like to gather in the temple area and then in homes?

3. What are some barriers people have in joining a small group? How can we help overcome these?

4. Review the five principles of great groups. Which one spoke to you the most?

5. How would you rate the level of openness or vulnerability in the groups you are a part of?

6. Think of a conflict or difficult relationship that helped you grow as a person.

7. How does our view of God and his love for us affect our relationships with other people?

Great Quotes

"None of us can do what all of us can do ... together." Max Lucado

"Your true belongings aren't possessions; they're your relationships." Leonard Sweet

"The future of the church depends on whether it develops true community. We can get by for a while on size, skilled communication, and programs to meet every need, but unless we sense that we belong to each other, with masks off, the vibrant church of today will become the powerless church of tomorrow." Larry Crabb

"The development of meaningful relationships where every member carries a significant sense of belonging is central to what it means to be the church." Randy Frazee.

"Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful - Christian community is the final apologetic." Francis Schaeffer.

"When it comes to fellowship, size matters. Smaller is better. You can worship with a crowd, but you can't fellowship with one." Rick Warren

"You are members of God's very own family, citizens of God's country, and you belong in God's household with every other Christian." Ephesians 2:19b. LB


Bible Engagement in Churchgoers Hearts, but not Always Practiced

BLifeway Research reports:

While the majority of churchgoers desire to honor Christ with their lives and even profess to think on biblical truths, a recent study found few actually engage in personal reading and study of the Scriptures.

"Bible engagement" is one of the eight attributes of discipleship identified in the Transformational Discipleship study conducted by LifeWay Research. The study produced the Transformational Discipleship Assessment, which measures an individual's spiritual growth in each of these areas of development.

The survey found 90 percent of churchgoers agree "I desire to please and honor Jesus in all I do," and 59 percent agree with the statement: "Throughout the day I find myself thinking about biblical truths." While the majority agree with both statements, there is a significant difference in the strength of agreement. Nearly two-thirds of churchgoers (64 percent) strongly agree with the first statement, but only 20 percent strongly agree with the second.

However, when asked how often they personally (not as part of a church worship service) read the Bible, a similar number respond "Every Day" (19 percent) as respond "Rarely/Never" (18 percent). A quarter indicate they read the Bible a few times a week. Fourteen percent say they read the Bible "Once a Week" and another 22 percent say "Once a Month" or "A Few Times a Month."

"Bible engagement has an impact in just about every area of spiritual growth," said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. "You can follow Christ and see Christianity as your source of truth, but if that truth does not permeate your thoughts, aspirations and actions, you are not fully engaging the truth.

"God's Word is truth, so it should come as no surprise that reading and studying the Bible are still the activities that have the most impact on growth in this attribute of spiritual maturity," Stetzer said. "As basic as that is, there are still numerous churchgoers who are not reading the Bible regularly. You simply won't grow if you don't know God and spend time in God's Word."

[Source]

How's your own Bible reading gone this year? What will be different next year? Are the potential changes worth it to you?


A Letter to the Church at Sardis

SardJesus had John write another letter to the church at Sardis. 

Revelation 3:1-6. I see right through your work. You have a reputation for vigor and zest, but you're dead, stone dead. Up on your feet! Take a deep breath! Maybe there's life in you yet. But I wouldn't know it by looking at your busywork; nothing of God's work has been completed. Your condition is desperate. Think of the gift you once had in your hands, the Message you heard with your ears - grasp it again and turn back to God. If you pull the covers back over your head and sleep on, oblivious to God, I'll return when you least expect it, break into your life like a thief in the night. You still have a few Christians in Sardis who haven't ruined themselves wallowing in the muck of the world's ways. They'll walk with me on parade! They've proved their worth! Conquerors will march in the victory parade, their names indelible in the Book of Life. I'll lead them up and present them by name to my Father and his Angels. Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. Message Bible

Wow, what a challenging word from Jesus to his own people!

What stood out to you the most?

Here is a church that appears to be alive and active but is spiritually dead and asleep. Jesus calls them to wake up. How easy it is to become busy doing our own work, maybe even asking God to bless it, rather than taking time to see what the Father is doing and align our efforts with his will. 

Externals can be deceiving. In a day of bright lights, noise and hype, Jesus looks beyond the surface - to the heart of the matter. He calls his own people to repent and turn back to God (it's interesting how we think that repentance is for the unbeliever, where often it is a call for believers to turn back to God). 

Holy Spirit, awaken our ears to your voice today. Tune us to your promptings. Amidst the wind, the earthquake and the fire, may we hear your small gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-12). 


A Letter to the Church at Ephesus

EphHere is a copy of a letter from Jesus to the church at Ephesus in the first century, as given to John as he was in the Spirit praying ...

Revelation 2:2-7. "I see what you've done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit. I know you can't stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders. I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out. But you walked away from your first love - why? What's going on with you, anyway? Do you have any idea how far you've fallen? A Lucifer fall! Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste, for I'm well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle. You do have this to your credit: You hate the Nicolaitan business. I hate it, too. Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I'm about to call each conqueror to dinner. I'm spreading a banquet of Tree- of- Life fruit, a supper plucked from God's orchard." Message Bible

What stood out to you as relevant for God's people today? For you personally?

Is it time to remember, to repent, or to return?

Familiarity can become one of the great enemies of life. Romance turns into routine. That which was once precious becomes merely common. What is truly special becomes just ordinary. It is so easy to take things in life for granted. 

Someone once defined “religion” as going through the motions without any feelings. The result is apathy. We become emotionally dead - we don't dance, they we sing, we don't laugh, we don't feel, so we don't do. Apathy isn't a state of mind; it's a state of heart. Apathy = a/pathos or without passion.

The church at Ephesus started with an incredible revival that impacted the entire region (see Acts 19). Yet over the decades they drifted from the love they had at the first. The routines of church life continued but the fire of passion had diminished significantly. Jesus called them back to their first love. Jesus is more interested in the authenticity and warmth of our relationship with him than all we may be doing for him. How easy to get caught up in the work of the Lord and forget the Lord of the work.

May the Spirit of God kindle afresh our love for him and for each other today.  


Heretic Hunting?

JudgeIt always concerns me the amount of so-called ‘Christians’ who spend their time throwing mud at other Christian ministries, claiming that so-and-so is a false prophet or spreading heresy. Jesus does call us to discern ministries (by their fruit) but to go beyond this and place a judgment on a person is something we are strongly commanded to NOT do (see my previous BLOG post 'Discern, Don't Judge).

To quote my previous post, Derek Prince recommends five key things that we should look for when discerning whether any church, ministry or so-called “move of God” is genuine or not (from his booklet Uproar in the Church published by Derek Prince Ministries). Here they are:

  1. The fruit of repentance. Are people turning from sin to God?
  2. Respect for the Scriptures. Is God’s Word being respected, valued and taught?
  3. Exaltation of Jesus. Is Jesus being lifted up and magnified?
  4. Love for other Christians. Is there a growing love for other believers?
  5. Loving concern for the unreached. Is there a focus on reaching people for Christ?
A tree is known by its fruit. We may not always recognise or understand how the Spirit moves, but we can know the evidence of the Spirit's work. Is the fruit something that looks like the Holy Spirit?

Not everything you read on the Internet or in the media is true. Having been quoted (or should I say misquoted) by the media myself, I can tell you that not everything you read is true or the whole truth. Charles Finney once defined ‘slander’ as ‘telling the truth in such as way as to give a lying impression.’ There is a lot of that around today!

Rick Warren is an example of a prominent pastor and church leader who frequently comes under attack for something (in Australia we call it the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ – always cutting down the ones who stick out a bit). Take a moment to read Ed Stetzer's recent interview with Rick Warren. It's a good example of a church leader having to qualify and explain some of the recent slander that he has had to endure. It is a good learning experience for all of us. 

Yes, truth is important but none of us have the corner on all of it. Truth is found in a person, Jesus Christ, not in my particular perspective on any matter or issue. When in doubt, dialogue. Enter the conversation, with a desire to grow and learn more as we pursue Christ together. Learn how to disagree ... agreeably. You can be right in your doctrine and wrong in your attitude and you are wrong. Knowledge can tend puff people up in pride up while love always seeks to build up. 

Let's get on with loving one another as Christ loves us (something Jesus said would be THE apologetic that we are truly his followers) and reaching out to a world that desperately needs to see and hear the good news of Jesus Christ.


Living in the Last Days (1 Peter 4)

PeterThe apostle Peter presents us with a strong challenge for times like ours: 

1 Peter 4:7-11. The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. NLT

There was an urgency in which the followers of Christ in the first century lived their lives. They needed to be fully awake (see Romans 13:12. Philippians 4:5. James 5:8. 1 John 2:18. Revelation 1:3; 22:20). Disciples of Jesus lived their lives with the perception that since the end of the world was near, they should live in light of God’s judgment. The completion of history was imminent. The next event could usher in end time events.  

Do we believe in the divine end of history or the myth of continual progress, where the world is continually getting better? True, technology is making our lives easier, but society remains about the same (with rampant discrimination, violence, conflict, crime, etc). Is there any urgency in our living, without becoming frantic, panicked end-times junkies always looking for the Antichrist? Someday we will be judged and held to account for how we lived our lives. How frequently do we examine our lives in light of eternity? 

DEVOTE 3

In light of the urgency of the hour, Peter urged Christians to live a certain kind of life and to DEVOTE themselves to some specific practices. 

1. PRAY: “Be earnest and disciplined in your prayers.”

This is a call to be mentally and spiritually alert, so that we have an effective prayer life. If they stayed alert, they would be effective in their prayer. It was about living with a sense of urgency. Be steady in mind. Preserve your sanity. See things in proper perspective. Be sober in mind – sensible but not joyless.

Peter knew what it was to fall asleep in a prayer meeting - with Jesus! He also knew the power of prayer to build an intimate relationship with God and to draw on the unlimited resources available to us - wisdom, faith, and boldness to name a few.

What are some blockages to prayer? They include busyness, distractions, disappointment and unbelief. We can never not be in God's presence. What we lack is awareness. God is with us all the time wherever we are. Prayer can be a continual lifestyle. There is also something special that can occur when we stop and take focused time to communicate with God.

2. SHARE: “Show deep love for each other.”

Above all, love each other deeply. Work at loving one another because doing so in the midst of stress is difficult, as relationships tend to become frayed and tested during difficult times. Preserve your love. Let it be constant and consistent. Love the unlovely and the unlovable. Love in spite of insult and injury. Christian love is not an easy, sentimental reaction.

Peter quotes Proverbs 10:12 about “love covering a multitude of sins.” He is not talking about covering up sins here, hiding things we’d rather not face. However, God's love enables us to overlook faults and forgive others more easily. It is patient. It transforms situations, moving them from squabbling and fighting to reconciliation and working together. Abandon the old pagan ways and learn the new habit of love. The community that loves one another is able to forgive one another more rapidly when minor issues arise.

Also, Peter doesn’t want Christians withdrawing from the world in selfish separation. He urges them to go out into the world, to become more deeply involved in it by serving others. Be hospitable – to other believers (including travelling missionaries) and to all people. Hospitality (a “lover of visitors”) was to be a mark of followers of Christ (Romans 12:13. 1 Timothy 3:2; 5:10. Hebrews 13:2. Titus 1:8. Matthew 25:35, 43). It formed the foundation of the Christian movement. It was about warmth and love.

Share a meal with someone – then be open to sharing your story and eventually sharing your faith in Jesus with outsiders (see 1 Peter 3:15). 

3. SERVE: “Use whatever gifts you have been given.”

Use your gifts to serve others. Spiritual gifts are an important topic and Peter is echoing Paul’s ideas here (Ephesians 4:11). Of course, love is the context for the exercise of spiritual gifts in the church (1 Corinthians 13). The church needs every gift every person has (Romans 12:3-8. 1 Corinthians 12). There is no gift that cannot be placed at the service of Christ. We are stewards of the gifts we have been given.We can serve in many spheres; the church, our home, our local community, our work place and our global village,

In 2013, we want to devote ourselves to these three practices which will help us move towards making our church mission more of a reality. The needs in our world are great. There is an urgency in the hour. Our nation needs God, so it doesn't continue in a slide towards spiritual apathy and atheism. Crime is on the increase, as is hopelessness, violence and relational conflict. 

May the Spirit of God stir us afresh at this time to break out of indifference, complacency and apathy into a life of passionate faith. Imagine what could happen if the church in Australia came alive with God's Spirit. The stories of salvation, healing and restoration would be inspirational. Each crisis is an opportunity in disguise. Together, let's seize the day! 

[See also Endurance in Suffering - 1 Peter 1 and Leading in Tough Times - Peter 5]