Feb 232012
 

Charles Swindoll in his biography of the Apostle Paul he asserts that “our theology gets fuzzy here in the United States because of our addiction to the creature comforts” to which we have become so accustomed.

Here is the general idea that many American Christians have, “Pain and suffering come from the devil.  Since God wants His servants well and free of pain, healing and happiness are of the Lord.” (pg. 91 Swindoll)

As a result of our addictions to creature comforts and some faulty theology, many followers of Jesus do not know how to “suffer well”.  Here is a simple truth that we often don’t want to admit.  God uses suffering and difficulties in our lives to accomplish His will in us and through us.  There can be joy, fulfillment and the “shalom” of God as we journey through less than desirable circumstances in our life.

Paul was an authority on suffering.  Read 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 Simply read the entire 2nd letter to the Corinthians and you will discover much of the suffering Paul experienced in his life.  I do not consider myself an authority on suffering.  I have lost a brother and a father and I have experienced some difficult times in life but I don’t know that I can say that I have experienced true suffering.  My wife has some ongoing health issues that causes her quite a bit of pain.  I have a friend, Terry Ivy who I consider a godly man who has encountered a great bit of suffering.  I love how he writes about God’s purpose in suffering and you can find it at TerryIvy.com and click on his category of “suffering”.

Paul teaches us that God does accomplish His will through our suffering.  Here are a few of the ways that God uses our suffering and difficulties to accomplish his will:

  • God uses our pain to allow us to comfort others in pain. Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-4  Paul experience pain to the point of not wanting to live. Check our 2 Corinthians 1:8
  • God uses suffering to keep us from boasting in ourselves.

Paul boasted not in his ability to endure but in his weakness. 2 Corinthians 11:30 Paul writes about having a “thorn in his flesh” 2 Corinthians 12:7 that ensured him having a humble spirit.  Have you ever thought that God may use “thorns” in our lives to keep us from becoming proud people.

“Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of a rebel heart.”

  • God uses pain and suffering to compel us to rely on God’s “sufficient grace” that He provides through Jesus!

We often want relief from pain and sometimes God grants it, but when he doesn’t grant relief, He will give us something even better, His Grace!  Paul pleaded three times for God to remove the thorn and Jesus replied that his grace is sufficient and his power is perfect in our weakness. See 2 Corinthians 12:9

“His grace supplies more than we ned to endure whatever it is that threatens to undo us.” (Swindoll pg. 101)  It is not always God’s will that we are healed.

  • Pain also awaken us to our simple need for Jesus.  

My father was one of the most independent, prideful people I have ever known and his self-sufficiency is what kept him from turning to Jesus.  He suffered with illness in his later years to the point that he could not do anything for himself.  In his realization that he was no longer independent and strong, he turned to trust Christ.  He realized that he needed something outside of himself and it led him to salvation.

C.S. Lewis said,

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Let’s learn to suffer well in a way to bring glory to God and make Him known to people around us. 

What are your thoughts on suffering?

 

 

 Posted by at 12:37 pm
Feb 172012
 

Assuming a churchplanter or pastor wants to share the gospel and impact a local community, there are some ways that a planter can connect quickly and over time in his community to began making inroads that lead to building bridges over which the good news can travel.

Here are some ways I/we began to connect when we planted just over 5 years ago.

Start in your own neighborhood and homeowners association
For a planter/pastor/leader to lead others, he or she must model what he wants others to put into practice.  Start with your own neighborhood or relationship circles closest to home.  There is nothing more powerful than a pastor sharing personal stories about how God has worked through his personal relationships to see people connect to God through Jesus.  I started getting to know neighbors through neighborhood events, homeowner association meetings and my wife and started a discussion group for couples on marriage and family issues.  As a result, we have seen multiple families and people from our neighborhood trust Jesus and get connected at Church at the Grove.

Local Schools
Our church’s two campuses both meet in public schools.  We began building relationships with the principles and staff through feeding them and loving on them in a variety of ways.  We told them we want to be their first call if they need something.  It has worked and they love us and have become “raving fans” of our church.  Here’s the deal:  If you tell them to call you, you better be ready to follow up and meet their request.  You must maintain a healthy credibility with the community.

Police Department
The Police Department knows as well as anyone what is going on in the community.  I went to the local police department and asked them if they had a chaplain.  They didn’t and I volunteered.  Within a year or so, we baptized the Chief and he now plays in our worship band.  We partner with the department on a number of things but the partnership with the greatest fruit has been our “Shop with a Hero” Christmas project that touches over a hundred children through the public schools.

Funeral Homes
One of my mentors told me that when he planted a church years ago he went to the local funeral home and volunteered to do funerals for people without a church. WOW!  I do over a dozen funerals a year for unchurched families.  It is a great way to connect with unchurched people and meet a practical need.  More and more people navigate death and loss without the security and hope that eternity offers us through Christ.  Several families have given our church a try through these connections and countless people have heard the gospel.

Counselors
We try to maintain relationships with what we call the “365 people” that deal with community needs everyday of the year. These are the police, firefighters and school counselors that deal with the basic needs of people on an ongoing basis.  We go to the school counselors and tell them that our church wants to be at the top of their list when it comes to helping meet needs.  They love us.  Here’s the deal: You better be ready if you make yourself available.

Social Workers
You will be able to meet practical needs if you make your church available to help with DFACS, county or city social workers or any leadership that is connected to everyday needs in the community.

Coach or volunteer in a local sports league
This is one of the best ways to connect with people in the community.  If you love what people love, they will listen to what you have to say.  If you pour your life into their children through coaching a sports team, it will be the easiest way to connect people to your church.  This may be the most productive means by which I have personally connected people into our church!  People are hungry for leadership with character and integrity and it is hard to find on the youth sports field unfortunately.  You can’t go wrong with volunteering to coach kids in the community!  Be ready, because people will be watching how you handle yourself on the field!

Prayer walk
There is nothing better than simply walking a neighborhood or town and praying over everything going on in a local community.  Prayer walking does not provide instant reward or feedback and it doesn’t seem like a glorified activity but God promises to reward prayer.  It is one of the best things a leader can do and it should be a regular part of a leader’s routine!

What have you done to successfully connect in the community?  I would love to hear one of your ideas that has worked!

 

 Posted by at 2:00 pm
Feb 152012
 

Here are what I believe are the most important disciplines for a follower of Jesus living in the USA.  I list them in the order of importance.  Some of you will not like this and not agree.  That’s ok.  I want to challenge you to think about WHY I list them in this order.

SERVE
Why is this number 1?  I think so many followers of Jesus miss out on the impact of serving people around them in practical ways to demonstrate the love of Jesus.  Jeremiah 29:4-7 says to seek the peace and prosperity of a city and if the city prospers we will prosper as well.  One of the greatest ways to make an impression on the people and the world around you is to simply serve people in the name of Jesus.  The spiritual discipline of “service” is under-utilized in making Jesus known to people.  Serve in your church and in your community.  In John 13:3-5 Jesus demonstrates service as he washes the feet of the disciples.  Question:  How do we wash the feet of people around us in the 21st century?

GENEROSITY
In America, we have more money than we know what to do with. (And yet we are still in debt.)  We live self-indulgent lives and money has a stronghold on our hearts through greed.  Jesus told us that we cannot serve God and money at the same time (Matthew 6:24) The way we break the stronghold of greed and money is to give generously!  There is nothing like the discipline of generosity to change our hearts.

SHARE
Most believers don’t know how to start a conversation that leads to sharing the hope that is found in Jesus.  We must cultivate the discipline of sharing our faith.  Regardless of your personality you are accountable for making Jesus known to people in your circle of influence.  You can learn how to get into conversations and actually share your faith.  You can click here to see how I equipped our church to share their faith.  I believe if you practice the disciplines of SERVE and GENEROSITY, this discipline will come more naturally.

Read God’s Word
Some will ask, “Why in the world is this discipline number 4 on the list of most important spiritual disciplines for a believer in America?”  Simply because most Christians that are involved in spiritual growth are “over-read and under-applied”.  We have no shortage of Bible studies available to us but most followers of Jesus are not actively applying the Word of God to their daily life.  Some of us need one less Bible Study in our life and need to get out in the community and serve and practice generosity.  Here’s the deal:  If you are serving and giving generously of your resources and sharing your faith, you will want to read your Bible even more.  God’s Word, the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us and we should read it daily, don’t get me wrong.  These disciplines are specifically applied to believers living in America.  READ IT THEN DO WHAT IT SAYS! If you do what it says, you will want to read it MORE!

Talk to God
We should communicate with God through the amazing gift of prayer.  This is an underutilized discipline with most followers of Jesus.  Prayer is learning to depend on God.  This discipline is so often a formality and ritual in the life of the American Christian because we don’t lack for anything.  We don’t HAVE to depend on God because all of our needs are met in our culture.  Real, life-transforming prayer is depending on God for what we don’t have.  Pray without ceasing!  Don’t just stand there, pray something!

Connect with other believers in a local Church
Go to church! Join with other believers for the purpose of glorying God and joining Jesus in His mission of redemption.  God has sovereignly chosen to involve us in His mission of redemption.  We get to take the gospel of Jesus to people that are far from God.  2 Corinthians  5:20-21 says that we are His ambassadors.  Go to church!  Hear the Word! Celebrate Jesus with others!  Put into action what you hear!  Do it every week!  Don’t forsake it!  Hebrews 10:25

Circle Up with a Few other Believers
Circles are better than rows!  Invest your life with a small group of believers that can put into practice together these other disciplines.  You can read the Word and study together, serve together, give together, pray together, love one another!  You can’t grow spiritually as God intends by sitting in rows every week simply staring at the backs of people’s heads!  Get into a small group and get to know others on a deeper level and discover what it is like to live on mission with God with a small group of other followers.

These are the disciplines I believe that followers of Jesus must put into practice to grow spiritually and join God in His mission of getting the gospel OUT into the world we live in.  Some may not like or agree with the order of importance I put them in and that is ok.  Let’s don’t argue but simply apply these disciplines in our lives and the lives of those we are responsible for ministering to on a daily and weekly basis!

 Posted by at 12:40 pm
Feb 132012
 

Hey Church at the Grove!  I love our church!  I am so thankful for a body of people willing to lay their lives on the line to glorify God and take the gospel to the world.  I am fired up about leading people to follow Jesus and Make Disciples.  Yesterday I preached at our Social Circle location and it was awesome to be there with Nathan and our incredible team that is creating an environment for people to explore faith.  We are consistently having new people show up and now there are families that are coming each week!

Here are a few thoughts for our church:

Let’s keep it all about Jesus!
We live in an increasingly pluralistic culture where it has become a bit taboo to speak the name of Jesus in an exclusive way.  The gospel of Jesus is the ONLY hope we have for having a meaningful, significant and purposeful life!  Let’s keep it ALL ABOUT Jesus!  I don’t mean that we abandon the freedom for people to explore faith at their own pace.  We should be accepting, loving and kind to people from all perspectives and backgrounds BUT it really is ALL ABOUT JESUS!

Keep Praying!
We entered this year with a intensive focus on prayer, especially for our campus launch in Social Circle.  We must continue to depend on God!   Let’s continue to passionately ask God to act on behalf of the mission He has called us to.  Let’s pray that He works in lives to bring people to faith in Jesus.  Let’s pray that God works in father’s hearts and works in families in a way that transforms lives!  Let’s continue to pray that God gives us favor and credibility with our local community and ministry partnerships.  Let’s continue to pray!

I read this recently from Mark Batterson on prayer:
“Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God.”  “And until His sovereign will becomes your sanctified wish, your prayer life will be unplugged from its power supply.”

Ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church!
Let me be honest!  It’s not about YOU!  We have an incredible group of people that serve and make Church at the Grove a great church BUT we always need more people to simply jump in and find a place to serve.  When people are looking for a church, the prevalent pray should be “God, where do you want my family to partner with you in your mission?” rather than, “God where do you want us to be to have our needs met?”  JUMP IN somewhere and serve!

Encourage Each Other!
Yesterday’s message at both our campuses was about authentic relationships and our need for encouragement and accountability.  Are you engaged in a small group of relationships that encourage you to grow spiritually?  Are you connected in a Community Group?  We will not grow spiritually as God desires until we are connected in meaningful relationships of encouragement.  You cannot grow spiritually the way God intended simply sitting in rows on Sunday staring at the back of other people’s heads.  As we say at The Grove, “Circles are better than rows!”

Give generously!
I have been amazed at how generous Church at the Grove has been especially over the past year or so.  Our financial situation looked pretty dismal two years ago and because of faithful giving and generosity we actually exceeded our budget last year.  I certainly am not in “panic mode” but we are behind our budget so far for 2012.  Please continue your generous giving and if you haven’t stepped out in faith to give, don’t miss out on the blessing that God has in store when we give generously.  You can give on Sundays or on-line at www.churchatthegrove.com

Be a missionary!
See yourself as a missionary to the people in the circles of relationships that you travel!  Who are you praying for and investing in that is a neighbor, family member or co-worker?  Please keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities for CATGrove to invest in our community and then take the initiative yourself to step in and make something happen!  Don’t feel like you have to wait for the church to organize something.  You are commissioned as a missionary!  Go for it!  You have permission!

Easter is coming!
Easter is April 8 and it is a great opportunity to invite someone to join you at CATGrove!  You can read more about how to leverage Easter here!

 

 Posted by at 1:05 pm