How Do You Overcome The Post-Easter Blues?

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Well, the mountain-top experience is over. You came and heard a great Jesus-centered, uplifting, hopeful message. You left feeling you could take on whatever ugliness life will throw at you. The music was moving. Inspired. You have never heard the choirs and bands sound more polished. The fellowship was warming, authentic, and heartfelt, it has you thinking, “I really should come back to church. I need this weekly spiritual boost.” Let’s face it life have been rough lately. Things are not going according to plans. Something profound and meaningful is missing in your life. Could it be that God is calling you back to him? Maybe this Easter service was the spark?

But you have tried this before. You come back to church the Sunday after Easter, and you don’t experience the same energy, the same focus. People aren’t as warm and friendly as they were the week before. The pastor who preached that powerful sermon is on vacation and there is a guest preacher who is not bringing that same energy. And this text is about Doubting Thomas. Boy, does that speak to your heart? You have doubts about all this church stuff. You drift away again, hit right between the eyes with the realities of life. It will take you eight months to get up the nerve to try it again. Once the weather turns cold, and the songs turn from “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” to “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” How can you avoid those wide swings in your connection with God? Here are a few suggestions to overcome the Post-Easter blues.

Connect with Other Believers Outside of Sunday only:

Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It must stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me. John 15:4

As a believer, you were not created to be a self-contained unit. We cannot exist outside of the community. The network of people who share a common confession, united mission, and deep love for the Savior creates a robust support system for each other. When you voluntarily exclude yourself from that power source, you can see how your spiritual juices get depleted. To take John’s analogy deeper, just as a branch cut off from the vine is separated from its supply of nourishment so it cannot produce fruit, that also applies to the believer. If the Christian is not connected to God and community, they are cut off from spiritual nourishment. The longer a believer is removed from the power source, the more aggressive the efforts need to be to infuse life-giving sustenance into the parched soul.

Taking Spiritual Inventory

If you are unsure of your spiritual condition, John points out that “fruit bearing” is an indicator of spiritual health. We need to be cautious in this area. “Fruit-bearing” has been used to point believers away from work done for them by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Bearing fruit in the life of the disciple is entirely dependent on a direct connection to Jesus. That “fruit bearing” flows naturally out of our faith. Attachment to Jesus or abiding in Him is, therefore, the focal point, the foundation of Christian discipleship.

Receive the Love that is Waiting for You

What most likely moved your heart at the Easter service was that you heard again just how much God loved you. He loved you so completely that He gave you His most precious gift, the life of His one and only, unique son, Jesus Christ. You heard again that God reached into the fires of eternal separation and pulled us out. God values our relationship so much that God will not be satisfied with a twice a year family reunion. God desires to draw all people to himself for eternity, but He also wants an on-going relationship with us. God sent Jesus to bring back all the lost sheep into the Fathers sheepfold. All people of every race, nationality, matter to God. You matter to God if you are so secure in your skin you don’t feel you need the Creator, God still loves you.  If you feel you are to messed up to warrant love, you still matter to God, and you are loved by God.  If you are confused with your identity, broken by life’s circumstances, tormented by the weight of your past mistakes, know that Jesus forgave all of that on Calvary’s cross all because before you were formed in your mother’s womb you were know by God and you mattered to God.

If after that Easter high you are feeling lost, or you are experiencing a sense of spiritual confusion and “emotional disconnectedness” in life, Jesus, the Risen Savior, is seeking you.
Jesus will not stop searching and with relentless grace won’t stop until he finds you.
Don’t just drift away when your spirits are down. Don’t allow the post-Easter blues to give you a feeling of hopelessness. That same Jesus you experienced on Easter is there for you every day of your life. There are power and connectivity in the Resurrection. Resurrection and Christmas joy last not just for a week, but for eternity. The Lord of the Resurrection wants to connect with you. Stop running away from Him. Instead, live in the power of the resurrection.
You have been redeemed and are loved!

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TED Talk: How Gentrification Can Heal a Community

Liz Ogbu is an architect who works on spatial justice: the idea that justice has a geography and that the equitable distribution of resources and services is a human right. In San Francisco, she’s questioning the all too familiar story of gentrification: that poor people will be pushed out by development and progress. “Why is it that we treat culture erasure and economic displacement as inevitable?” she asks, calling on developers, architects and policymakers to instead “make a commitment to build people’s capacity to stay in their homes, to stay in their communities, to stay where they feel whole.”

 

A Good Friday Reflection

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On this Good Friday, as we reflect on the sacrifice made for us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, one thought stands out. Jesus was in total control during the Passion. I can think of times in my life where the moment I was in was overwhelming. The tension, the pressure, the anxiety was on high alert. The Son of Man with the weight of the world on his shoulders was in complete control.

In John 19:28-29 he writes, “28 After this, knowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was nearby, so the soldiers soaked a sponge in it, placed it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips.”

One interesting note about this passage. We assume that Jesus was dealing with physical thirst here. If you dig deeper into the original Greek. John used that word for “thirst” five other times in his Gospel. Every time “thirst” appears it refers to spiritual thirst. The woman at the well in John 4 for example. Think about what Jesus was experiencing at the moment forsaken by God and most critical time of His life. Despite His pain and suffering, Jesus was still in control. He willingly laid down His life to redeem us from our sin.

Today we pray for those who are confused by Good Friday. For those who feel guilty about what the events of that day, maybe even responsible. It was for our sins that Jesus died, but we did not keep him on that cross, His love for us did. Jesus gave up his life voluntarily. The Jewish people did not take His life, nor did the Romans soldiers. In Jesus own words, “18 No one takes it from me, but I give it up because I want to. I have the right to give it up, and I have the right to take it up again. I received this commandment from my Father.” John 10:18. Thank you, Jesus, for loving us so deeply that you paid the ultimate price for saving us. In the name of the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Good Friday Was All About Love

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This is from a sermon series I bought and personalized years ago and preached to my people.  It was a tremendous blessing to them, and  I pray it will be a blessing to you.  It is taken from the crucifixion account in Mark 15:21-41.

In the first century, Rome executed criminals by crucifixion. It was intended to be a humiliating and agonizing experience. There was no concept of death with dignity for the guilty. According to “Roman Antiquities,” after a man was sentenced to die, he was stripped of his clothes and paraded through the streets of the city, so that his punishment would be seen by all. He was required to carry a 50-pound cross-piece, (or sometimes the entire cross, which weighed about 200 pounds) and as he stumbled toward his execution, the soldiers would follow closely behind, whipping him along the way.

When they arrived at the place of execution, the criminal would be both nailed and tied by a rope to the cross beam, and then would be lifted onto the cross. One minor inaccuracy we see in films and paintings of the crucifixion scene is that the cross didn’t tower high above the crowd. Part of the point of the point of the crucifixion was that the criminal should experience the torment of dangling just above the ground, and his tormentors could easily look him in the face.

The position in which the condemned man hung made it difficult for him to exhale. That’s why his legs were bent, and his feet nailed near the base of the cross–so he could push his torso a few inches and gasp for breath until the pain in his legs became unbearable, and he collapsed again. The process was intended to be slow and agonizing. Sometimes the one crucified died because of shock or dehydration, but most often it was because he lost the ability to support his weight and therefore suffocated. However, it didn’t happen quickly; it was not uncommon for death to take two days. Whenever the authorities decided (for whatever reason) to expedite the criminal’s death, his legs would be broken so that he could no longer push himself up for breath, and he would suffocate within a matter of minutes.

Throughout the history of the Roman Empire, untold thousands were executed in this fashion. As enlightened as their society might have been in many ways, they certainly didn’t place much value on human life–especially the life of one obscure Jewish peasant from Galilee. After Pilate had sentenced Jesus to die, he turned him over to the soldiers, whose job was to lead him to his execution. The soldiers mocked him with words such as “Hail! King of the Jews!” The beat him and spit on him and placed a crown of thorns upon his head.

(v 20) When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

Today I want us to look at three spiritual truths that are found in the story of Christ’s crucifixion; three lessons for meditation that will help us experience his healing presence in our lives. First of all…

  1. Jesus couldn’t carry his own cross…

Since Mosaic Law required that executions be made outside the city, the Romans accommodated this custom and criminals were put to death on a hill outside of Jerusalem. The Roman custom was to position places of execution near well-traveled roads so that people could easily see what became of those who opposed Caesar.

It was now time for Jesus to begin the journey to his death. Last week we talked about the type of physical punishment that Jesus had already endured up to this point–the scourging with the Roman whip–, so it is not surprising that he was physically unable to carry his cross.

(v. 21) A man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the country just then, and they forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon is the father of Alexander and Rufus.)

Cyrene was a Greek settlement on the North African coast of the Mediterranean, in what is now modern Libya. It had a large Jewish population, and since “Simon” is a common Jewish name, he had probably come to Jerusalem as a pilgrim to celebrate the Passover. The Bible says he was just a passer-by when he was recruited by the Roman soldiers to carry Jesus’ cross for him. Most likely it was against his will–Roman soldiers had the authority to demand such things, and since he was able-bodied, he could not refuse. Mark includes an additional detail about this man…

(v 21) (Simon is the father of Alexander and Rufus.)

Since Mark believed his early readers would know who Alexander and Rufus are, most probably they were believers active in the church in Rome, where Mark wrote his gospel. The apostle Paul also mentions a Roman Christian named Rufus (Romans 16:13), and this could be the same person Mark refers to. When this man–Simon of Cyrene–was pulled out of the crowd and compelled to carry the cross of a convicted criminal, maybe he saw something in Jesus that caused him to want to know more about him, and ultimately he became a follower.

Jesus couldn’t carry his own cross, and so this unknown man–a man just like you and me–had to carry it for him. This is ironic, but one of the most important lessons of the crucifixion is that even though Jesus couldn’t carry his own cross…

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…but he is the only one who can help you carry yours.

Do you know what it is to have more on your shoulders than you can possibly bear? Do you know what it is like to feel utterly helpless? Absolutely powerless? Jesus does. Through most of the Passion story, we see him standing firm and bold and courageous in the face of the worst kind of abuse. And now, with the end so near, his body ultimately gives out. He cannot take another step in his own strength.

When you come to the place in your life when you cannot take another step in your own strength, I want you to know that Jesus has been there, too. Remember the verse from Hebrews…

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Whatever the cross you have to bear in life–illness, weakness, trials, temptations, mistreatment–whatever it may be, you don’t have to bear the burden alone. Jesus will help you carry your cross. Earlier in his ministry, he spoke these words…

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus came into this world to identify with the human race, to experience all that we experience–the same challenges, the same temptations, the same desperation. He understands you. He knows what it is like not to be able to go on, and he will be there to give you strength in your time of need.

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The second lesson in the crucifixion story is…

  1. Jesus could not save himself…

(v. 22-23) And they brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means Skull Hill). They offered him wine drugged with myrrh, but he refused it.

There’s some scholarly speculation about what the wine drugged with myrrh was intended to do. It might have been a drug designed to deaden his pain. It might have been a poison intended to expedite his death. Either way, Jesus didn’t accept the offer. He had been destined to “drink the cup” of his sacrificial death, and he intended to remain fully conscious until the bitter end.

(v. 24-32) Then they nailed him to the cross. They gambled for his clothes, throwing dice, to decide who would get them. It was nine o’clock in the morning when the crucifixion took place. A signboard was fastened to the cross above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “The King of the Jews.” Two criminals were crucified with him, their crosses on either side of his. And the people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Ha! Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You can destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days, can you? Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!” The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!”

Often executed criminals were the subjects of taunts and derision from a crowd of spectators. There’s something in human nature that causes some to want to gloat in the punishment of others, doing everything possible to add to their agony.

We see this even today. When a person is executed by the state, there are always two groups gathered outside the prison walls: an anti-death penalty group holding a candlelight vigil, and another group of people who are not a merely pro-death penalty, but who have gathered specifically to celebrate the execution of the criminal. They often carry signs that say things like “Burn in hell, so-and-so” and “We hope you suffer like your victims” and so on. I don’t want to get off track here into a debate about the merits of the death penalty, but I’ll say this: most people who support the death penalty do not support the festive atmosphere that takes place at executions. I can’t imagine considering such an event an evening’s entertainment.

In the first century Jerusalem, there were some who considered crucifixions that very thing. When a man was condemned to die they would follow the procession out of town to the hill called Golgotha and entertain themselves at the dying man’s expense.”

As Jesus hung on the cross, stripped, beaten and bloody, he must have been an easy target for ridicule. They taunt him as the one who supposedly had claimed he could destroy and rebuild the temple in three days; watching him die helpless and alone must have made his claim seem laughable.

Some of the leading priests were also there, saying, “Let this Messiah come down off the cross so that we can see it and believe in him.” Of course, we know now that Jesus could have done that. He could have saved himself, just as he could have prevented himself from being there in the first place. He was there, not because he was the victim of circumstances beyond his control, but because he chose to lay down his life for the sake of the world. Earlier he had said to his disciples…

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I lay down my life that I may have it back again. No one can take my life from me. I lay down my life voluntarily. For I have the right to lay it down when I want to and also the power to take it again. (John 10:11, 17-18)

As Jesus was arrested, he said to his disciples…

Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?” (Matthew 26:53)

In that sense, Jesus could have saved himself. But there is another sense in which he couldn’t save himself. This is an important lesson in the crucifixion. Jesus could not save himself…

… because he wanted to save you.

Saving you–forgiving your sins and giving you eternal life–meant that he had to die on the cross to pay the price for your sins, and he was willing to do it. He was willing to die so that you can live. He was willing to die so that you–and everyone who chooses to believe in him–could be reconciled to God. Paul said…

All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did…For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them…For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19, 21)

Jesus died on the cross because that’s what it took to bring about our reconciliation, and that was a price he was willing to pay. In the Garden of Gethsemane he had prayed, “If it is possible, take this cup from me” — but it was not possible. He had to go to the cross. So, in spite of all the power available to him, he couldn’t save himself, because he wanted to save you. It wasn’t the nails that bound him to that tree; his love for you held him there.

There’s a third lesson in the crucifixion that I want us to consider.

  1. Jesus experienced separation from God…

(v. 33) At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 34Then, at that time Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This is the most difficult part of the story for me to tell. It’s also the part that Mel Gibson couldn’t capture on film. We saw Christ’s anguish in the garden, the injustice he suffered at the hand of Pontius Pilate, the mistreatment he endured from the Roman soldiers. These scenes were all heartbreaking. But this scene is beyond our ability to understand. At this precise moment the Son of God’s own Father abandons him because, at this exact moment, the words spoken in Isaiah have become true…

The Lord laid on him the guilt and sins of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

As I read earlier from Paul…

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

In that one horrifying moment, Jesus experienced separation from God…

…so that you can experience reconciliation with God.

Jesus cried “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” so that you will never have to cry those words. Here is the heart of the gospel–the reason for it all. We can be reconciled to God, we can be in a right relationship with him, we can be forgiven of our sins and receive everlasting life…through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Listen to the words of Paul…

But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight–not by obeying the law by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. (Romans 2:21-22)

CONCLUSION

A comment I have heard from many who have seen the Passion movie is that it gives a person greater understanding of what Christ did for us. That’s true. The movie tells us what Christ did for us, but it doesn’t really tell us why. It shows us his sufferings, but it doesn’t explain them to us. I doubt that any movie could, but the Bible can. The Bible says…

He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. You have been healed by his wounds! (1 Peter 2:24)

Peter is quoting a verse from Isaiah. We read it earlier in this series; it’s the verse that appears on the screen as the movie begins…

He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds, we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5 NIV)

The passion of Christ–his suffering and death–is our healing and our salvation. Through his wounds we can experience the healing of our wounds. So I encourage you to meditate on the Passion of Christ.

Remember the garden. He was all alone in his agony, but you are not alone in yours. When you face your Gethsemane, he is there with you, and through praying a “Gethsemane” prayer, you will experience power over temptation.

Remember his trial. He was declared guilty of crimes he did not commit and received a death sentence he did not deserve, but he endured man’s injustice so that you won’t have to face God’s justice for your sins–you can instead experience God’s mercy.

Remember his crucifixion. He could not save himself because he wanted to save you. He experienced separation from God so that you can experience reconciliation with God.

Moments before Jesus died, he cried…

“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

And then he said…

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Though his work is finished on the cross, his work is not completed in you. He wants you to experience the fullness of a relationship with him. He wants you to come alive with his life inside of you. He wants you to experience the power of his resurrection. That is why he gave his life for you.

A Prayer for Seekers of Truth

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I encourage you to join me this Holy Thursday as we pray for seekers of the Truth. On what would be Jesus last Passover festival. He was approached by some Greek seekers. Those seekers like those today are seeking the truth. Some seekers come thirsty for something unique, or powerful, even life-changing. Like those first explorers of truth, many who come are outside my closed circle of comfort. Their path in life is often different than my band of Christian friends. Some have done unspeakable acts of evil. Many come with fractured relationships or shattered lives, and a broken relationship with the Almighty. Despite all that, they still dare to come seeking to “see Jesus” hoping that through this encounter this unique, compassionate Rabbi will show them to the truth of a different path, a chance for healing and wholeness.

 

We pray this Holy Thursday for those seekers who will come to see Jesus. We pray they will find the Jesus they are pursuing. He is present in the music we sing, in the message that is proclaimed and in the Meal we will share. Hear His words of assurance, “Take, eat this is MY body given to you. Take, drink this is MY blood of the new covenant which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Lord may those seekers find what their thirsty souls need, the Savior of the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen!

Is Your Church Struggling to Navigate Rough Waters In a Post-Christian Sea?

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The problem with our declining churches is not that the Word of God has lost its effectiveness. It has the same power to save today, in this culture, as it has through all eras of human history. The church is struggling to adopt.  It’s strategies outdated.  God’s unchanging Word has the power to meet these new challenges. It still brings those people outside of God’s grace into a saving relationship with Jesus. We have good, faithful, doctrinally sound congregations carrying out their mission. We have gifted, caring, mission-minded pastors, who have good intentions but lacking the knowledge and expertise to adapt.  Church leaders and pastors have seen the ship hit the iceberg. They feel helpless to stop the boat from sinking or save the scared and frightened passengers.  I will try and give you some warnings signs your congregation may be taking on water and a few ideas to combat that.

Your church has become internally not outwardly focused.

  • There is concern over how we will continue/thrive.
  • The majority of meeting time is on budget issues or control.
  • We have reduced ministry to transactional relationships.

I served the majority of my parish ministry in urban at-risk congregations.  I recognize the signs. I understand the fear that drives the meetings. I dealt with the frustration and asked the uncomfortable questions. There were several times when our congregation reached the breaking point.  They had the mindset of when all else fails, point the finger of blame at the pastor. As groups struggle with diminishing attendance. Struggle with declining church offerings.  As the population ages, the stress level rises from a warning yellow to crisis red.

As the issues become, more intense the usual tendency is to double failing efforts.  These problems focus the leaders even more intensely inward. Internal questions such as How do we get more people and more money? How do we get members to grow deeper in their commitment?  We know that our members are overtaxed and overly committed.  But we need to demand even more, or we will not survive.  So we are forced to do a guilt-ridden stewardship campaign.  Here we reminded the faithful of how much Christ gave up for them. That should move them. That is a misuse of Law/Gospel preaching and is entirely ineffective. When used the law in this manner it does not motivate, it only condemns. The thinking is if we let members know how dire our situation is maybe we can raise enough funds to keep things going a little longer.

Another tack is to go after the lost inactive members. So we spend precious time, and the low energy our people have on going after people who have written off the church for whatever reason long ago. The success rate on this is less than ten percent. We invest all our time and energy on internal solutions. Meanwhile, the church keeps taking on water, and the passengers become even more restless and frightened, and the ship keeps sinking.

Would it be better to focus our time and energy on those who are outside our walls? Who doesn’t have a history with us? Who as Jesus described as sheep without a shepherd? Imagine getting back to the reason the congregation was founded to reach those far from God? You can do that by using your existing ministries but doing things like this:

  • Sing at Nursing Home > Build relationships with residents
  • Feed my starving children > Interview local food shelf about local needs
  • Jump Rope/Hearts > Have EMT and first responders share how faith factors into their work
  • Sister schools > Share testimonies with students from other schools
  • Junior High > Bring back Freshman to discuss faith challenges
  • Church has left the building > do good to the neighbors around you, rake leaves, pick up trash, have a block party, do mercy ministry

Your solutions to problems focus on human strategy, not divine wisdom.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom….” 1 Corinthians 1:25

I remember early in ministry walking into several of my congregations and littering the pastor’s old library were tons and tons of binders. It was a binder graveyard of all the workshops he had attended and all the ideas the church was going to employ to jump start explosive growth. All good stuff. It was the best of what some other church had done and put down on paper and now graciously shared with the church world. The problem is that it is hard to reproduce how God worked in that unique congregation at that unique time with its unique leadership. You cannot easily replicate God’s movement among His individual groups. I have tried to reproduce the results of Peter’s sermon and the results in Acts 2 forever with nowhere near the results.

41 Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized. God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day. Acts 2:41

You can guess that never happened since I didn’t lead workshops nor did I produce a binder. Learning new things is excellent, attending seminars can be inspiring, but in the end, the questions come down to this: Where is God leading you? What opportunities has he placed before your unique congregation and its unique leadership? What does he have in mind for you to accomplish in that location? You find that out by first understanding the community in which he has called you to serve. One good option is to engage your local leadership in conversation, gather from them what are the needs of our community and ask how we can partner with you to accomplish something great for God.

Once you find out who you are called to serve, then you discover how your current congregation can serve those needs. You have all the gifts in your group right now to meet the needs of those outside of God’s grace. That is why they are there. Nothing God does is an accident. Look at what you have through the eyes of God to determine the mission of God for your ministry. The ship may be taking on water, but she hasn’t sunk yet. God is still Lord of the Church, put your trust in him.

From Miracles to Mission Zeal Some Marks of The True Church

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The seventh mark of the authentic missional Church is its ability to deal with conflict in a God-pleasing manner.

  •  Conflict Resolution

22change the former way of life that was part of the person you once were, corrupted by deceitful desires. 23Instead, renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit 24and clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24

In many church conflicts, the loudest voice wins.  Unfortunately, there are bullies in congregations.  Let me define what a church bully is.  It is someone who lets their agenda and their need for control and power become more important than God’s mission.  Those people at times use schoolyard bully tactics to get their way.  They prey on the fact that church members genuinely have no desires to come to church to argue and fight.  People come to church to be fed with God’s Word and seek avenues where they can use their gifts and talents to help advance God’s kingdom.  So, in church conflicts often the bully has free reign. These power struggles play out in the life of too many congregations, and the end results are good people are either hurt in the fight or become disillusioned with Christianity, and the witness of Christ suffers. The bully can take on many faces, but no matter the face, it is Satan’s way of disrupting God’s work among God’s people.

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  •  Miracles.

Do miracles still exist?  That may sound like an absurd question, but I have heard pastors say that God stopped doing miracles with the Book of Acts.  I would respond then you don’t understand why God did miracles in the first place.   What is a miracle and why did Jesus do them?  Here is a great definition of a miracle.

“An event which may seem contrary to nature and which signifies an act in which God reveals himself to man. The classical definition of miracle assumes that it is contrary to natural law, but this is a misnomer for two reasons. First, many of the miracles of the Bible used nature rather than bypassed it (e.g., the wind which parted the Red Sea, Ex 14:21).

Second, there no longer is a concept of “absolute natural laws”; rather, a phenomenon which is not readily explainable (e.g., quasars) may reflect laws with which science is not yet fully conversant. In Scripture the element of faith is crucial; a natural approach cannot prove or disprove the presence of “miracle.” The timing and content of the process can be miraculous even though the event may seem natural. The consistent rationalist demonstrates the necessity of faith; he would place any so-called miracle in the category of unexplained phenomena rather than accept it as a pointer to the presence of God’s activity in the world. The revelatory significance is also important. In every case, God performed the miracle not merely as a “wonder” to inspire awe in man but as a “sign” to draw men to himself.[1]

If God used miracles to draw men to Him why would He cease using that method?  And why would God deny the church the ability to use miracles to connect the lost back to God?  Miracles are just one more means in God’s tool bag to accomplish is the ultimate goal, “to draw all men back to Him.”

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  • Mission Zeal

Like the churches in Acts, when we are driven by mission we will also encounter conflict and disagreements. What separates missional churches from others is how they handle the conflict. Conflict is dealt with positively when the end goal is reconciliation. To be realistic, no religion can expect to avoid conflict. That would be nice, but the battle is part of the sinful human condition. But how we handle those differences speaks volumes to the world who is paying attention to the way Christians behave.

Imagine being a member of a church like this, where conflict is dealt with so that Christ wins in the end. An authentic missional church can be dynamic, but not without its flaws. If we can have just some of the results of the Acts churches wouldn’t that be a sight to behold?

Conclusion 

Why are all these marks critical?  Because we have an essential mission mandate to fulfill.

It is important to remember why we bother with this whole church thing anyway.  It is all about God’s mission.

[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Miracle. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1468). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

 

Other posts in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2018/03/15/the-church-was-built-for-multiplication/

https://revheadpin.org/2018/03/08/the-marks-of-the-true-church-part-2/

https://revheadpin.org/2018/03/01/the-marks-of-an-authentic-missional-church/

 

 

Within A Hair of History

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Well, the votes were tallied, and the final gavel sounded; another District convention had come to a close.  It was almost a historic day.  I came within 20 votes of history, in being the first black district president in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  Now you may think by coming this close I must be heartbroken, maybe even a bit bitter. However, those are not the emotions I am processing.  No, I am not experiencing any of those negative emotions.  There is a level of contentment.  I know some supporters are wondering what about next time?  That is not fair to our new president or the direction God has in mind for him or this district.  So, fear not I am not ready to begin a three-year secret campaign become District President.    What I am is overwhelmed, by the amount of love and encouragement a runner-up has received.  As I look back at the results and just how close it was, I am grateful that people were not voting for me because I am black, they voted for me because they believed that I had the gifts, ability and the character to lead.  They voted for me because of who God created me and uniquely gifted me to be.  For me, that makes me and this corner of the church body a winner. Congratulations and God’s most abundant blessings to our new district president, Rev. Allan Buss.  You can feel confident I do not desire your position.  District president was not in God’s plans, and I trust His plan for my life.

Trust the Plan

It is funny how God sometimes uses your words against you.  I preached this sermon the week before convention about living out your calling based on 1 Samuel 3, the call of Samuel.  In the discourse, I share three takeaways with the congregation that God threw back at me during the district convention.

  1. Stop and let God speak to you, through prayer and the study of God’s Word.

It is time for me to spend time in prayer listening and seeking to know God’s next step for me.  His plan could reveal “keep doing what you are doing.” God has used me to impact people’s lives in ways I could never have imagined.  This nomination process was a wakeup call not to overlook what God is doing.  We can get so focused in our busy lives we lose sight of what God is doing around us.  I know for me that was the case.  I found myself surrounded by people who I have had an impact on their being in congregations in our district.  It was a compelling picture of kingdom impact.

This election and the fallout afterward overpowered me emotionally.  I was not prepared for the outpouring of love and support I got.  The text messages, the love, the hugs, the prayers, all I can say is wow!  And the pleas for, “Please stay,” have touched my heart.  There were also those, “God has bigger plans for you” comments I also don’t want to ignore because I know God speaks through the faithful.  So, this will be a spring and summer of reflection.  As one friend asked me, “What’s next?”  At this point and time, I do not know.  But I can’t wait for God’s big reveal.

    2.     Be Open to His Leading.

The verses that speak to me in this area are:

“I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 (CEB)

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.”- Proverbs 16:3 (CEB)

God makes it clear our response to His leading is to give up control of our agenda.

What a difficult thing to do.  Our agenda gives us the impression we have got this, but God’s got this.  Let Him lead.

     3.   When God Calls Be Willing to Go!

Many plans are in a person’s mind, Proverbs 19:21 (CEB)

After ten years of stability, this is the most uncomfortable part of how God works.  What if His plans mean a transition?  I have such a robust support system here leaving it would be difficult, but I have to be willing to be faithful to God’s calling.  That calling may involve risks and trust God to provide.

    4.   Trust His Plans

I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own, Jeremiah 10:23 (CEB)

People plan their path, Proverbs 16:9 (CEB)

God makes it clear to trust the process and trust the One created the process.  I know it will all work out but to quote the late Tom Petty,

“The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part.”

The Church Was Built for Multiplication

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When it was built for an international exposition in the last century, the structure was called monstrous by the citizens of the city, who demanded it be torn down as soon as the exposition was over. Yet from the moment its architect first conceived it, he took pride in it and loyally defended it from those who wished to destroy it. He knew it was destined for greatness. Today it is one of the architectural wonders of the modern world and stands as the primary landmark of Paris, France. The architect, of course, was Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. His famous tower was built in 1889. In the same way, we are struck by Jesus’ loyalty to another structure –the church– which he entrusted to an unlikely band of disciples, whom he defended, prayed for and prepared to spread the gospel. To outsiders, they (and we) must seem like incapable blunderers. But Jesus, the architect of the church, knows this structure is destined for greatness when he returns.  -John Berstecher.

The fourth mark of an authentic missional church is discipleship and multiplication.

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  1.     A Disciple-Making Culture

The church is called by Christ in the Great Commission to develop disciples who in turn produce other disciples. Authentic missional churches recognize the crucial importance of developing leaders who are equipped for ministry in this age. These churches develop a plan to send followers out to equip new leaders for future ministry needs in the local church. The tireless work is to expand the scope and number of their leaders, while we continue to develop current leaders for more active service.

Christian discipleship addresses every dimension of faith and life. It is concerned not only with doing the right thing in every circumstance but also doing the right thing for the right reason.

“Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together, to remain faithful to the gospel.” Phil. 1:27

Christian discipleship requires more than preaching alone can achieve. I love the analogy that preaching to make disciples is like going into a nursery and spraying the milk on the newborn babies.  Preaching is powerful; it has behind it the full power and might of the Holy Spirit.  But notice Jesus did not just preach to the disciples, he lived on the mission with them.  We need to be on a journey with the people we are called to equip for service to develop a multiplication culture.

The fifth mark is how the authentic missional Church engages its community.

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  1.      Service to the Community

 “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Matthew 10:8

Jesus was telling the disciples in Matthew chapter 10 verse 8 to do what he had empowered them to do in verse 1. “I gave you these gifts so that you can use them to benefit others.” The marks of an authentic missional Church are ones that care for the community in which God has uniquely positioned it to serve.  The Church has been called to help the hurting. By meeting physical needs it opens the opportunity that goes deeper into their spiritual needs. Through being the hands, feet and the heart of Jesus, our mercy ministry has kingdom impact. It becomes more than giving people handouts, it is about being the hands, the heart, and the feet of Jesus and then inviting them to meet this Jesus we love and serve. As the Church notices the type of people that Jesus stopped along the side of the road and loved, the ones Jesus ministered too, the people Jesus said are important; then like Jesus, we realize that their lives matter. Whether it is the man born blind or the woman with 12 years of bleeding or the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus noticed people in need. And He did not just say be well and fed. He stopped and met their physical needs and then their spiritual needs. The key to a fruitful ministry is to find a need and fill it. That’s what Jesus has called us to do.

Church members are intentionally evangelistic. The Great Commission compels missional churches to go to the ends of the earth to find the lost through various methods. These churches don’t see evangelism as a program but as a relationship. They seek opportunities to share the gospel with others they encounter in everyday life.

The sixth mark is one that we don’t always feel comfortable talking about, giving generously.

 

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  1.      Kingdom Generosity

In Malachi 3:10-12, you have what amounts to a lover’s quarrel over money. And God is beginning to dominate the conversation in this lover’s quarrel.  God tells them how to solve the problem.

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” 

As you listen to this lovers’ quarrel, when you get to the end of verse 12 listen for the response of God’s people. God has done a lot of talking here. What do God’s people have to say in response? There’s nothing there, is there? God’s people don’t respond. Could it be that the prophet Malachi didn’t include the people’s response because he wants to let us think about how we would complete this story and reflect on how we would respond to God, how we would end this lovers’ quarrel? Are we willing to return to the Lord, the Lord who promises to come back to us?  Church members in an authentic missional Church understand generosity and are prepared to accept God’s challenge to give at a level that tests his ability to bless us.

Church members are focused kingdom managers of time, talents, and treasures. These churches foster a climate of generosity. They are not concerned about what they will receive but accept that challenge of Paul in Corinthians to be hilarious givers. Members look for opportunities to help others with all that God has entrusted to them.

Other posts in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2018/03/08/the-marks-of-the-true-church-part-2/

https://revheadpin.org/2018/03/01/the-marks-of-an-authentic-missional-church/

https://revheadpin.org/2018/03/22/the-final-marks-of-the-true-church/

 

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