It All Starts With Us!

UnknownWe’ve been talking the last several weeks about “Why Church?”. I’ve really enjoyed this time of study and reflection on the Lord’s design for His church, and what implications that has for us, both corporately and individually. When we understand our purpose and design as people who gather together in reverence of our Lord, we are better able to function as intricate parts of a greater whole. Just as our bodies are more efficient when all the parts are whole and healthy, our church is more impactful when its “body” functions with balance, purpose, and a unified vision.

When we look at the metrics of measuring a healthy church, there is an excellent list synthesized by Pastor Rick Warren, based on Acts 2:42−47:

  • Churches grow warmer through fellowship.
  • Churches grow deeper through discipleship.
  • Churches grow stronger through worship.
  • Churches grow broader through ministry.
  • Churches grow larger through evangelism.

With these five elements in balance, the natural result will be growth within the church—because healthy things grow.

Now, if this list is a metric that we can use to determine if a church is healthy, and if WE are the church, then we can use this list to determine our own personal health within the greater church body. What are the ways we can increase the “warmth” of our fellowship within our church? How can we deepen our personal discipleship? Where are the areas we can grow stronger in our individual times of worship? How do we broaden the scope of our own personal call to ministry? What can we do to evangelize the lost and grow God’s Kingdom within our workplace, or our family—the areas outside the immediate reach of our local church congregation?

I’ll admit, some of these points are easier for me to apply to a larger group than to myself personally. But we, as God’s church, are designed by Him to be an influencing agent for the purpose of advancing His Kingdom, and we can only influence others to the point that we ourselves are equipped and prepared. You can’t draw water from an empty well—or, a body can’t lift someone up if its arms are broken. All these things—fellowship, discipleship, worship, ministry, and evangelism—begin with individual people choosing to open their hearts to the Lord, and submit their lives to His shaping. When this happens, we can truly see growth in our lives and in our church, which will flow out to those around us. It all starts with us!

Of One Mind

holding handsHave you ever spent time with people who know each other very well? Often, when two people have been best friends for decades, or married for a long time, it seems like they share a brain—finishing each other’s sentences, communicating non-verbally, and referencing a history of inside jokes and phrases that makes it seem like they’re speaking their own special language. This closeness and connection is something that develops over time through a commitment to share in life’s experiences TOGETHER.

What if we fostered this level of closeness within our church? Think about the impact we could have on the world around us if we all committed to love God TOGETHER, serve people TOGETHER, and actively work to see lives changed TOGETHER? Paul made the same appeal for unity to the early church, particularly in his letter to the Corinthians:

“I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” 1 Corinthians 1:10

So, how do we be of one mind? What unites us in thought and purpose? Last week we talked about the many Gifts of the Spirit that are available to us as believers. These gifts benefit us personally, but when used as part of the Body of Christ, we all reap the benefits:

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” 1 Corinthians 12:4–7 (NLT)

This means that when we are all actively pursuing the Gifts of the Spirit, and allowing the Holy Spirit to grow and shape us, we’re simultaneously working toward being unified in thought and purpose with other believers—we’re becoming “of the same mind”. We may as well start finishing each other’s sentences now!

This is exciting to me, because we serve a great God, and belong to a great church. I’m honored to share a mind with each of you! And, as I grow in my walk with Christ and you grow too, we have the mutual benefit of growing together toward the same purpose, and building each other up in the process. This is what being TOGETHER is about—moving forward unto life and victory for each of us personally and for the Body of Christ as a whole.

Gettin’ It Done!

glory-300x131Wednesday I spent some time at Central Park with hundreds of people from our congregation and thousands from the community. Together, we enjoyed “Glory SCV”—Santa Clarita’s premier Christian music festival. It was a fantastic day! The music was great, the fellowship was high, people’s hearts were filled with joy, and the body of Christ was strengthened in our community.

What I loved most about this event, though, was that at the heart of all that was happening in the park were hundreds of people volunteering and serving. It was really great to see. There were people working the parking lot, the sound booth, the merchandise booths, the prayer tent, the food areas, security, stage crew, and the list goes on. People who were willing to give of themselves prepared the soil for people to attend this event and leave truly enriched and invigorated in their faith. Many of you were among those servants. Thank you so much for all that you did to make this happen. That servant-heartedness truly made this event sing (pun intended).

Let me talk to you a minute about Barry. Barry and Jenny McKeever are part of our congregation and quite involved in the SCV community. Barry is the host of the Sunday night Christian Music show on KHTS AM 1220 each week from 5–7pm, and he loves Contemporary Christian Music. He’s the driving force behind making Glory SCV happen. He and Jenny have prayed this into being and personally promoted it, doing all the legwork and administration along with a small group of key volunteers.

When Barry and I walked off the platform at the end as the lights went down on Wednesday night, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of something I knew I needed to share with him. What he (and his wife and team) had just done was a huge benefit to the kingdom of God in Santa Clarita. I let Barry know that “this” is what it’s all about—people listening to God’s call on their lives and taking the bold steps necessary to make that call come to fruition—people who are willing to “get it done”. You see, if everything that needs to happen for the kingdom of God in a community has to be directed by the pastors in the community, then there is a significant limitation to what can be accomplished. But when God’s people will boldly listen to Him and move forward with what He’s telling them, then there’s no end to what can happen.

Glory SCV ended up uniting the body of Christ in our community, strengthening the faith of believers, and doing things that pastors alone could not make happen. It was an awesome action of “audacious faith”—to borrow a phrase from our summer reading book—that had a huge impact on Santa Clarita.

So, if you’re thinking something big should happen, but you’re waiting for someone else to get it done, you might start asking why the thought came to you in the first place. It could just be that God has bigger plans for you than you ever realized. Together, we can be used by God to change a community. That’s gettin’ it done!

Abba Father

greatest-dadMost would know that I had a wonderful father. He went home to be with Jesus 18 years ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t think fondly of him, or remember a lesson he taught me, or realize that I’m doing things in exactly the same way he would have done them. I miss him greatly, and each Father’s Day, I remember the great man that I was blessed to call, “Dad”.

I realize my relationship with my dad is not the norm for some. Many would have a different relationship with their earthly father—some filled with love and respect, and others filled with pain and hurt. There are times when the actions of imperfect human fathers can alter the way we respond to our Heavenly Father. Perhaps your father was not present, or you did not know him at all. Perhaps he failed in some aspect of life, or perhaps he taught you lessons that were unhealthy and damaging. Regardless of the situation involving our earthly fathers, we can rejoice in the fact that we have a Heavenly Father that loves us intimately, and longs for a relationship with us that extends beyond the limitations of this sinful world.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, ‘Abba, Father.’” Romans 8:15, NLT

The thing about adoption is that it’s a choice. In our society today, adoption is a lengthy, expensive, and tedious process, with lots of hoops to jump through and a large legal system to navigate. For Jesus, adopting you and me meant taking all our sin and paying the ultimate price on the cross. It was an intentional choice He made to claim us as His sons and daughters. The result is that we are no longer required to live as fearful slaves, but can instead have a personal, loving relationship with our Heavenly Father. And this Father is always present, always available, and always desiring the best for us.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be His own special treasure.” Deuteronomy 7:6, NLT

The Lord selected Israel as His own special treasure, and the minute we open our hearts and accept Jesus as our Lord, we are adopted into His family—and we become the Lord’s own special treasure too. We enter into an intimacy with God as our “Abba Father”—an endearing term of love, affection, and respect that is modeled through the relationship of a committed father to his child. My prayer is that this Father’s Day, each of us will enter into a new dimension of realizing God’s fatherly love toward us. No matter if we had the best dads in the world, or if our fathers were lacking, may our Heavenly Father be a very real source of love for us this day and onward, as we continue to grow in relationship with Him.

Feeding Each Other

wooden-spoonThere is an old folktale that I’ve been thinking about lately. Its origin is unknown, and it has various versions depending on who you ask and what region you’re from. Here is the one I’m most familiar with:

A holy man asked the Lord to show him the difference between heaven and hell. The Lord led him to two doors. Behind the first door was a group or people sitting around a large, round table. There was a pot of stew in the middle of the table, and each person had a long wooden spoon strapped to their arm, so they could reach into the pot of stew. However, the spoon handles were so long that the people couldn’t get the stew into their mouths after scooping it out of the bowl. As a result, they were emaciated, weak, and angry. ‘This is hell,’ the Lord said to the man. Then, the Lord opened the second door. Inside was the exact same scenario as the first—people around a large, round table, with a pot of stew in the middle, and long wooden spoons attached to their arms. But this time, the people were laughing, well fed, and happy. ‘This is heaven,’ said the Lord. ‘I’m confused, Lord,’ the man said. ‘What changed between the first room and the second?’ The Lord replied, ‘In hell, everyone is concerned with their own food and their own survival. They don’t work together, so they starve. But in heaven, the people have learned that although they cannot feed themselves, they can use the long handles of their spoons to reach across the table and feed each other. And so they eat their fill and are happy.”

Wow. What a powerful illustration of that it means to be TOGETHER as believers. The Bible is very clear about our role as people who were created to be in community with each other. In 1 Corinthians 12:7, we see that, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” Likewise, in Ephesians 4:12−13 the Bible says, “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the Body of Christ.” So, not only are we all placed on this earth to be in fellowship TOGETHER, but the gifts and talents the Lord gives us are to be used to “feed” each other. The New King James version of these two verses says that our gifts are for “the profit of all” and the “equipping of the saints”.

We can look at this another way. If I am not working on my relationship with God so that I am right with Him, and grasping hold of the gifts He wants to grow in me, then I am “cheating” you out of the things the Lord wants me to “feed” into you as I grow. The same is true of you—if you aren’t working on growing in the Lord, then you can’t “feed” me with your gifts and talents. In the end, not only do we miss out individually if we don’t grow in the Lord; we limit each other corporately as the Body of Christ.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be fed, and I want to feed those around me! I pray that as we work on growing TOGETHER as a church, we’ll find ourselves feeding into each other, and the result will be a powerful season of fellowship, support, love, and care for each other. I’m glad to be on this journey with each of you, as we discover the many ways the Lord wants to advance our church in this season.

How Sharp Am I?

knife_PNG1516Doubtless, we’ve all spent some “quality” time at some point aimlessly watching infomercials (or, maybe that’s just something I do). I know of a particular infomercial for a set of super-sharp knives—the kind that can cut through a tin can, or a tree stump, or any other thing you can imagine wanting to cut through. I’ve always thought, “Why would I possibly ever need a knife that can cut through these things?” To me, these knives seem more like a novelty item than a tool.

But, have you ever tried to cut something using a dull knife? Not only is it ineffective in accomplishing the job that it was designed for; it can actually be dangerous to use. Without the correct level of sharpness, the knife can slip off the item it’s slicing, and cut the next available thing…like a finger, or a hand. It would seem like a knife that’s dull is just as dangerous as a knife that’s too sharp.

In Proverbs 27:17, “sharpness” is seen as an important quality of a believer:

“As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”

Several questions come up when I think about this scripture. Why do we need to be sharpened? How do we sharpen each other? How “sharp” am I?

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be focusing on these questions, and others, as we explore what it means to be TOGETHER as a church body. Perhaps you currently identify with the dull knife—feeling ineffective and dangerous. Or, perhaps you feel so sharp that you could unnecessarily cut through a tree trunk. My prayer is that this series will give us all fresh insight on how to live TOGETHER in fellowship with one other—smoothing out each other’s rough edges and building each other up—so that in the end, we’ll each be sharp enough to be effective disciples of Jesus. Won’t you join me on this “sharpening” journey?

The Great Commission

small-globe“Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” Matthew 28:18-20, NLT

Over the years I’ve heard people interpret The Great Commission in various ways. One way involves becoming a vocational missionary—leaving home to move to a faraway nation to spread the gospel of Jesus. This is a calling and a commitment that involves being “in the trenches”—learning new languages, new customs, and often taking great risks to bring the message of Jesus to hostile areas. While not everyone is called to be a vocational missionary, we are ALL still called to fulfill The Great Commission.

Several months ago, we as a church had an opportunity to help fulfill Jesus’ mandate to spread the gospel by purchasing a Mobile Printing Press for Foursquare Missions Press. We took our Lenten season to focus on raising enough money to purchase a press, ship it to a location, and train people to utilize it to print gospel materials in local languages. We actively participated in The Great Commission in a tangible, vital way—and we did it all from our own homes and out of our local church! I want to say a big, “thank you” to each and everyone one of you who participated.

Because of your generosity and faithfulness to spread God’s Word, Foursquare Missions Press expects to ship the printing press, fully funded through your giving, to Greece the week after next. They are also in the process of training our missionaries in Greece, Stephen and Evangelia Larkin, to print materials that will not just be distributed in the Mediterranean, but also throughout Eastern Europe. Praise the Lord for His faithfulness and provision for this important tool! This Mobile Printing Press is truly a game changer, and will allow God’s Word to be spread effectively, quickly, and affordably.

Please continue to be in prayer that the Mobile Printing Press will arrive in Greece quickly—with no customs issues or transportation delays. May we all see great fruit as a result of these small, but significant, steps we’ve taken in fulfilling The Great Commission.

Together With One Another

“As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17

We often use this passage when describing the importance of accountable relationships and living TOGETHER with one another. And it’s true that the way we respond to one another shapes us into the people we ultimately become. But the nature of this illustration (iron sharpening iron) requires us to make some applications to our lives that might be difficult. The way “iron sharpens iron” is for one piece to abrade the other. One piece deburrs the other, removes the rough edges, and makes it “keen” (as the same word is also translated). A blacksmith has the ability to shape iron by putting one piece into the fire until it is moldable and then striking it until the desired shape is formed; it still isn’t sharp until it is abraded in some way and sharpened into its final state.

God’s design for our growth is not for us to become abrasive and therefore fulfill His purpose in our neighbor. Nor is it to become those who will strike at each other to shape them. Remember, it is the hand of the blacksmith—one who approaches the situation with intentional purpose—who shapes the iron. God is going to use you to sharpen me…and me to sharpen you. We desperately need one another if we are to reach the ultimate design God has intended for our lives—it only happens TOGETHER.

“One another!” This is a term used over eighty times in the New Testament with dozens of these occurrences specifically dealing with how we, as believers, relate to each other. We are told in Romans 12 to “be kindly affectionate to one another;” and to “be of the same mind toward one another.” Galatians 6 tells us to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Colossians 3 says, “do not lie to one another,” and 1 Thessalonians 5 says to “comfort each other and edify one another.” 1 Peter 4 says to “be hospitable to one another” and as “you have received a gift, minister it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” And 1 John 1 says to “have fellowship with one another.” Fellowship, kindness, honesty, hospitality, even ministering to and praying for one another—that doesn’t sound too difficult…but it’s just the beginning.

Roman’s 12 also tells us, “in honor give preference to one another,” and the next chapter tells us to “love one another”. In chapter 14 we’re told to “not judge one another.” Galatians 5 says, “through love serve one another” and not to “provoke one another or envy one another.” Honor, love, serve, don’t provoke, judge, or envy—this is getting more difficult.

In Ephesians 4, we’re told to “forgive one another,” and in chapter 5 it says to “submit to one another in the fear of God”. And then James 5 says to “confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another.” Forgiveness, submission, confession, and prayer? The bar truly has been raised!

Then to top it all off Romans 15 says to “receive one another, just as Christ also received us.” That was done just as I was. Christ received me while I was yet a sinner and He died for me (Romans 5:8). He paid my debt that I might have eternal life. I didn’t have to strive to achieve some goal before I could receive what Christ had to offer me—the offer was that He would receive me just as I was and then mold me, shape me, and sharpen me. We have the same responsibility to receive each other just as we are. The sharpening will happen as we move on.

So, take a good look around you. That person sitting there is “one another.” You and I are in this TOGETHER—and together is the only way we will thrive—or even survive. That person sitting by you is the one you are to love, serve, and prefer—and yes, even receive with all of the imperfections that are not yet worked out. Amazing that God will accept them with those rough edges, isn’t it? Equally amazing is that God will accept me with my rough edges. We’re all here TOGETHER, accepted as we are, to be shaped by the hand of the Lord—with intentional purpose as the blacksmith…and then sharpened by our relationships with one another.

Let’s make the decision to become the instrument used in the hand of the Lord to sharpen one another, allowing each other to become what God intends. The only way we can do that is to determine to live and grow TOGETHER. That’s the name, and intent of the new series we’ll embark on beginning on May 31. I pray that you’ll join us for these important messages as we learn to be TOGETHER as a church. So, let’s decide TOGETHER to be shaped by each other so that we, too, can have His ultimate purpose fulfilled in us.

The Eye of the Hurricane

I’m pretty fascinated by the different weather phenomena we experience in the U.S. Being a native Californian, I realize we’re pretty spoiled with our mild winters and warm summers. It amazes me how people in the rest of the country deal with seasonal severe weather—tornados, snow storms, hurricanes. Even though there is often warning for these events, I don’t know how I would function in an area where chaotic weather was a given. I’m a fan of peaceful weather.

Sometimes, the storms we experience in life can look a whole lot like a hurricane. Finances get strained. Relationships fail. Health becomes poor. Living life in an imperfect world can leave us feeling like we’re caught in a severe storm—with chaos swirling around us and situations battering against us—stifling any progress we would hope to make. But there is hope.

We’ve all heard about the eye of the hurricane, but few have ever experienced it. A friend of mine was an engineer on a submarine during his time in the Navy. He tells of a time they were beneath surface and were tracking a hurricane that was passing over. At one point the Commanding Officer ordered the boat to surface and he, along with the XO and my friend went up and opened the hatch. He tells the story that they surfaced in the center of the eye and it was an eerie peaceful experience, he said, to be in the midst of the still yet watching the storm rage 360° around you just a mile or so away. Just like the eye of a hurricane, we have access to calm in the midst of our storms through Jesus and His perfect peace.

I imagine this peace is what Peter felt in those few moments where he walked on the water to Jesus. We see this exchange in Matthew 14:22–33. It was the middle of the night and the disciples were in a boat during a raging storm. All of a sudden, they see someone walking on the water toward them, and they think it’s a ghost. I like the way the rest of this exchange is worded in the New Living Translation:

But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” He said. “Take courage. I am here!]

Then Peter called to Him, “Lord, if it’s really You, tell me to come to You, walking on the water.”

“Yes, come,” Jesus said.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

We talked earlier this year about how Peter had a tremendous amount of faith to even consider getting out of the boat. He gets a bad reputation for sinking, but the fact that he even took that first step should be noted. In that moment, Peter experienced peace in the midst of the storm, with his eyes focused on Jesus.

The same holds true for us. If God is truly leading us, and we put our trust in Him, then the closer we draw to Him, the safer we will be. This is easier said than done at times. The unrest we feel around us can be a huge distraction, and we can all too easily take our eyes off of Jesus and find ourselves sinking. But, if we commit to pursue Him, regardless of the storm, we will find ourselves enveloped by His perfect peace—just like the calm in the eye of the hurricane. And the good news is that even when we’re sinking, Jesus is right there with His outstretched hand, ready to pull us out of the water and back onto solid ground. I pray that during this next season we will all commit to a greater level of trust in our Lord, knowing that we can weather any storm around us, as long as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus and our hearts committed to trusting where He leads us.

Who’s the One Changing?

For the last several weeks we’ve been exploring the various aspects of change, and the way that change affects us. We’ve looked at the disciples having their direction changed, at what happens when God asks us to change the way we look at things, at how perspective gets changed to bring us to the place of being vessels in the Lord’s hand. We’ve discovered that divine interruptions in our plans can produce great results for His Kingdom. We’ve also looked at the fact that change is never easy. Even if embraced, there’s still a learning curve—new levels of faith is always required.

I’ve heard it said that the only person for whom change is not difficult is the one who is making the change. I believe what that means is that if you’re the one directing the change, and yet everyone else is needing to make the change, it’s more difficult for them than you. That’s probably true in most cases. The point is that when I make a change it doesn’t only affect me, but you as well. Then, if someone is in the midst of a change that they may have processed and we suddenly feel the effects, we haven’t had the same time to process. So, we need the Lord to help us in that processing.

From the human perspective all change that we direct affects both us, and others. But then we have to think about the change that God directs. He is an unchanging God, who’s directing us toward change that brings us into alignment with His purpose—He, however, never changes. That makes me smile.

“For I am the Lord, I do not change” Malachi 3:6a

He never changes—we do—and it’s always been that way. The book of James tells us that there is “no variation” in Him, “no shadow of turning”. So, if He’s not going to change, but we need to be drawn closer to Him, then we’re the ones who need to change or move.

Abram changed to leave his father’s land and get to the place where he could inherit God’s promise; Moses changed so that he could lead God’s people out of captivity into their promised land; we change when we open to God’s promise of salvation to us.

Do you see the common thread here? God’s change is always on our part, not His, and it always has His promise in mind for us. Want to inherit His promise? Then most likely, there will be change involved. Change for you and me, not for Him.

Right now we’re experiencing lots of change as a congregation. Each one of us has to determine if we will let that change rock our world, or if we’ll embrace that change—realizing that it’s God directing us toward His promise for us. With that, I find myself excited over the change we’re in—I’m viewing it as God’s signal that He’s advancing us into a great future. The best part about that is since He doesn’t change, He’s there as the constant for us while we’re changing. A constant gives us perspective, and allows us to maintain direction. God is there to do that for you and me when we’re in the midst of change.

So, please join me in this point of great anticipation, looking toward the promise of what God has for us next. “Us”—as it relates to all of us together; but also “us”—as it relates to each of us individually. He’s thinking on a higher plane than us, and He’s got more in mind for you and me than we can imagine. My prayer is that I will change to embrace His promise for me—how about you?

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.

“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Isaiah 55:8 NLT

Together, changing for the One who never changes.