So You See The Signs?

You want to know some strange facts? This week preseason football began, yesterday we had our Back 2 School Outreach, and this week we even met as a staff to plan our Fall Festival. Whether it’s football or kids going back to school, we have mental images of what autumn looks like. For me, it’s changing leaves, crisp morning air, and crowds filling stadiums celebrating their favorite teams. However, the reality is that it’s the middle of August and it’s 100 degrees outside. Some of us (mainly students) can choose to live in denial about their future, but the signs of change are all around them.
Do you see the signs of change around you? Sometimes we can think that everything is status quo, but in reality, God is at work and all we need to do is see the signs. This summer in our Wednesday night services, we have been praying for God to pour out His Spirit upon our city like never before. We have also been studying on Sundays the fact that it’s God’s call to “Shepherd the City”. These are valid and important studies on their own, but these studies are more than that. These are the prophetic call of God for us as a church. So as we have been praying this summer let me ask again¾do you see the signs of change?
In Jeremiah God gives us this promise:
“Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace…Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
The promise of God is that as His people are faithful, they will see peace in the city. Peace is such an interesting word. Everyone wants peace, from politicians to beauty queens, but it is so often misunderstood. Did you know that the Hebrew word peace (shalom) can be translated into the English word wholeness? It was at the beginning of the year that I presented the vision that this year was to be a Year of Wholeness. Isn’t it interesting that as the Lord would lead us this summer to pray for the peace of our city that it would mean we are also praying for our city’s wholeness?
You may look around and think, our city doesn’t look any more peaceful or whole than it did at the beginning of the summer, but let me ask you to look around and see the signs of change. This summer (in just June and July) we have seen over 150 people come to know Jesus as their Savior and over 100 people have been baptized in water! If that isn’t Wholeness in a city, I don’t know what is! Lives are being eternally changed, and families are being brought into a committed relationship with Jesus Christ. And the most exciting part is that this is just the beginning of what God wants to do in our city.

So look around…it may be that it’s still 100 degrees outside, but I have a feeling that God is up to something big!

It’s Better For You This Way

These were the words (roughly) that Jesus used when describing to His disciples that He was leaving and returning to His Father. It appears that they were saddened as He told of His pending departure, and their sorrow apparently kept them from asking some of the questions He felt important. His subsequent dealings are to drill to the core of that sorrow and lay the groundwork for something incredible that would happen. He basically tells them “they need the Holy Spirit.”
He identifies how upset they are based on their concern that He will be gone and things will change. Then He says:
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7)
Wow. What must that have felt like? To hear the one they’ve loved and followed tell them “it’s better for you this way” must have been a bit confusing. But Jesus promises to them at that time that the Holy Spirit would be sent to them—He even describes to them some of what the ministry of the Holy Spirit would be about.
Imagine if you were in that place—walking daily with Jesus—never wanting Him to leave. Now imagine if you had heard of Jesus, but He hadn’t come to your town—that would be a bummer. While Jesus walked this earth as God incarnate, He limited Himself in space and time to one person. But as He departs He tells the disciples that this is for their advantage because now the Holy Spirit of God, who is not limited by space and time, can penetrate and transform the hearts of all His followers.
They needed the outpouring of the Spirit…
…not limited by flesh, transcendent and divine—but more than that…
…the Holy Spirit is God’s face turned toward us and God’s presence abiding with us.
When Pentecost came, the stir that occurred and the subsequent revival that broke out in the city was confirmation of what Jesus had told them. The Holy Spirit coming to them was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise and began to multiply His work in their lives. Their effectiveness to reach people with the love of God increased exponentially and the lives of others were now transformed in more than one place at one time. Jesus was rightit was better for them this way. God’s presence abiding in our lives daily gives us direct access to His knowledge and will in each situation we face. We’re never alone when we’re led by the Spirit.

So let’s believe Him–it’s better for us this way as He sends His Holy Spirit to abide with us daily.

A Week of Worship!

What a power-filled week here at TCOTWSC as we’ve sought the Lord three times a day and worshiped Him morning, noon, and evening. Thank you to the hundreds who’ve come and participated at one time or another throughout the week. I truly believe that us lifting praises to the Lord not only allows Him to be enthroned in our lives,1 but also has residual benefit on the community in which He’s placed us. May our worship release His grace to flow far beyond our walls.
As we’ve been focusing our summer on how to “shepherd a city” on Sundays, and growing deeper in our understanding of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit on Wednesday nights, we’ve seen God changing the lives of people all around us. After all, when we love God and serve people, He changes lives! But our focused intercession for His transformation of our community has been where I believe His power is released. We live in a society whose understanding of the true God has diminished and dried up. With that we need to ask the Lord to breathe life into people’s spirits and develop a thirst for Him.
This past Wednesday night as I led the congregation in our time of intercession for our city, it was for that breath of life—that we would prophesy to the dry bones.2 God taught the prophet Ezekiel that he could prophesy life and call for breath to the valley of dry bones that God showed him. As a result, a great army was assembled. We live in a society that’s been affected by the elements of this world and the adversary’s counterfeit spiritual distractions, and it’s left them parched and breathless in their spiritual lives. But you and I can prophesy life and call for the breath of God’s Spirit to flow over them. I truly believe this is what’s happening as we intercede for our city and worship the True and Living God. But we must makes sure our own lives are ready to receive that same breath of new life.
In both Jeremiah3 and Hosea4 there’s reference to “breaking up fallow ground.” In these places this phrase is used to talk about hardness that’s set in as a result of neglect or disobedience. Once the Holy Spirit has freedom to begin digging in and tilling that hardened soil, then there’s opportunity for God to plant what He wants to grow in those areas. If we’re in the process of interceding for God to transform the dry bones of our community and till the fallow ground of people’s hard hearts, let’s make sure that we’re keeping our hearts alive and saturated with His Spirit daily. That happens as we seek Him steadfastly and worship Him regularly. That’s been the very purpose of this “week of worship”. We’re a people calling out to God and presenting our hearts to Him allowing His love to saturate us. May the overflow of that saturation bring life to the community in which we’re planted.

1. Psalm 22:3; 2. Ezekiel 37:1–10; 3. Jeremiah 4:3; 4. Hosea 10:12

How to Define Church

Two weeks ago we began a summer message series entitled “Shepherding A City”. Our goal is to look at areas we’re given responsibility to grow, nurture, protect, and care for those who we find ourselves living near, working with, or encountering in our daily lives. It comes as a result of prayer for the environment in which God has placed us, but then learning to “live” in that place.
Last week I quoted portions of Jeremiah 29 about being people who seek the peace of the city. That chapter is also where God tells His people to go ahead and build houses, plant vineyards, get married, and live among the people you’re with. His intent is that their life will begin to make a change in those around them, and their strength will grow instead of sitting around waiting for God to do something based on their intentions rather than His.
Today I want to talk about what a healthy church really looks like. Most are aware that at TCOTWSC we live with the vision of “loving God, serving people, and changing lives”. That drives us to keep our focus in the right place while having something tangible to measure results. But what is the church supposed to look like as it does these things? In pondering that I’m led to three words that I believe will help our understanding.
Cooperation : noun
      the process of working together to the same end
      assistance, especially by ready compliance with requests
      the formation and operation of cooperatives.
Collaboration : noun
      the action of working with someone to produce or create something
      something produced or created in this way
Community : noun
      people living together in one place practicing common ownership, collectively having social values and responsibilities in common
      fellowship with others, sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals
      interdependent organisms of different species growing or living together in a specified habitat
Admittedly, these three definitions are rather “Websteresque”, but they have significant importance in the structure of a church. They cause us to see the church in light of its scriptural purpose. This may all require rethinking on our parts, but if we don’t do it, none of us grow as God intends. Individually we’d suffer greatly—collectively we’d completely miss the mark. Today we’re looking at how this works at TCOTWSC. This reminds me of the African proverb: “Alone I can run fast, but together we can run far.”

Run with me!

Shepherding a City

Summer began this week—in more ways than one. Not only did the weather change to the point we need to use our air conditioners and bust out the shorts and flip-flops, but our calendars changed, and about four days ago we officially entered the season of summer. Interestingly, though, both of these things need to happen before we really believe it’s summertime. We can watch the calendar and be fully aware of the truth that says it’s summer, but unless the facts line up regarding the temperature, we have a hard time believing it. Sometimes it seems that the facts don’t always support the truth.

There are similarities to this in other areas of our lives, too. I must confess I’m not much of a morning person (don’t judge me) but I will “do” mornings when I need to. Nonetheless, if the alarm goes off at 4:30am the truth is that it’s morning, but the fact is that it’s still dark out, and my head says it’s just not time to get up—I sometimes feel that at 6:30, too. (By the way, not my normal pattern, in case you were wondering.) The issue is that if we just look at the facts around us we may miss the truth we need to know.

God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah and addressed this. God’s people were captive in a place that didn’t live according to godly principles, nor value Him, or His people (sound familiar?). Then these words are given:

“Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace…Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”*
God was saying to them that the facts are that they’re living in a place that’s opposed to their way of life and therefore does not experience His peace. But the truth is if they’ll spend their time seeking God for peace in the city, He’ll give it to them. If they’re truly seeking Him with all their heart they WILL find Him, regardless that the facts around them might say otherwise.
Look around you. The world we live in is not favorable to the choices you and I make. We’ve determined to live according to God’s word and that becomes an offense to people. We, then, have a decision to make: we can either flee to somewhere that is less opposed to the values in God’s word (possibly Branson, MO?), or we can seek God to transform the place that He’s responsible for us being in anyway. I choose the second. How about you? I mean, after all, if God intended me to live where I do then there’s a purpose He has. I believe God’s up to something. God’s got a plan for the city we live in—He wants you and me to shepherd that city and lead those around us toward Him. Won’t you join me?
* Jeremiah 29:7,12,13