Thursday, April 27, 2017

Rural Areas Matter to God

I have been spending a great deal of time lately with Jeff Berg, one of our elders, and we have been doing a great deal of demographic study in rural communities.  He is currently working on his Master's degree in Church Planting from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Although many people are leaving and even forgetting the rural areas there is a great need for progressive, Gospel preaching churches that are focused on reaching their communities.

I recently came across this article by Ed Stetzer (one who I have read much from) about not forgetting the rural communities and I believe it would do your heart good to read:

He writes,

For many, particularly in the news media, Donald Trump has put a focus on rural America—specifically, white rural America. And, for many of us, our stereotypes prevail when we consider ‘rural America.’

Rural churches are at a crossroads. They are facing a generational shift, which, if not navigated well and led by the Spirit, will lead to the dying of many churches.

Many denominations, networks, and pastors of large mission-sending churches today have taken rural America off their radar, choosing instead to focus on urban centers. Don’t misunderstand, it makes sense for denominations and networks to focus on cities, where the per capita population can produce the greater return for our investment of outreach and ministry resources. When we look at the Apostle Paul, he too seemed to have a strategy which centered on larger urban centers.

Yet, we can do more than just urban. However, by all outward appearances, many seemed to have left their strategy books for rural churches on a dusty shelf. But that’s not necessarily the case and, I would advise, should not be the case. The good news is that we can do both (and more). And Paul likely did minister to people in non-urban settings.

I, too, care deeply about the rural churches, and so should you.

According to a PBS Article 46.2 million people (roughly 15% of the U.S. population) reside in rural America. That is 46 million people who have been, or who can be, impacted by the gospel.

In most places of the world, there is a higher proportion of people who are Christian in rural areas than in urban centers. How are we caring for them and equipping them for their mission in today’s world? How are they being discipled and taught to reach those around them?

These are questions I’ve been asking, and questions which are leading us at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism to launch a “Rural Matters” focus, which will be a resource and networking group for pastors and leaders in rural churches. This past fall, in partnership with the Assemblies of God, One Hope, and several pastors and leaders, a small group of us gathered to talk about challenges and opportunities for churches in rural settings.

It was an incredible time with a small group of leaders. Following that meeting, I became convinced that if we are to support the whole Church, then we need to focus on those in lesser populated areas as well as urban centers. Those in rural settings face similar challenges that we all face, but are also unique in some ways.

The truth is, rural families are dissolving just as urban families are dissolving. Critical problems such as drug addiction, pornography, racial tensions, broken relationships, lack of job opportunities, and more are widespread. And a number of pastors and leaders in rural churches, just like pastors in other unique settings, are not equipped to support their congregations, let alone reach out to those struggling outside the church, and without God.

So let’s focus on the cities. But let’s never do so to the detriment of those in rural areas and suburbs. Rural America, whether white or black or other, is a critical part of God’s plan to see our world reached for Jesus. And if you’d like to learn more about the Rural Churches Institute we are launching and want to be added to our email list, email us at and let us know.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Coffee Break with a Friend or a Stranger?

Life can be so very busy that we fail to take time for the best things that God has called us to do.  You may be thinking that this is a blog to promote coffee drinking and it may be in part.  We are living in days where social media is a big part of our lives but we rarely get away from our phones or computers to spend time with others over a cup of coffee.  By virtue of my job, I spend a great deal of time with people and much of it is over coffee.  In fact, I do love a good cup of coffee!  I love technology as well and I have the latest gadgets but I do not have a Facebook account and this is not to say I would never have one.  However, one on one time with people is a lost art and I'm afraid that it could substitute what God truly has planned for me.

Few people take the time to communicate at a transparent heart level with one another.  Many people live with their guards raised high in order to keep a little protection for themselves.  Some of us may be fearful that if others truly knew the real us then they would never be accepting of us.  Some of us have been hurt by others so severely that we will never allow another person to enter into our lives or allow them to go to a deep level within us.  

Another challenge is that most of us don't have enough time for ourselves much less someone else.  God has called us to reach out to a hurting world that knows nothing about the message of hope and to share the hope of Jesus Christ with them.  Christians are also told in Galatians 6:2 to "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ."  We are forced to ask the question, are we truly outward focused with our lives so that we slow down enough to be concerned about others?  When was the last time we went out with a friend or a neighbor just to get to know them better and see how they were doing?  God has given us the gift or relationships, communication, and love in order to be able to share with the world around us--hopefully they can see Christ-like love within us because we take time to "smell the coffee" with them.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

3 Benefits of Christ's Resurrection

Many Christians have special traditions when it comes to religious holidays.  Each year that I grow older in my faith the preciousness of those holidays grows sweeter--especially Easter.  It is truly impossible to have a gospel without the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 15 spells out clearly that our entire faith would be in vain if Christ's resurrection had not taken place.

I strive to live my life on a mission for the cause of the gospel.  Without the gospel, there is no eternal life with God, and without the gospel this current life is insignificant.  I am thrilled and looking forward to this Sunday as we celebrate Christ's victory over the grave and for the opportunity to share this with those who may not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I can think of 3 significant benefits for Christians when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, so that He might make us share in the righteousness He won for us by His death.
The Apostle Paul told the Roman church that Jesus "was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand..." (Rm. 4:25-5:2). Paul tells us Jesus died because of our sin, as we have already seen. He was raised to bring justification. The first benefit of the resurrection is the gift of justification

Second, by His power we too are already now resurrected to a new life.
Paul wrote to the Philippians, "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it..." (Phil. 1:6). God begins it and God completes it! It is God who brings us along, sustains us, moves us and makes us holy in our Christian walk. Our sanctification is not dependent upon faith that we, of ourselves, conjure up, but upon God’s faithfulness, His promise.  It is the continuation of the work of the Holy Spirit after regeneration.  It is NOT merely the "turning over of a new leaf", our making ourselves better, but God being actively involved in our Christian growth.  Change is temporary but transformation is forever!

Third, Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection.
In celebrating the Lord’s Table, we not only remember His death, but we look forward to His return and our resurrection. When He does, we will be like Him. Our bodies, as well as our souls, will be redeemed. Presently, our bodies are earthly, sustained by the earth and infected with a sin nature. They are subject to sickness and disease, and upon death they decay in the grave.  At Christ’s return we will receive a glorified, heavenly body, one that is sustained by God alone.
Because he lives we can face tomorrow and look forward to a bright future with Him.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

7 Things Pastors Wish Their Congregations Knew

7 Things Pastors Wish Their Congregations Knew

I am sharing this article with you from Mark Dance.  I love the pastors that I labor alongside of at Maywood and I hope to have this good team for a long time to come.   It is good for you to know things on their hearts that they would never say to you personally.  Prior to ministry I would have never anticipated some of the difficulties and silent heartache that my own pastors journeyed while shepherding the flock of God.

He writes:

"I’m going to tell you some things about your pastor that he will probably never tell you, but probably wants you to know. It may be presumptuous of me to speak on behalf of your pastor, but I think you will both benefit from my third party perspective.

Your pastor needs your respect as much as your love.

Respect is a currency that is invisible, but not intangible. For example, pastors are not sure what to do with people who communicate love to our faces, only to disrespect us behind our backs. Some churches have created a culture of honor (1 Timothy 5), while others seem to have a predatory disposition toward pastors (1 & 2 Corinthians).

Pastors love to be loved, but need to be respected.

Your pastor works very hard.

Early in my ministry I dropped hint-bombs to members about all of the ministry I was doing. I was vainly trying to justify my ministry to my members and myself. It took a few years to settle into the reality that most church members cannot fully understand my job any more than I can theirs. 

In a recent study by LifeWay Research, 84 percent of pastors said they’re on call 24 hours a day. And forty-eight percent often feel the demands of ministry are more than they can handle.

Some members assess performance in terms of office-hours, but do they really want the kind of pastor who camps out in the office all week? Neither do they want one who is unreachable. At the end of the day, your pastor needs to be given the benefit of the doubt about his whereabouts and work ethic.

Your pastor is trying to lead well both at home and church.

Pastors sometimes aspire to be all things to all people. The problem is it doesn’t work. Ever. More than a third (35 percent) of pastors say the demands of ministry prevent them from spending time with their family.

We all have to prioritize our time and tasks, but if pastors are not putting their families first, they’re not qualified to even be in the ministry. Church members can help by encouraging their pastor(s) to spend time with their families.

A pastor with a healthy family is in a good position to lead a healthy congregation.

Criticism hurts your pastor’s family.

Pastors are public figures, and thus big targets for criticism in the church and community. What members may not know is how much this criticism affects the pastor’s family. Social media has given a voice to every moron in society, and every word can be a weapon which causes collateral damage in the pastor’s home.

When you hear someone criticize your pastor or staff member, stand up for him or her behind the scenes. Be a voice of encouragement to your pastor’s family when negativity strikes.

Your pastor needs positive feedback.

Pastors don’t always receive feedback when they are doing a good job, but they always get it when they mess up. Perhaps the applause of heaven should be enough for us in theory, but not in theology.

Whether you are a pastor or a lay-leader, point out something you like about your church to every person on your staff and enjoy the smile you will get in return.

Your pastor cares about your attendance.

My married daughter worked very hard this year to prepare a Christmas feast in her home. What if our family decided to skip out and eat at IHOP instead? She’d have been hurt and discouraged.

Pastors spend about 10 hours on each sermon. Members can tangibly affirm them with their presence, countenance, and seating proximity. Pastors feed off of real-time feedback, so bless (and shock) them by showing up consistently and sitting close enough where they can see your smile or nod.

Your pastor loves you.

LifeWay Research released an encouraging new study which concluded most pastors love their ministries and are not likely to quit any time soon. Trust me on this: pastors don’t serve because their job is easy or lucrative. Their primary motivation for serving is a genuine love for Jesus and the individuals who make up the church—the beautiful, dysfunctional, irreplaceable bride of Christ."

Thank you for allowing me to share some insights from a pastor's heart~~Pastor Gary.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Prophecy in the Church Today

I was just asked this week about the miraculous sign gift of prophecy that was given to the early church and if it was still used today in the same manner.  It is worth noting a few things about the miraculous sign gifts that were given to the early church in order to understand them more fully today. 

·      The gift of prophet as with other miraculous sign gifts (tongues, faith healing, casting out demons) was given for a purpose.  They were to help establish the foundation of the early church as well as authenticate the Gospel message—and they truly did do this.
·      Prophecy, in its original meaning, means to “speak forth” or to “declare the divine will of God” for others to follow.  Some people think of prophecy as the ability to predict the future but this is not what is identified with the Spiritual Gifts in 1 Cor 12 / Ro 12.  They are not fortunetellers.  Today, a modern day prophet should be seen as a pastor / teacher—one who speaks forth God’s Word with confidence and boldness.  They are not adding to God’s revelation of Scripture that has already been given—they are expounding upon God’s already given revelation.  They are proclaiming what God has already said.
·      Keep in mind that the early Christians did not have the complete revelation of God’s Word (most had no copy of any of the N.T books—certainly the O.T. was more available but still those would be retained at the synagogue).
·      During the launch of the church prophets played a critical role; they helped to fill the gap until the complete revelation of God’s Word.  The gift  of prophet was significant to the early church and God used them to help further His work.  (Eph.  2:20) 
·      The last book of the N.T. was Revelation, which was not completed until the end of the first century.  Up until that time there were prophets and they were recognized and accepted by the early church; however, there were false prophets that they were cautious about their presence and their work.
·      Are there prophets today?  I believe that with the completed Canon of Scripture and the fact that the church’s foundation has been laid over many centuries—the gift of prophet as evidenced in the N.T. is no longer functional.  This is also characteristic of many sign gifts— they are no longer necessary.
·      It would appear in Jude 3 that our “faith” has been completely passed along to us already.  The need for extra-biblical revelation is not needed. 
·      God continues to work in the lives of His people and His Spirit gives understanding of the Truths of God’s Word; however, there does not appear to be ongoing prophecy as seen in Scripture—individual’s words that are on the same level as Scripture. 
·      There is a great fascination today with prophecy and I don’t believe many view it from the lens of  necessity according to Scripture.  In fact, for hundreds and hundreds of years, up until the early 1900’s they were really never talked about or focused upon—until the Azusa Street Revivals in L.A., California.
·      I would say, GREAT caution should be given to anyone who claims to speak on behalf of God (this is the essence of prophecy in churches today).  First and foremost it should always be consistent with His Word—and tested against the Word of God (1 Th. 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1).
·      If it is 100% consistent with Scripture then it could be considered as truth but still great discernment should be taken as to how it is to be applied to our lives.
·      In the Pentecostal movement Word of Faith is a big deal.  It is a matter of speaking a prophetic utterance on behalf of the Lord to someone else who is supposed to hear what you are saying.  This is God speaking through believers and this often happens apart from Scripture—it is very self-driven although proponents will claim it is Spirit driven.
·      Once again, as with all miraculous sign gifts, I believe we must answer the questions as to why they were given, how were they to be used according to Scripture, by whom were they to be used (in Scripture, it was primarily the apostles), and are they Spirit driven?

All things in Christ's church must be measured by the objective Word of God.  I do not want to place God's Spirit in a box; I believe He can do great and mighty things in our midst today--after all, He is God.  I would certainly want to be cautious as to what many claim is of the Spirit as not everything today is of the Spirit of God that is being performed.