Thursday, January 25, 2018

Living in the Rescue Mode

One of the marks of a healthy church is that they are consumed with the Gospel to the point that the people are evangelizing the lost all around them.  While people are careful today not to impose their feelings or beliefs upon others, Christians should not view the Gospel as an imposition rather as an act of love for their God and their communities. 
Evangelism should not be coercion or manipulation.  Christians should feel free to share the truth of God’s Word and allow God’s Word to speak freely to the heart of those they are reaching.  Some Christians are challenged in terms of how to evangelize and many people present things in different ways. 
First of all, let’s be on the same page in terms of what is evangelism?  Christian scholar, John Stott says, “To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe.”  It is good for us to know that evangelism is much more than sharing our personal testimony with others.  Biblical evangelism takes its definition from Scripture.
One of my favorite pastors / authors, Mark Devers, wrote well when describing things to remember in the “how to” of evangelism.  He gave eight things to consider:
1.     Tell people with honesty that if they repent and believe, they will be saved—but it will be costly.  (They must understand their sinful condition and the price of their sin.  Don’t sugarcoat it.)
2.     Tell people with urgency that if they repent and believe, they will be saved—but they must decide now.  (Today is the day of salvation.  2 Cor. 6:2)
3.     Tell people with joy that if they repent and believe the good news, they will be saved (Acts 16:31).
4.     Use the Bible.  (They are God’s ideas. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17)
5.     Realize that the lives of individual Christians and of the church as a whole are a central part of evangelism.  (Our personal lives in the way we live should give credibility to the Gospel we proclaim.)
6.     Remember to pray.  (Paul prayed, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” Romans 10:1)
7.     Build relationships with non-Christians.  (Don’t be so busy that you don’t have time to reach the lost.”)
8.     Work together with other Christians to take the gospel to those who don’t live around any Christians.  (Be active in your life-groups or work with other friends.)
Remember, if evangelism is not a TOP priority in our churches and in our own personal lives then it will fail to be a priority at all.  A heart that is given to reach the lost will think differently each day as one lives their lives.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Breaking Silence

Many people set out with great intentions to share their faith.  In fact, they attempt to pave the way to share their faith by building bridges into other people's lives by doing credible acts of love and kindness towards them.  The challenge is that their faith never turns into the words of the Gospel.  Personal fear and shame are two of the largest deterrents for Christians to shun their responsibilities when it comes to sharing the Gospel with those who don't know Christ.  

Chuck Colson once said, "The most important thing we can do today in obedience to Christ is to break the spiral of silence that is pervasive in our culture. The way movements start is when people finally realize that in a free society they have to be able to speak out. They can't be cowed into silence."  Christians in this country have the freedom to boldly share of the One who transformed their lives and have given them hope for the future.  They can personally testify how God has brought forgiveness and given the new life.  If Christ is truly at the center of the believer's life then their first and foremost concern each day should be, "How do I share Jesus Christ with others who have no hope"?  

I would like to encourage you today to walk with confidence that the Gospel of Christ is so powerful that it can transform the vilest of sinners—the one that we have given up on.  The light is most obvious to those who walk in utter darkness.  God has not asked us to do this in our own strength, which is why we are told:  "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).  Also, Acts 1:8 tells us that we go forward with the Spirit's power to share the Gospel: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

Would you intentionally decide this New Year that you would proclaim and share Christ like never before?  Claim with me Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.  

When we sense fear remember that it is Satan that wants us to fear in order that we cease to share the Gospel.  Paul says,  “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).  Walk with confidence that you possess the message of eternal life in your hands and that God will give you the power to break silence and to share the joy of knowing Christ!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Frustrated with Disciplining Your Children?

All of us have watched children manipulate and even torment their parents through poor behavior and flat out disobedience.  Many times the parents willfully neglect to discipline their children or they issue multiple empty promises and warnings.  This ultimately brings high frustration to the parents and to those who must endure the poor behavior.

As Christian parents, we have the responsibility to shape the hearts of our children that govern their behaviors.  Parents must be united and support one another in their parenting practices.  Without this support, the child not only rules the home but the trust and commitment to the marriage relationship to one another is fractured. I do believe that discipline is actually instruction and at times both negative and positive reinforcement are necessary.   Proverbs tells us that, "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away" (Proverbs 22:15).  We are also told, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:16).  These are both positive and negative ways to discipline (instruct).  These are proverbs that generally hold true as we practice them with our children.

Here are some principles to help enforce good child discipline.   
  1. As you discipline be practical.  Children need to know exactly what you expect from them~~they are not adults.
  2. Focus on the heart~~ Don't settle for behavior modification alone.  Look for ways to influence heart change and for your child to understand how they have sinned and pursue forgiveness to those offended and God.
  3. Don't discipline while you're angry.  Take the time to allow God to work in your heart and practice godly behavior in front of your children.  Show Christ's love while instructing them.
  4. Be Biblical.  God's Word has strategies and answers for the issues that families face.  Trust in His promises and discipline in the power of the Holy Spirit--not your own power.
  5.  Look for adult solutions to your child's problems.  Remember, the answers to their problems are the same as ours.  Look for the adult solution and then break it down for your child's developmental stage. 

There is much more to parenting but sometimes parenting takes the best that we have and know.  Seek help and input from those who are parenting well or grandparents who have given their life to parenting already.  Choose a good book recommended by your pastor or a Christian friend.  Above anything else, remember that you are working with a child's heart that is made in the image of God.  Treasure the gift of parenting and don't give up!  Go to your Heavenly Father for wisdom, endurance, patience, and the love that you need to shepherd your child's heart better.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Signals of a Maturing Church

Most of us would like to believe that we are part of a mature church that is growing in Christ but how do we begin to quantify this?  Another author that I read often is Sam Rainer and he has written an article that I believe is most valuable:

“Is your church healthy or not? It’s a difficult question to answer. When people ask, I often reply, “What is your definition of ‘healthy?’” There are many metrics that point to—or signal—the health of a congregation. If attendance has declined for 50 years and the church has not baptized anyone in 10 years, then the likelihood of that church being unhealthy is high. But a fast-growing church may or may not be healthy. Defining church health is a bit of a moving target.

As most established church pastors know, you inherit a culture when you come to a church. Changing that culture takes time. Therefore, “healthy” is more a process than a static point. You are either becoming healthier or less healthy. In each church, there should exist a maturing process. I use the word “maturing” as opposed to “mature” to indicate the process of becoming healthy. We never really arrive at a point of maturity, individually as a member or collectively as a church.

Some pastors land at a rapidly maturing church. Others inherit messes. A few walk into death traps. Ironically, the least mature churches at times can be the oldest. And new congregations are not necessarily immature. Blaming a new pastor for the unhealthy state of a 100 year-old, multi-decade declining congregation is like blaming brand new homeowners for the ramshackle home they just bought. Give them time, and the transformation will happen. But it takes time.

Paul writes, “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.” We don’t arrive as believers until we are glorified, but there is a process of maturing along the way.

How can churches know they are maturing—moving towards better health? How might leaders discern if a church is moving forward and not backward? Like the flashing arrow sign on roadways, certain signals provide a direction.

Signal 1: Maturing churches have a posture of service, especially the leaders. Maturing churches have leaders that serve first and lead second. When people are willing to take a posture of service and wash feet, it speaks volumes to the general tone and direction of a congregation.

Signal 2: Maturing churches have an outward focus. The people in these congregations have a desire to reach others that are not like them. These churches know their community, are committed to diversity, and are willing to make sacrifices to reach the next generation.

Signal 3: Maturing churches have a large segment of people who attend frequently. No church can work towards a healthier state when people do not gather together. In fact, a culture of infrequent attendance produces a death spiral from which few churches recover.

Signal 4: Maturing churches build community in small groups. There is no such thing as a healthy church without healthy small groups.

Signal 5: Maturing churches pray regularly. The prayers of the people in these congregations are not only reactive (someone is ill) but also proactive (reveal a lost person for me to reach).

Signal 6: Maturing churches understand the difference between personal preferences and vision. These congregations build upon the past, but they also know greater things are out in front and not in behind them.

Signal 7: Maturing churches not only understand the “what” of discipleship but also the “how.” They have a clear process of making disciples.

Obviously, this list of signals is not all-inclusive. But they act like giant flashing arrows, pointing a church towards an avenue for better health. If many of these signals are absent in your congregation, then it might be time to change direction.”