What Does "Return to Me" Mean to Me?
This is the question facing me today... and I suspect it will be with me for a while.
I believe that God has given a word to our church for 2013. The word is, "Return to Me."
On New Year's Eve we gathered for a revival. Our focus was on Psalm 139 where David speaks to God and says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalms 139:23-24 NIV84) From this we explored three things we can say to God. First, "Search me" which gives God a full-access pass to our lives to search wherever and whatever He desires to search out. Secondly, "Know me" which gives God permission to speak truthfully to us about the findings from the search. This takes bold courage. Finally, "Lead me" which can only happen when we surrender our will to the will of God and place no claim on our own life, but rely fully on Christ to lead us and to lead His church.
I have been praying this prayer to God and asking Him to answer. I await His reply. I invite you to pray that prayer with me. It is not wordy and easy to recall:
Search me ... Know me... Lead me...
Then stand back and wait upon the Lord where your strength will be renewed. I am not only praying this personally, but for the church I have been called to lead. Search US, Know US, Lead US. We await His reply.
Even if the findings are less comforting and more confronting, I'm okay with that. I would rather hear his voice calling me to repentance and a new direction, than to not hear His voice at all.
What I really want is for Jesus to be my King and to know His kingdom within me. I also want our church to want Him as King and to reject all other earthly kings and kingdoms as frauds.
Jesus has said to us, "Return to Me". When I know how God is answering and what that really means to me I will post more. For now, the journey begins...
to be continued!
Is it One, the Other, or Both?
To answer this question simply... 'YES.'
Well, maybe I should back up for a moment. After all, what question am I really asking? Well, I have just completed a message series entitled "Mission Possible." In that series we looked outside ourselves to others, and how God is a God on mission to save the world, and chooses to enlist us in the process. You can listen to the audio of the messages here, but you can simply know that we were challenged to get out of ourselves, outside the box of the church, out of our own thinking, and into the lives of others. I was personally challenged by this series and believe others were challenged as well. But the outward emphasis can also draw us away from the disciplines and practices which draw us closer to Christ.
These disciplines and practices require and inward look... self examination ... and allow God, Himself to examine us and "see if there be any wicked way in me."
So the question really is .. should my focus be outward or inward? The answer.... YES!
Because of that, I feel led by God to preach the next series of messages titled, "It's Personal ... Daring to Look Within." This series is going to challenge us just as much on the inside as we were challenged to look to the outside. If we dare, and if we give God access and permission to our lives, He can do some real significant work in us and through us.
I would ask you to take the messages in the coming weeks seriously and see if a closer walk with Christ, a deeper surrender to Him, a more intimate relationship with Him, a greater understanding of His Word, a cleaning-out of all the things in us which do not honor Him, and a greater level of His wisdom would radically change us from the inside out.
If we focus on the inward self, then our lives will be changed. And, changed lives change lives!
It's Hard to Ignore God.
Dear Friends. I can't believe it's been so long since I've written things here in this blog. As I look at the date below on the last post (4/25/11) I realized that it was just three short days after that when our facility was unexpectedly flooded by a plumbing failure. That lead to a renovation project which took until nearly Thanksgiving, and then the holidays were in full swing. In all of it, and so much more, God has been speaking and His voice is hard to ignore.
Jesus said His sheep would know His voice. I believe I'm learning more and more to know His voice. That's not the challenge. The challenge is obedience. We want to hear the voice of God, but do we really want to hear what He has to say? If we really hear what He has to say, then we are in a place of obligation to obey.
Matthew's gospel records a time near the end of Jesus' earthly ministry where He tells His disciples what will happen in the end times. He then outlines two parables to show them how they must be prepared for His coming. But what are the preparations? Well, He finishes off by telling them a story about how people will be separated from one another at the final judgment... and the criteria for the separation.
He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (34) "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. (35) For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, (36) I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' (37) "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? (38) When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? (39) When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' (40) "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (41) "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (42) For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, (43) I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' (44) "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' (45) "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' (46) "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
The text is in red intentionally. These are the words of Jesus. The words of the One who says, "My Sheep Hear My Voice." These words now challenge me to act.
Notice what Jesus says are the things that delight His heart...
FEED the hungry, GIVE DRINK to the thirsty, GIVE SHELTER to the stranger, CLOTHE the naked, LOOK AFTER the sick, VISIT the imprisoned.
Notice what Jesus does not say...
--Write a check to those who are doing what He says
--Ignore His words
--Just do church really well
--Be a generally good person.
I'm learning that we are saved... Saved BY grace, Saved THROUGH faith, Saved FROM sin, and Saved FOR GOOD WORKS. What are the good works? Jesus just made it very clear. Are you hearing His voice like I'm hearing His voice? Have you ignored it far too long?
I am hearing Jesus say, "TAKE UP THE CAUSE OF THE POOR." I'm ready to obey. Are you with me? Want to know more? Feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Blessings to you as you hear His voice and obey.
What Makes My Heart Sing?
Simply put?... the LOVE of GOD on display in the lives of His Church.
You see, Last Friday night was good Friday. However, for me, this holiday was "GREAT Friday." For the very first time, the two congregations of the World Restoration Christian Center, and the Jamestown Free Methodist Church gathered as ONE to break bread and to worship. The evening was incredible and you can hear the whole thing by clicking here. It makes my heart sing when God's people join as ONE, just like He intended.
Then Saturday our congregation went to the Hotel Jamestown to setup for a Sunrise Worship Service and Breakfast for the residents of the Jamestown Housing Authority. What a blessing the people of JFMC are. They serve Christ with open hearts and give their all to everything to set out to do. It makes my heart sing when God's people serve others selflessly.
Then on Easter Sunday, we arrived at the hotel as early as 6:30am to setup and prepare. As I had conversations with people from the Hotel Jamestown, I was reminded that simply sharing Christ in loving ways is what its all about. Our team was first rate and first class when it came to preparing and serving breakfast. What a blessing. Worship was great and the company was even better. It makes my heart sing when people get to hear the Gospel who otherwise might not get that chance.
Finally, Our Sunday worship was incredible. We welcomed guests and worshiped the Risen Christ with full and open hearts. At the end of the morning, there was a simple feeling that life was not only "good", but "wonderful." It makes my heart sing when Christ is worshipped in the Spirit and in Truth.
I hope you, too are experiencing the singing of your heart in your own way as you journey with our Lord through this life.
The Surprises of the Journey
If anyone would have told me a year ago what my life in Christ would look like today, I would have shrugged it off and dismissed it all as fantasy... a fiction novel, maybe... but not my life.
The revelation of teaching on prayer and the call of God to return to the basics of His Word and Prayer have transformed my life and the lives of the others God has allowed me to come in contact with. And yet, just one year ago, that was far from me. Today it is at the center.
Pastoring a church which is growing and alive. Watching God call people into our midst for specific purposes and completely transforming us as a worshiping, serving, community of faith is exciting. Yet, just one year ago, this was not on my plan or agenda. Yet, God has now brought it to fruition.
It seems that the exercise of my life under God's direction has recently been to first hear His voice clearly. Secondly to recognize His voice immediately when He speaks, and then third to move in immediate obedience when He calls. If I do this, I will be blessed, uprooted, moved, surprised, and often directed in ways which never once crossed my mind.
Are you listening to God in this way? Do you hear His voice and move when He speaks? If you do, you too can discover the surprises of the journey.
"The House of Prayer" ... Retreat is a Blessing
On Saturday the 19th of February, nearly 60 people gathered at Harvest Chapel FMC for a time of retreat to focus on reorienting our lives around prayer. Through scripture study, video presentations, group discussion and teaching and both personal and corporate times of prayer, people were uplifted, challenged and encouraged to begin steps toward true life transformation through prayer. The atmosphere in the room was electric. At times there were tears, at other times laughter. A commitment to prayer changes things.
God has taught me many lessons during this time of preparation for the retreat. The Holy Spirit has been asking me to intercede for people by name and I have been doing so as often as prompted by the Spirit or as often as they come to mind. God also decided to give me a real-life example of just what it means to "love your enemies, and pray for those that persecute you." Just this past week an unexpected challenge came in that area and gave me the opportunity to respond in love and in prayer. I believe that God's only desire in this is to change me. After all, I can never change someone else's actions.
God is to be praised. He gave the calling, and I am trying to walk in obedience. God will bring the harvest. The Retreat starts this Saturday in Jamestown so I am praying for the participants who will begin the journey.
J-Term 2011 is a Divine Appointment
I would have never expected to receive the blessings of God in the way I have when I first arrived in Indianapolis last Monday. I thought I was coming to attend a class, but God had in mind a divine appointment.
There we are, our class. (I'm in the upper left in the back row). Our instructors began by telling us that they were teaching the class for the first time. God has been diligently working in their own lives. As they began to unfold the plan to spend the entire week on the power of prayer, it was confirmed in my heart that more than mere teaching was about to take place.
That was just the beginning and one by one, new themes began to show me the far deeper purpose for what the next chapter of life at JFMC will look like. Once we receive truth from God, we are forever changed. We can never go back to a place of ignorance but must walk in the new light. God has lovingly exposed new light and I am committed to walk in it.
What does God want to do? I believe He is calling us to begin a journey... a walk of faith toward becoming a true house of prayer. These are small words that mean far more than what any of us have traditionally thought. How will the journey begin? God is still leading and plans will come as He answers. When will it end? Only when our resurrected bodies find a final resting place in the new heaven and the new earth.
Six Months Down ... A Lifetime to go...
What an incredibly beautiful experience the first six months at JFMC have been.
What an incredible task lies before us as we seek to serve our LORD day after day in the ways He calls us.
At this mile marker I'm reminded to take a "snapshot evaluation" of the journey thus far, the status of the present, and the dreams for the future.
Sharing Life together and Sharing Christ
The first week at JFMC, God planted that phrase in my soul. The church needs to be about mutual care, love, fellowship, discipleship and spurring one another in the faith. However, if that is all we have then we become too focused on self and never see the needs of the community around us. We must share Christ! However, if we are always separated from the community of faith giving of our soul to others and never have the fellowship of the community, then we are lost and alone and have no one to share our stories with and have no one to hold us accountable. JFMC is clearly on a path to share life together in rich ways and share Christ in life-transforming ways. God has asked to assemble our leaders and lay out the dreaming and planning that will help us experience both sharing life and sharing Christ in the coming year. I'm looking forward to it.
Leaning on Life Change
The leading of the Holy Spirit has me preaching a message series to start 2011 studying the most incredible sermon ever preached ... Jesus' sermon on the mount. The reality is, however that God does not want me to present nice "sound bytes" from His words, but lean on life change. Do the words of Jesus actually get inside us to the point where we allow them to do heart surgery? At the end of Jesus' sermon, the crowds were amazed, not because he was a great orator, but because He spoke with authority. Jesus has the authority to speak into our lives today, but we must be open to the Word, and fully surrendered to Him. God is asking me to lean on life change in challenging ways through preaching and discipleship. I will obey.
The Miracle of our Connected Church
JFMC is blessed in many, many ways, one of which is our connectedness to other FMC brothers, sisters and congregations. Churches have committed to "be on mission" with us in tangible ways. one sent a team of workers to help clean up and paint our facility. Another has sent financial contributions. Another graciously accepted our gift to them when we decided to give away a fifth-Sunday offering. A local business actually sent a profit-sharing check thanking us for reaching out the community. Four congregations gathered voices to present a Christmas Musical presentation. 42 people prepared and served Thanksgiving dinner to 120 people. Christmas Eve services were held in the rec room of the local housing authority for the residents.... and so much more. We are blessed by our connections and graciously, and humbly thank God for prayers, tangible gifts, and encouragement.
The Lord is great and greatly to be praised. If all this has happened in six short months, I can hardly wait to see what he has planned for the future.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. AMEN!
Immeasurably More Than I Could Ask or Imagine...
It's Monday morning following the Annual Society Meeting at our church, where members and regular attenders gather to share the mission and vision, select leaders and pray over the church... and that we did!
God has blessed me in my calling to Jamestown... that is an understatement. The people of JFMC tearfully shared and prayed prayers of thanks, submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and wisdom for our selected leaders. We shared dreams of what God might want to do through us in our community.
The Holy Spirit was in our midst guiding our decisions and thoughts. I do not think we could have possibly asked for more. I am blessed to be a Pastor of a church that seeks God first and lets Him dictate the direction and the result of the ministry. For any one of us to try to do it in our own power would be a cheap imitation of God's desired best for us.
With a full heart I can only say, "Father God, Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit ... Thank You!"
So here I sit in the Crystal Ballroom at the Hotel Jamestown and it's 5:30am. About an hour and a half ago I arrived to put Turkeys in the oven. I've been praying over the room. "Lord, bless the work of our hands, and bless those whom we have the privilege to serve today."
As I look around the room, there is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in His children. It takes on tangible forms like tables lined up in specific patterns, hand-made favors and centerpieces on the tables, food that has been prepped in the kitchen, and so much more, but the outpouring of God's Love has already begun... the Wind... the Holy Spirit is already at work... And how do I know? ... Evidence.
When I walk into a conversation about this outreach event and realize that a chance meeting turns into a divine appointment, there is evidence. When I see the excitement on the faces of our people and see the love of God in their eyes as they serve their fellow brothers and sisters, there is evidence. When total strangers, engaged by the love they witness give generously to help the efforts God called us to accomplish, there is evidence.
When I surrender my life fully to Him, there will be evidence of the Holy Spirit. I will never see the Spirit of God.... it is like the wind that moves about. It can be both gentle and devastating. It fills and empowers... and will always accompany evidence. Where do you see the evidence in your own life? The power of God is real and is the thing I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone.
More Things That Shouldn't Surprise Me...
So God shows up in the details once again!
On Sunday, October 3rd I attended a meeting for the leadership team of an upcoming retreat weekend. Over the course of the weekend a number of people give a series of "talks" which join together for the journey and theme of the weekend. They are designed to be in theme... but God designed them to be connected in specifics.
I was in the meeting awaiting my turn to deliver my talk when the gentleman before me was giving his. To my amazement his personal testimony in his talk was directly linked to my story and testimony in mine. However, that's not where it ended ... not even close.
Come to find out, some of the people coming to the weekend, having no clue of what is about to happen, will find that their lives will be directly impacted by the specific details of what will be spoken.
God is BIG, he holds together our universe, and yet God is SMALL in that He cares for the smallest details.
Should I be surprised?.... NO!
Should I Be Surprised?
Why should I be surprised at the thoughtfulness of our God? Why do I continue to be amazed at His attention to detail? I don't think I suffer from a lack of faith, rather just a thick skull maybe!
When God calls, He always gets it right. Circumstances don't dictate the "rightness" of the call, nor do the indicators which usually calculate worldly "success." Only the obeyed voice of God.
Before coming to Jamestown God impressed on my heart two things... Share life together with the people and Share Christ with the rest of the city and beyond. It sounds simple yet the attention to the most minute details is what amazes me.
This Sunday at JFMC there will be two announcements for upcoming events this fall. One where we will share life together joyfully, and the other where we have the opportunity to share Christ with others in a tangible way. Here's a hint... it's all about "Giving Thanksgiving." Join us this Sunday, the 26th to hear all about it.
My Lord and My God,
You amaze me. Let me continually hear Your voice and move in obedience to Your ways. May You and You alone be praised for the wonderful ways you call and the soft whispers of your voice. Keep me close to You so that Your will may always take first place.
Amen, and AMEN!
Moved ... In So Many Ways
It has been a while since my last post. You see, I have finally moved to Jamestown, but the process came with the usual upheaval that comes when you dismantle your home and truck it 30 miles south.
Moves disrupt the flow of life.
However, this move has had a tremendous benefit because it flows with the call of God.
This gets me thinking about the ways God wants to move in our lives. When He speaks, are we always quick to simply obey, or do we seem annoyed by the fact that Godly moves usually mean personal disruption in life? I believe one of the many ways we can grow closer to Christ and be more like Him is to simply welcome the moves with open arms. Moves come in many shapes and forms. For instance a move may be:
-God whispering words calling you to live a holier life.
-God asking you to change physical locations to serve Him more.
-God calling you to spend more time with Him to get to know Him better.
-God asking you to have a conversation with someone.
-God asking you to take on more of His likeness and shed more of the sinful nature.
Whatever He asks... however He speaks... You can rest assured that God wants your life to be spiritually whole and like Him. Do you see holy moves as a disruption to life, or will you begin to welcome them and see where the Godly adventure will take you?
I Once Was Blind ... But Now I See
Something unexpected happened to my heart last Sunday... it broke quickly and in a moment for a young person in our church who had experienced blindness due to unknown health issues. I was fully prepared for the morning and then watched as this person, with their Mom leading the way, came into the church. I was spiritually and emotionally derailed to the point where I thought I might not recover.
The service went on as planned but not without rearranging my own spirituality. My thoughts were focused elsewhere and as my message was on "Pathways to Prayer" I found that the morning's circumstances had left me in a constant state of prayer. I left that morning experiencing a wide range of emotion from joy to deep sorrow for this young person ... blinded.
The excellent news is that sight has been restored! God's mercy has been poured out and full restoration has taken place. Continued medical care and prayer are needed. But I thought about the words to the familiar hymn "Amazing Grace"... "I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see." An online-posting from this young person this week exclaimed "I CAN SEE :)" Once you have been blinded, you realize how precious sight is.
That thought led me to prayer... "Lord Jesus, whatever the blinders are that keep me from seeing you in all your glory, please remove them. Whatever blinders are keeping me from seeing the things in my own life that hold me back from serving you, knowing you, worshiping you and loving you with my whole heart, remove them. Lord Jesus I want to SEE."
Amen, and Amen!
Thinking About Prayer
So I'm preparing for my message this week and my mind has been expanded as I focus on the role of prayer in the life of a Christian. I've been looking at how people prayed in the Old Testament, how Jesus prayed and taught us to pray. What the apostle Paul said about prayer, and what other key figures and authors in history have had to say on the subject.
The result for me has been a heart and mind full of new insight on prayer. I'm excited to share this with the church this Sunday. In fact, we'll take the next two weeks to talk about how a praying church is a church after God's own heart.
Thoughts about Sharing Life
Is life about being an individual or a part of a community? Is it about solitude or togetherness? I know I like my times of quiet, and maybe you do as well, but I'm seeing more and more how we were all created for one another. We need one another. We simply can't go it alone. Being alone for a season for retreat, solitude, conversation with God or rest is completely understandable, but you and I were created to share our lives with each other.
Camp this week has showed me the value of sharing life in community more than I have experienced in quite some time. This is a place of love and peace, of mutual submission and grace, of family and friends, of God and His creation joining to share life.
Why can't it be like this everywhere... every day?
Camp is Under Way
So this is my very first experience at Cattaraugus Christian Family Camp. I know, for some of you that's just hard to believe. What a great time to unwind, be at peace, share life with the best church family anyone could hope for and just breathe.
The excitement mixed with the laid back feeling is just wonderful. I started my day today with a handful of other campers in prayer followed by good food, some time to work on my sermon in peace at the Church Cabin and then more fellowship.
More camp news to come as the week unfolds. For now, feeling blessed is quite enough.
Only God could do heart surgery so fast and so thorough.
I realized yesterday afternoon that I had only been at JFMC for 14 days, and yet found myself thanking God for a group of people that I have already come to love deeply. It really doesn't make sense in human terms... to fall so fast, but in God's terms it makes sense. It was after the church picnic yesterday where kids played, food was shared, laughter was heard, conversations took place, and the company of friends was enjoyed, that I went for a walk at a favorite spot. On my way there I simply said, "God, thank you for bringing me to JFMC... I am already in love with the people."
I think that God specializes in heart surgery. After 15 1/2 years in the same church with roots so deeply planted, only God could perform this kind of heart transplant. Have you ever experienced something like this?
The Church After God's Own Heart
I'm excited about a new series of messages I'll begin at this Sunday's service.
Jesus told us many times about how living our lives by His teaching would lead us to great fulfillment and satisfaction. Jesus, however, never correlated that to positive life circumstances. He never said that more money, less stress, and better relationships with others would come from our choice to walk in His ways. He promised, however, that His teaching and our obedience to it would lead to LIFE, and LIFE more ABUNDANT. Isn't that something that all of us could use? Better life is just a few choices away for all who choose to actively live out the teaching of Christ.
This week's theme is FAITH. Faith is that one requirement that without it, it's simply impossible to please God. I'm looking forward to sharing on the topic. My heart is already challenged in preparation for it. Hope to see you at JFMC this Sunday, July 11th.