Archive for August, 2010

On Sunday our church completed a summer activity called The 90 Day New Testament Challenge. It was actually pretty simple. I asked our congregation to read through the entire New Testament over the course of 90 days beginning June 1. I believed that this would be an important piece of our summer strategy, given that we committed our Wednesday nights to serving our community though an initiative called “The Summer of Love.” To encourage our people to stay with the task, we developed a blogsite, www.nt90.com, to give people a chance to read entries, find a reading plan, sign up for daily text message reminders, and to post comments. So what was the take away from this promotion? What did we learn from our shared experience? Here are a few things that I learned and hope that others learned as well.

First, the New Testament is a primarily missional document and should be read with that in mind. For example, the Book of Acts has no ending. The story just stops, as if to assume that the second and third generations of believers would continue to walk in the same path. As we read the New Testament, we were able to understand the mission of the Kingdom past and make associations with the mission of Kingdom present. Like those whose “sentness” has been documented in the grand story of the New Testament, we too have been “sent” into the world to be the presence of Christ.

Second, there is a unique power that comes when the people of God are immersed in Scripture together. I enjoyed every conversation that I had with others who were taking the journey. Bible reading is intensified when it is a shared experience.

Third, the people of God are informed and encouraged by the ancient story. We were able to identify with many of the experiences we discovered in our reading. We felt things, saw things, and shared in things that Jesus and the apostles felt, saw, and shared.

Finally, the mission of Jesus is sustained and energized by the written word. Scripture reading provided spiritual sustenance for the unique mission we undertook this summer with The Summer of Love. To intentionally engage our community this summer apart from the steady ready of Scripture would be the equivalent of an athlete going to the game with an empty stomach. In John 4, Jesus told his disciples, “I have a kind of food that you know nothing about.”

At the beginning of our challenge, I pointed out that it takes 28 days to create a habit, whether good or bad. My prayer is that the completion of the challenge will not be an end to an accomplishment, but rather serve as the initial steps of a lifelong discipline of daily Bible reading.

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One thing I appreciate about churches is their commitment to children. Churches in general offer nurseries for babies and childcare for preschoolers during the worship hour. Churches with high commitment to children’s ministry will even provide a full hour worship experience designed specifically for elementary age children while the parents worship in “big church.” As a pastor, I’ve always appreciated every expression of a church to meet the spiritual needs of kids.

Some churches do not have a full program for children during worship, leaving mom and dad wondering how to best prepare their kids to sit through an hour of worship that is designed for and aimed toward adults. How can parents best prepare their child for worship? I don’t confess to having all of the answers, but here are 11 things that you may want to consider.

1. Before you do anything, determine the expectations you will have for your child. Are your expectations age appropriate for your child? Are they reasonable? Are you and your spouse in agreement on the expectations? Do you have goals? Will there be rewards or consequences? Thinking through your expectations in advance will prevent you from flying by the seat of your pants when it’s time to walk into the worship center.

2. Talk with your child in advance. Kids function best when parents take the time to explain what worship is and what they can expect when they arrive. Talking kids through the routine of worship will help them to understand the rhythm of the service. (Even the most contemporary churches have a worship template they follow!) It is especially important to help the child understand unique situations in worship such as baptism or communion. Certainly we would want the child to know that the offering plate is for putting money in, not helping one’s self!

3. Teach your child correctly from the beginning. Sometimes parents will take short cuts in explaining spiritual things to their children because frankly, it’s easier. For example, every now and then I hear a parent refer to the church facility as “God’s House.” While this is not intended to be a negative thing, it communicates some really poor theology. It communicates that God is restricted to a given location; that we can go see God like we go see Grandma; that when we leave the building, God stays put, and so forth. Some of you are thinking that I’m a little harsh on this, but from my perspective there are more adults than not who practically live out those same concepts that I’ve listed above on a daily basis. When you teach your kids about God, be simple without being simplistic. You don’t help your child grow up to think right by teaching them wrong in their most formative years.

4. Arrange for your child to meet the pastor. My wife is a school teacher. Occasionally we’ll be shopping or eating out and we’ll have a chance encounter with one of her school kids who is out with his or her family. I’m always amazed at the kid’s reaction to seeing their teacher out in public, as if it hadn’t occurred to them that their teacher actually bought groceries or had a life outside of the classroom. Children are helped when they can meet the pastor and see that the pastor is a real person apart from the pulpit.

5. Take your child on a tour of the platform. Before or after the service, escort your child to the front of the room and let them see what it’s like to stand on the platform and look out. Let them see the platform furniture and tell them about what each represents and how it functions. This will help them to become more familiar with the environment of worship and create a sense of comfort.

6. Decide beforehand what you’re plan of action will be for using the restroom. Many parents opt to explain to their children before the service that they will not be allowed to leave during the service to use the restroom. Parents who choose to take this position need to make sure that the child uses the restroom prior to the beginning of the service. If you decide you’ll allow your child to go to the restroom, it’s recommended that you escort the child to and from the restroom for their safety and security.

7. Encourage the child to participate as much as possible. While the sermon may be a little out of reach for the school age child, many elements of the service provide reasonable opportunities for the child to participate, such as praying, singing, and giving.

8. Consider taking a “church bag.” When our kids were small, my wife prepared a church bag for our kids to take to worship. She encouraged our kids to sing, pray, and give, and then when I got up to speak she would pull out the “church bag.” The church bag contained a small etch-a-sketch, a magna-doodle, crayons, paper, scissors, and a simple snack such as teddy grahams. (As a pastor I’ve never objected to kids eating during church. Frankly, I’d like to eat during church but my mother taught me that it’s impolite to speak with your mouth full!) This allowed our kids to do something constructive during the sermon. The church bag was only used for church, so the special items in it stayed special week in and week out. If you utilize an idea such as this, make sure to clean up after yourself at the conclusion of the service. In addition to this, I’d also recommend that you include an age appropriate Bible or Bible story books. I’d further recommend that you leave the Disney and Loony-Tunes books at home. Christian childhood education specialists recommend that parents and Sunday School teachers not use secular children’s literature at church because children will make the association that Jesus is a story like Cinderella is a story. (see #3!)

9. Talk with your child on the drive home about the service. This gives you an opportunity to reinforce the good things about your family’s worship experience and answer any questions the child may have.

10. Model worship to your child during the service. Your child will not progress beyond where you are as a worshipper. If you don’t pray, sing, give, or open a Bible, chances are your child will not see the value of the experience. As a parent you set the benchmark for your child’s spiritual development. When you engage in worship you teach your child the difference between worshipping God and merely going to church.

11. Above all, don’t stress! Many times parents feel embarrassed about their child’s behavior during the worship service. My standard and unoriginal response to that apology is “I’d rather hear a baby cry than an old man snore.” What parents need to realize, perhaps more than anything else, is that the goal is to teach the child how to worship God. When we teach our children how to worship God we make the experience about worship and God. On the other hand, if the goal is to teach the child how to behave in church we make the experience about ourselves as parents and how we wish to be perceived by those around us. In church, teaching “behavior” is about ourselves and how we can impress others around us.

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Aug
25

Creating Movement

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The disciple’s first response to persecution was to pray. When they prayed about their problem, they acknowledged the sovereignty of God then gave God the problem. They concluded by committing themselves to live according to the promises of God rather than by conventional wisdom. As a result of this prayer, “the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31, NLT).

It takes prayer to create the movement of God.

Maybe you’re like me in that you’ve tried to create the movement of God on your own, apart from prayer. Doing things like bargaining with God or trying to earn favor by your good works are just a couple of ways we try to create movement. But the bottom line is that God moves in response to prayer.

When he does move, he moves within his people to fulfill his plan and purpose. The disciples were filled with the Spirit, and when they were filled with the Spirit the gospel spilled from their lips. Remember that whenever you’re shaken, whatever fills you will spill out. In Acts 4, when the place was shaken the gospel spilled out of the disciples because the Spirit was what they were full of.

Categories : Acts, Prayer
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Aug
24

Praying About Problems

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Do you ever wonder how you should pray when you face a problem? Life is certainly filled with adversity, and as people of faith we are compelled to take those problems to God by way of prayer. Acts 4:24-30 contains the content of the prayer that Peter and his cohort prayed in response to the persecution that broke out following the healing of the lame man. While their problem specifically involved religious persecution, I think the prayer itself offers a very helpful blueprint on how to address God with our challenges.

The first thing the disciples did in prayer was acknowledge the sovereignty of God. “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them—you spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, you servant, saying, ‘Why were the nations so angry? Why did they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepared for battle; the rulers gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.’ In fact, this has happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will” (Acts 4:24-28, NLT). Notice in those verses that they confessed their belief that God was in control and on his throne. God had foreknown this event and was not caught by surprise.

The second thing they did in prayer was to hand the problem over to God. Acts 4:29 continues, “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.” The disciples realized that the opposition they were facing was nothing personal. The opposition was to the gospel. Therefore, the problem was God’s, not theirs. Their job was to be faithful, and God’s job was to handle the challenges that accompanied the task at hand.

Finally, they claimed the promises of God. In verse 30 they conclude their prayer by asking God to “stretch our your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Every time we face a problem we face a choice between conventional wisdom and faith. Faith is simply behaving in ways that are consistent with what God has said. The disciples prayed that God would do what he promised to do in order to advance the gospel. What God had said was more important than what the officials had said.

Next time you take time to pray about a problem, remember the template of Acts 4. Begin by acknowledging the sovereignty of God. Then give the problem to God, and make the choice to live by faith and not by sight.

Categories : Acts, Prayer
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Aug
24

Emerging Adults

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There was an interesting article posted by Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler on the “20 somethings” in America today. Great food for thought, especially for those who minister and serve this generation. Click here for the article.

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Aug
23

Prayer as the First Response

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When Peter and John were released from custody, they returned to their group and shared all that had taken place. Upon hearing the news that persecution was breaking out against the gospel, their first response was to pray.

“When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God” (Acts 4:24, NLT).

More than 20 years ago I participated in a study on prayer that was written by Peter Lord. His “2959 Prayer Plan” provided Christians with a comprehensive method to systematically pray for personal needs and to intercede on behalf of others. One of the first principles that Peter Lord taught was that believers should make prayer “their first response, not their last resort.”

That principle made a lasting impression on me. Reading this verse reminded me of how critical it is for each of us to pray first when our world gets topsy-turvy. It was convicting to reflect on my life and to see how often I try to fix things myself or depend on my own resources and resourcefulness as my first response. Too many times our attitude toward prayer is that of the final, last ditch effort when all else has failed. Not the apostles. They were so dependent and desperate for God to work in their lives as they spread the gospel that it was natural for them to pray. It was quite childlike. May we never mature beyond the point of childlike faith and desperate dependence.

Categories : Acts, Gospel, Prayer
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Aug
22

The Strategically Small Church

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It’s about time! That was my first reaction to picking up The Strategically Small Church. Written by small church pastor and Leadership Journal editor Brandon O’Brien, this book was a breath of fresh air in an era that is replete with “how to” books written by big guys about their big places. O’Brien vicariously pushes back against the conventional wisdom of the church growth movement and shares a very encouraging word to those who faithfully plod along.

O’Brien introduces his monograph with some helpful explanation behind the book’s title. A strategically small church isn’t necessarily an intentionally small church, but rather a church that is comfortable in its smallness because it has recognized some of the unique advantages that smallness offers to both congregation and community. Utilizing the strengths of its size, the small church can leverage what it brings to the table and make a significant impact. O’Brien quotes Chuck Warnock, who has said that “small churches are in desperate need of brand revival.” This was an important insight, because the number one problem of the small church is not its size but its perception. Being small is not the problem, according to the author. The problem lies in the insecurity and defensiveness that rises out of the failure to meet the expectations of their selves and others.

According to research in the book, 94% of churches in America are less than 500 in attendance, 177,000 of which are less than 100 in weekly attendance. Just over 5% of churches statistically average between 500 and 2,000, with one half of one percent exceeding 2,000 in weekly attendance. O’Brien suggests that there is a real problem if the 94% of small churches try to mimic the one half of one percent who are over 2,000 each week instead of working within their strengths and giftedness to meet the needs of their communities. The author suggests that small churches should recalibrate the metrics of success. He believes that bigger churches appear more successful because the possess statistics in areas that we already know how to measure. It is easy to put a statistic on church growth, but how does one measure kingdom growth?

The core of the book describes four strengths that small churches need to assess as such and build upon. The first strength that the small church inherently possesses is authenticity. Due to their size, small churches more naturally offer possibilities for personalized and intimate relationships. Small churches are somewhat more transparent, making hypocrisy more difficult to mask. O’Brien encourages the small church to simply stay authentic and to resist the temptation to be something they are not. By avoiding trendiness and business models the small church can maintain a high level of authenticity.

The second strength the writer points out is that small churches are lean. Instead of trying to “become all things to all people,” the small church should seek to do the things that no one else is doing and find a particular niche that the entire church can rally around. Programs should be developed solely on community need and giftedness within the body to exercise those programs. If a small church has members that have a particular interest that the church is incapable of developing, the author recommends that those particular members adopt a kingdom mindset and go serve that particular need through the auspices of a neighboring church.

Strength number three is for the small church to equip its members to serve as the missional presence of Christ through their jobs and neighborhoods. He cites statistics that reveal that people have significantly less discretionary time and income than their grandparents who devoted endless hours and dollars to their churches. Because of this socio-economic trend, O’Brien believes churches can be more effective by training their memberships to serve as they are and where they are rather than developing programs that depend on the church building to serve as the epicenter of ministry. Small churches need to shift their value system from attracting to sending and recognize the importance of making Kingdom contributions.

Finally, small churches should recognize the intergenerational advantages it possesses and use the older generations to mentor the young. This chapter offers the suggestion that small churches not feel pressured to age grade every ministry, but to let the natural blending of both young and old foster a family environment.

In conclusion, O’Brien confesses that the problem of the small church is that the very thing it’s attempting to achieve is the very thing that is undermining the very opportunity it’s been afforded. By exercising the natural strengths due to its size, the small church can, as it always has, continue to make an impact people’s lives and communities.

The Strategically Small Church is an excellent read for anyone in a church under 300. If you are a member of such a church, you’ll benefit deeply by this thoughtful and well written book. I would recommend that you purchase a copy, and after you’ve read it, share it with a friend or your pastor who is a part of a small church. It may be the most encouraging gift you give this year.

So far this week we’ve looked at three marks of a world changer. World changers are people of unwavering conviction; committed to practicing spiritual disciplines; and consistently put compassion into action. The fourth mark is that world changers are confident in the face of persecution. Reading on in the fourth chapter of Acts, the Bible says, “So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.’ The council then threatened them further, but they finally let them go because they didn’t know how to punish them without starting a riot. For everyone was praising God for this miraculous sign—the healing of a man who had been lame for more than 40 years” (Acts 4:18-22, NLT).

When the gospel advances someone is going to become upset. Notice this conflict was not over something insignificant like the color of the carpet or anyone’s musical preference. It was over the core conviction that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The apostle’s affirmed it, but the religious leaders denied it. When they were commanded to “shut up,” the apostles confidently stood their ground and recited their preference to live under the pleasure of God’s affirmation than to comply and conform to the pressure of public opinion.
I think this begs a very provocative question: What would it take to shut you up? What would it take to silence your witness or to stifle your conviction? Those who aspire to change the world in Jesus name cannot be silenced.

The obvious response to this line of thought could be something to the effect of, “This is America…who do I know that suffers persecution?” Good question. Let me encourage you to become acquainted with www.voiceofthemartyrs.com. This website is devoted to telling the story of the persecution of Christians around the world. We presently live in a world with some 171 nations. Of the 171 nations, 54 of them have made it illegal to adhere to Jesus Christ as Lord. The persecution and martyrdom of Christians in the 21st century is at an all time high. But don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself.

Aug
18

Some Love for Summer of Love!

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Ashworth Road Baptist Church was featured in last week’s West Des Moines Living Magazine for Summer of Love. Click here for the article. For more information about Summer of Love, visit our website at http://www.arbcsummeroflove.com!
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The third mark of a world changer is that they show compassion for people. In the conversation recorded in Acts 4, several points stand out. In verse 9, Peter responds to the interrogation by saying, “Are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man?” Then in verses 14-16 the religious leaders remark to themselves that indeed the man with the congenital disability had been healed.

I think it’s become popular to talk about compassion. But talk is cheap. The thing that separates the catalyst from the rabble is action. Agents of change “do” compassion for those in need.

For 2,000 years the New Testament has nudged the Christian community toward compassionate action.
This morning I read the book of James. With the weekend message still on my mind, I smiled at how frequently James pointed out to his audience that faith without demonstration is worthless. “Be warm and be filled” is lip service that is still alive and well today. I believe it’s time for the people of God to put up when it comes to justice issues and dealing with real problems in our communities. Shutting up is not a viable option.