How Important is Sharing Jesus’ Hope With Others to You?

SYATPLast night, I had a chance to speak to about 400 teenagers at a See You at the Pole Rally in Big Lake, MN. It was an awesome night. Dozens of students prayed to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation. Many of those who prayed had been invited to the event by friends.

A recent study showed that the majority of churchgoers never invite their unchurched friends or family members to church.

In his book, The Unchurched Next DoorDr. Thom Ranier points out that:

  1. Most people come to church because of a personal invitation.
  2. 7 out of 10 unchurched people have never been invited to church in their whole lives.
  3. The top “rational” reason adults seldom or never attend church is they don’t agree with organized religion or what they preach (24 percent).

Unchurched Next Door Here are some other sobering statistics:

 

  • “Eighty-two percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited.” –Dr. Thom Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door
  • “Only two percent of church members invite an unchurched person to church. Ninety-eighty percent of church-goers never extend an invitation in a given year.” –Dr Thom Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door
  • “A study including more than 15,000 adults revealed that about two-thirds are willing to receive information about a local church from a family member and 56 percent from a friend or neighbor. The message is clear that the unchurched are open to conversations about church.” – Philip Nation, LifeWay Research
  • “Four percent of formerly churched adults are actively looking for a church to attend regularly (other than their previous church). Six percent would prefer to resume attending regularly in the same church they had attended. The largest group, 62 percent, is not actively looking but is open to the idea of attending church regularly again.”–Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research
  • “Clearly we can encourage Christians to pray that the unchurched would sense God calling them back, but God works through His people.” “The survey showed that many would respond to an invitation from a friend or acquaintance (41 percent), their children (25 percent) or an adult family member (25 percent).” –Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research
  • “The issue of affinity also surfaced in the responses. Thirty–five percent indicated that they would be inspired to attend church ‘if I knew there were people like me there.’” –Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research
  • “Much to the surprise of the ‘Chicken Little’ crowd, people are still going to church. And more people would attend if given one simple thing—an invitation.” – Philip Nation, LifeWay Research

- See more at: http://backtochurch.com/participate/resources/statistics#sthash.sabFBbjf.dpuf

Do you know what Jesus encouraged the disciples to do about those who were outside of the family of God? To pray.

In Matthew 9:35-38 we read,

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds,he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

There is no question that we live in a day and age where the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are called to be his laborer. Jesus called His disciples to be people who make disciples. In His Great Commission, in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commanded us to go into all the world to make disciples.

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So, Jesus told the disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send laborers into the harvest. Later He commanded His disciples to be those laborers, promising His presence when they would obey. So, why aren’t we inviting others to join in the family of faith?

If 98% of those who identify themselves as followers of Jesus won’t invite someone to church this year, what does that say about us? What does that say about who we believe Jesus to be?

Some might argue, inviting someone to church isn’t the same thing as making disciples. I agree. But, a disciple who seeks after Christ, will seek time with God’s people. In Hebrews 10:25, the author of Hebrews spoke the the importance of gathering together with other believers.

25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

In part of a larger teaching on the doctrine of salvation, the Apostle Paul shares these convicting words in Romans 10,

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

You may worry about what your friend, co-worker, neighbor, family member, or stranger might say if you invite them to church. But, if faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ, isn’t it worth the risk to invite them to place where the hope of the Gospel of Christ is shared on a regular basis? Don’t you want your acquaintances to come to place where they are encouraged to call upon the name of the Lord?

Let’s commit together to be people who live the faith that we say that we believe. Let’s be people who believe that sharing Jesus’ hope with others is the most important thing that we can do this side of eternity.

Making disciples is a process that can only take place this side of heaven. 

CTStudd1Charles “C.T.” Studd, was born to a wealthy English home in 1860. His father, Edward, was converted under the preaching ministry of D. L. Moody. He too followed Christ, but not with passion. Jesus was low on his list of priorities. Studd became a phenomenal cricket player. He would represent England on the national team.

When Studd’s brother George became seriously ill, C. T. came face-to-face with the questions, “What is all the fame and flattery worth . . . when a man comes to face eternity?” He recognized that he had been living a carnal Christian life, he was a backslider, and he committed his life to serving God as a missionary. In coming to that decision he would express, “I know that cricket would not last, and honour would not last, and nothing in this world would last but it was worthwhile for the world to come.”

So convinced was Studd of the need for people to know Christ, that even with the incredible challenges of travel in the late 1800’s and the early part of the 20th Century, Studd served in China, India, and the Congo. Studd and his wife Priscilla would start Worldwide Evangelism Crusade which included mission work in South America, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa. What an impact this man and his precious wife made!

Today, Studd is best known for a poem he wrote about what really matters. It’s a poem that my Grandpa Ray, a pastor, used to share with his grandchildren, and it’s called Only One Life, ‘Twill Soon Be Past. This poem captures the essence of what this blog post is all about. Invest your life in what Jesus is calling you to invest in. Don’t waste your life!

“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. ”

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.”
- C.T Studd

Remnant Ministries produced this quality video of a call to action, from one of C. T. Studd’s sermons. Watch it and be inspired.

 

 

When Despair Strikes

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Do you feel like you are in despair? Ever find yourself in a situation where it feels like there is no hope – that you’ve come to the end of your rope and have no idea what to do next? When desperation strikes, where do you find your strength?

I had a chance to spend an extended time with the Lord after my recent surgery. I took a lot of time to read my Bible, good books, pray, and listen to some sermons. One of the themes that I continually heard over the course of that week was that

God uses our trials to draw us closer to him. Sometimes we need to come to a point of desperation before we will yield ourselves to God in expectation.

This morning, after another difficult night of sleep, my attention was turned towards the Psalms. In Psalm 119:81-82 we read

81 I am worn out waiting for your rescue,
    but I have put my hope in your word.
82 My eyes are straining to see your promises come true.
    When will you comfort me? (Psalm 119:81-82 NLT)

Ever feel worn out waiting for the rescue of the Lord? Ever cry out, like the contemporary worship song, “I need you Jesus to come to my rescue! Where else can I turn?”

It doesn’t have to be a huge problem to bring us to this point. Sometimes, it’s a series of small things that just add up, and when we reach the tipping point, we either turn to Christ, because we realize that He is our only hope; or we continue in a cycle of choices that will take us further away from the joy and the hope that can only be found in Christ.

When Psalm 119 ends, we are introduced to a new series of Psalms. Beginning in Psalm 120, we see the Psalms of Ascent; a mini-songbook that the worshipers of Jehovah were to sing on their way to the temple. It was a way for worshipers to prepare to meet God. Step by step, the people would sing. They wouldn’t climb one step, until they had finished singing the song of ascent on the previous step.

When our family was in Israel in 2010, we visited the stairs of ascent that led to the temple. Here is picture of that spot.

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Stairs of Ascent at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

As the people sang the songs, they reflected on God’s ability to manage our troubles. I would say that their troubles caused them to seek out the only One who could truly help.

Look at these words from Psalm 120.

I took my troubles to the Lord;
    I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer. (Psalm 120:1)

How about these words from Psalm 121?

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth! (Psalm 121:1-2)

Knowing that the temple was a place where the presence of the Lord was experienced in wonderful ways, the people shouted the following in Psalm 122:

I was glad when they said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1)

Guess where the people focused their eyes in Psalm 123?

I lift my eyes to you,
    O God, enthroned in heaven. (Psalm 123:1)

Who helped the people in Psalm 124?

Our help is from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8)

Step by step, the people sang of God’s faithfulness. They sang of the fact that God was the One in Whom they placed their trust.

Another step another declaration:

Those who trust in the Lord are as secure as Mount Zion;
    they will not be defeated but will endure forever. (Psalm 125:1)

Another step, another memory of God’s past care:

Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
    What joy! (Psalm 126:3)

The worshiper climbs, and as he or she does, the yielding of oneself to the expectation that it is God who protects is once again demonstrated.

Unless the Lord builds a house,
    the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
    guarding it with sentries will do no good. (Psalm 127:1)

By the next step, the pilgrim is reminded of the joy that comes from following God’s path.

How joyful are those who fear the Lord
    all who follow his ways! (Psalm 128:1)

The memory of God’s work in freeing His children from the bondage of sin is on the next step.

But the Lord is good;
    he has cut me free from the ropes of the ungodly. (Psalm 129:4)

The Apostle Paul asked the rhetorical question in the New Testament:

24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? (Romans 7:24)

The answer of course, is the Lord. When sin so quickly entangles it is God who rescues us. When desperation strikes in any area of our lives we run to God.

The Jewish pilgrim, ascending those stairs continued to recognize that God was able in Psalm 130.

From the depths of despair, O Lord,
    I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
    Pay attention to my prayer. (Psalm 130:1-2)

One of the shortest Psalms spoke also of God’s faithfulness. The entirety of Psalm 131 is a declaration of dependence to the Lord.

Lord, my heart is not proud;
    my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great
    or too awesome for me to grasp.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
    like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
    Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    now and always. (Psalm 131)

Three more steps remain. The anticipation of meeting with the Lord continues to grow.

Let us go to the sanctuary of the Lord;
    let us worship at the footstool of his throne. (Psalm 132:7)

Just two more steps. As the worshiper nears the temple, his focus turns on his fellowman. There is joy that comes when the people of God are seeking Him together.

How wonderful and pleasant it is
    when brothers live together in harmony! (Psalm 133:1)

The problems seem a little smaller. Stress is replaced by satisfaction that God has things under control. Issues with brothers and sisters in Christ are minimized as life together, centered on the Lord is pursued.

The final step. One more song. Only this time, desperation has been replaced by hope. The Lord is praised, hands are lifted in worship, and God is remembered for Who He is, maker of heaven and earth. If God could do that, He can certainly handle our problems.

Oh, praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
    you who serve at night in the house of the Lord.
Lift your hands toward the sanctuary,
    and praise the Lord.

May the Lord, who made heaven and earth,
    bless you from Jerusalem. (Psalm 134)

Those were the passages that I read early this morning. In the stress of a sleepless night, God gave me peace.

Yesterday, as I was driving to work, I heard this song on the radio. It’s Big Daddy Weave’s version of Rich Mullins’ classic song, Hold Me Jesus. In a way, this song, has been a type of song of ascent for me, ever since college. I love the way Rich wrote the words of this song. Hundreds of times over the past 25 years I’ve sung these words.

Hold me Jesus ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

When despair strikes, remember who Jesus is!

Enjoy this video:

Memories of my Grandpa Art

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I got thinking about my Grandpa Art today. The picture above is from the celebration of his 45th Wedding Anniversary. He was surrounded by his precious wife Helen, and all seven of his grandsons. He wouldn’t live to see his 50th. Anniversary.

When I think of Grandpa, I am reminded of Psalm 78:6, which says,

6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. (Psalm 78:6 NIV)

 

I had one Grandpa who was a pastor, and one who was a tool and die worker. Grandpa Art was a tool and die worker, but he taught me as much about Jesus as my Grandpa who was a pastor. Both men, loved the Lord and were a shining example for Him.

My Grandpa Art was also a poet. He had a dream to see his poems published. When I was helping prepare my parents’ home for sale, I discovered a lot of Grandpa’s old poetry. I’m working on putting together an e-book of one of the books that he intended to publish. Here is the forward that I’ve written for that book:

In many ways, I had an idyllic childhood. No child understands that when they are growing up. Idyllic doesn’t mean perfect, but I had a home that was surrounded with love. My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary almost two years ago. They are very much in love, and never failed to demonstrate that love to my siblings and me. My grandparents on both sides lived near us. They loved their grandchildren, and poured that love into us with their time, their laughter, their gifts, and their stories.

As a child, my brothers and I spent a lot of time with my mother’s parents. Her mom would eventually come to live with us when my Grandpa Art passed away. I was just a young boy when Grandpa died, but somehow I can’t get the memories out of my mind of afternoons spent around his television set watching the Chicago Cubs play baseball on WGN television and then around his chair listening to him tell stories. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the afternoons spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

My Grandpa Art was a tool and dye worker. He didn’t have much of an education. He went to night school to learn how to become a Naprapath, which was a way of helping others deal with pain in their backs. Grandpa loved calling himself a Doctor of Naprapathy. It was something in which he took a lot of pride. I think he loved helping others deal with pain, because he had so much of it in his life. Before my mother was born, my grandparents lost a son. His name was Teddy, and he was just a little boy, so full of life, the apple of his parents’ eyes when he contracted meningitis and died in just a few days time. Our English language has no words for a parent who has lost a child. It’s just too painful. It’s not the natural order of things. When a spouse dies we are a widow or widower. When a parent dies we are an orphan. But, when our children die we just grieve, and grieve and grieve. Teddy was my grandparents’ only child at the time. The Lord would see fit to give my grandparents two little girls in the convening years. He also blessed him with seven grandsons in whom he took great delight, and a granddaughter who was born after he died, and whom he will meet in heaven.

In his later years, Grandpa developed severe diabetes. He lost some toes and eventually a leg to the disease. Through all the pain he still had a twinkle in his eyes, and a story on his tongue.

I don’t know when my Grandpa Art started writing poetry. It could be that he wrote poetry throughout his entire life. I think Grandpa’s poetry became a sort of therapy for him. Like me, he remembered his childhood as being idyllic. It was a simpler time. He grew up on a farm in Michigan with parents, siblings and grandparents who loved him. This book is a compilation of poems that he wrote, intending to someday publish. I found the poems in a folder while preparing to move my parents out of my boyhood home and into their retirement home. He had put a title on the folder – A Country Life.

In the pages that follow, you will see the memories of a boy growing up a farm from around 1909-1929. I hope that Grandpa’s poems will inspire and encourage you. Beyond that, I hope that you’ll take delight in Grandpa’s God. He was above all things a man of faith. He loved Jesus with all of his heart. He loved his wife. He loved his daughters. He loved his sons-in-law. And he loved his grandchildren. It was his faith in Christ that was his compass in the darkest of days, and his hope for eternity.

Enjoy . . . A Country Life.

Here is one of my favorite poems from this soon to be published book. Let me know what you think.

The Kerosene Lamp

The kerosene lamp in the kitchen

It made it a room full of cheer

It’s light made those long winter evenings

A time that was precious and dear.

 

It hung there, it’s big round reflector

Would focus the light toward the wall.

The coziest place in the kitchen

Was right where that brightness would fall.

 

That spot was in the center of the table

That place where each day we were fed,

Where groomed little boys liked to gather

And there we’d say grace with bowed head.

 

Sometimes we would scuffle and mumble

But mother knew just how to part

Those boys who were shoving and pushing

And peace once again to impart

 

There under it’s bright ‘lumination

Such interesting games we would play.

We popped corn, so eager to eat it

Each evening so happy, each day.

 

We boys gathered nuts by the bagful

And under that lamp’s cherry light

We’d crack, pick the meats out for baking,

These tasks brought we boys much delight.

 

Sometimes on a cold winter evening

A neighboring family came o’er.

The older ones sat and drank coffee

We children played games on the floor.

 

The stove had a good fire roaring

That lamp kept the room glowing bright,

And mother remembered we children

With doughnuts and good things each night.

Those kitchens today seem outmoded,

But then, were the best that we had.

And rooms filled with people who loved you

Made little boys living then, glad.

 

Today finds those kitchens remodeled

A switch floods the room full of light.

But mem’ry still shows us those kitchens

When kerosene lamps brought delight.

 

Arthur T. Elfstrom

January 1972

Give Me The Sense

I had gallbladder removal surgery a week ago Friday. It was the first time that I have ever gone under a surgeon’s knife. The past week has been spent recuperating. There has been a lot of time spent in bed. There has been a lot of love shown to us by dear friends and family. There has been sweet time spent with my wife and two youngest sons. And, there has been a lot of being awake at hours that I am not usually up. Tonight is one of those nights.

Going into surgery. One of my prayers was that I would use this recuperation time with intentionality. I wanted to catch up on some things that I needed to catch up on – you know, the things that just continually get pushed aside in the tyranny of the urgent of everyday life. But more importantly, I wanted to spend more intentional time with Jesus, Who I like to call my best friend, even though my time with Him wouldn’t reflect that. So, in the interrupted hours of my sleep, and in my normal waking hours, I have purposely spent more time with Jesus this week. And, it has been good.

Tonight, I awoke at 2:45. After trying to get back to sleep, I decided to quit fighting it and to just pray and read the Bible. I opened to Psalm 119, the Bible’s longest chapter, revisiting a chapter of Scripture that several years ago I spent 176 days meditating upon. It was good to reread these verses, with fresh eyes. One of the things I love about the Bible is that it is the only book in the world that is alive. It, unlike any other book, has the ability to pierce my very soul with the presence, power, healing, and hope of Christ.

Tonight as I was reading Psalm 119, I was struck anew at verse 73, which says,

“You made me; you created me. Now give me the sense to follow your commands.” (Psalms‬ ‭119‬:‭73‬ NLT)

I love the simplicity of the Psalmist’s plea in this verse. Can you just feel the tension mixed with hopeful anticipation that he must be feeling in his heart?

“You made me,” reflects David’s absolute conviction that he was fashioned by God. He was not a result of genetic chance. He was crafted by God, and therefore, had value to His creator.

“You created me,” he continues with poetic emphasis. Like he did in Psalm 139, David reflects some more on the fact that God was the architect of his existence. His very existence testified to the omnipotent God, and on the basis of God’s power and plan for David’s life, David would now offer up his plea.

“Now give me the sense to follow Your commands.” That is really calling it what it is, isn’t it. So much of humanity’s pain, sorrow, trouble, and strife comes down to the fact that we don’t have the good sense to follow God’s commands. We either think we know better than God, are too proud to submit to God, or simply want to ignore God and do things our way. Oh what pain that sort of thinking has wrought us!

I used to know a precocious little boy who was fond of beginning just about any answer with the words, “It just makes common sense.”

“It just makes common sense,” he’d say, “that 2 + 2 is 4.”

“It just makes common sense,” he’d say, “that Daddy loves my Mom.”

You get the picture. Well, friends, it just makes common sense, that God’s way is better than our way. So, like David, may we plead with God, the Creator of our sometimes stubborn minds, to give us the sense to follow His commands. Life goes better when we do things His way. It always has, and always will. That is something that just makes sense!

I go back to my normal routine this week. In truth, that is probably part of why I can’t sleep tonight. There is excitement about getting back to what God has called me to do. There is renewed vision for many areas of my personal and professional life. There are new habits that I am longing to see take root in my life. And, there is the fear that I will allow the tyranny of the urgent, the expectations of myself and others, and the sin that so easily entangles to drown out the priorities that God would have for me.

God,

You made me.

You created me.

You.

Yahweh.

Creator.

Savior.

Precious Redeemer and Friend.

You made me.

And, you placed me in my parent’s home . . . What a gift that was and continues to be in my life!

You brought me through the awkward years of growing up.

You sent me to a college far from home, where you stirred up in me a desire for Your Word, and introduced me to my precious wife.

You blessed us with four wonderful kids, and scores of friends around the world.

You blessed us with four wonderful church families.

You are still shaping me . . . still molding me . . . still creating me.

You make . . . You create . . . You give.

Now, give me the sense to follow Your commands.

For that might just be the most important thing I need in life right now.

Oh, and just in case that verse wasn’t enough to ponder today, check out the follow-up verse!

May all who fear you find in me a cause for joy, for I have put my hope in your word. (‭Psalms‬ ‭119‬:‭74‬ NLT)

Now that’s a prayer! May we all strive to live in such a way that our lives will give others a cause for joy!

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Do Something

Today, the Woodbury Community Church School of Discipleship began our fall term. I love this school! 18 students gathered at 5:30 in the morning to discuss Richard Stearns’ fantastic book, The Hole in Our Gospel.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, Stearns makes the case that the good news of Jesus Christ was meant to change the world. He writes, “The whole gospel is a vision for ushering God’s kingdom – now, not in some future time, and here, on earth, not in some distant heaven. What if two billion people (the number of those around the world who profess faith in Christ) embraced this vision of God transforming our world – through them? Imagine it. Indeed, what if even two thousand people took their faith to the next level – what might God do? Two thousand years ago, the world was changed forever by just twelve.

It can happen again.” (pg. 5)

Do you believe that?

One of the joys of my life is watching the people of God become passionate about the things of God. I love when I see people whose hearts break for the things that break the heart of God. At Woodbury Community Church, we’re seeking to be a people who care deeply about the people and the things that God cares so deeply about. All throughout the Bible we read about God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, the prisoner, the refugee and the city.

In 2012 a vision team from our church began to seek God’s direction for the next chapter of Woodbury Community Church. It became clear that one of the initiatives that God wanted us to pursue was caring for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, the prisoner, and the refugee like never before. I am blown away at what God has done since!

In the past few months the Lord has worked through the people of WCC in a variety of ways.

There is Sara and her team of volunteers whose hearts are broken for the children of Haiti. Sara is a teacher by trade who became involved in an organization called Kozefò that is making a difference in education in Haiti. When it became apparent that Kozefò might have to shut down, Sara and some friends, by faith stepped up to save the school.

Here is the revised mission statement of Kozefò:

Kozefò is a mergence of two Kreyòl words: Koze and Fò, meaning, to speak in a loud voice. Kozefò, as an organization, believes education is the key to developing thinking, creative individuals. As Christians, we are called to care and to speak loud against the injustices in the world. This is the true meaning of Kozefò, people together, hand in hand, speaking in a loud voice to bring about positive change in education, one school at a time. Kozefò is committed to supporting the primary school at A New Arrival Center in the Pernier community of Port au Prince.

Then there is Tammie. Tammie caught a vision for the “orphan” in our own backyard. Struck by a need to come alongside of families in times of crisis, to help single moms who had no familial support system, and to just be there for children who have no one else, Tammie got involved in the tremendous work that Safe Families for Children is doing in our area. When she found out that there is a tremendous need for host families in the Washington County area, Tammie decided to get involved in recruiting other families to help. There are already several families from WCC that have signed on to be host families. 

Here is how the Safe Families website describes their work:

When crisis strikes, many of us rely on relatives and our church family for support. But for some parents, there isn’t a safety net. Often problems such as drug addiction, domestic abuse, incarceration, or illness can be debilitating, making it impossible for parents to care for their children. With the changing economy many more families are experiencing financial crisis, unemployment, and homelessness. During such crisis, children are especially at-risk for neglect or abuse as their parents struggle to cope with crushing circumstances and emotions.

State welfare emergency hotlines throughout the nation reportedly receive over 5 million calls each year of suspected child abuse or neglect. Of those calls, about one million meet the criteria for state intervention. What happens to the remaining four million families that don’t qualify for help?

Overburdened by need and restrained by resources, law and policy most state welfare agencies are allowed to rescue only children who have suffered blatant abuse or neglect. Overwhelmed and underfunded, the state is ill-equipped to deal with a problem of this magnitude.

Without assistance, many of these families will find the issues in their homes escalating to episodes of abuse and/or neglect with long lasting consequences for not only the child, but also for our communities as well.

Since 2005, Safe Families for Children has offered sanctuary to thousands of children, minimizing the risk for abuse or neglect and giving parents the time and tools they need to help their families thrive. The ultimate goal is to strengthen and support parents so they can become Safe Families for their own children.

Safe Families for Children strives to meet three objectives:

  1. Child Welfare Deflection: Safe Families provides a safe alternative to child welfare custody, thus significantly reducing the number of children entering the child welfare system.
  2. Child Abuse Prevention: Providing an overwhelmed and resource limited parent with a safe, temporary place for their child without threat of losing custody. By offering support, the goal is to avert potential abuse/neglect episodes.
  3. Family Support and Stabilization: Many parents struggle because of limited social support and unavailable extended family. Many Safe Families Volunteers become the extended family that a parent never had.

A couple weeks ago we held a breakfast for people to hear how they could get involved and over 50 people showed up representing seven different churches and a number of social service organizations. God is at work!

Then there is Grant. Grant is a detective with the City of Minneapolis police department leading their efforts to fight against juvenile sex trafficking. Here is a video of Grant speaking about the subject on Minnesota Public Television.

It’s amazing how after praying about impacting the oppressed in our culture that the Lord brought Grant to WCC. Earlier this week Grant and I filmed a video about how the church can get involved in the fight against human trafficking, which is really modern-day slavery. The problem is immense, but it’s not too big for God to solve as His people get involved. Grant, Cory (another member of WCC) and I are a part of a human trafficking task force that is meeting monthly in the Twin Cities with the purpose of eradicating this insidious problem.

Then there is Scott and Bob. For the past four years Scott and Bob have led the Refugee Life Ministry team at Woodbury Community Church. We’ve partnered with World Relief Minnesota and a couple dozen other churches to welcome the stranger with the love of Jesus here in the Twin Cities. Over the past fast four years the Lord has allowed us to welcome three families from Myanmar to the Twin Cities. We’ll be bringing our fourth family in later this year. I can’t wait!

Those involved in Refugee Life Ministry are seeing their eyes opened to a global issue in a local way. The relationships between WCC families and their new friends from Myanmar is a beautiful thing to watch. What started out as supplying furniture and household goods to a refugee family quickly became tutoring, game nights, a trip to the zoo or for ice cream. Many of the families that we work with have waited almost 20 years to get out of the refugee camp and begin a new life in America. It is a beautiful thing to see God work through.

I could go on and on . . .

There is Pam who has a passion for coming alongside of widows and widowers who are residents living in government subsidized housing in Hastings. She is working to provide them with basic household essentials that they don’t have the funds to purchase. Pam has already organized a couple of donation drives that have resulted in practical blessings to the residents.

There is Sue, who on her own serves the elderly by helping them run errands, befriending them and being a listening ear.

There is Alisa who is serving as a liaison between Woodbury Community Church and the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf. She is encouraging our congregation to engage in generous giving to help this organization that serves as many as 100 households each week. Each one of these households receives four or more grocery bags of food depending upon the size of the family. The food shelf also provides over 300 households with traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and 650 children with Christmas gifts.

I know that I am just hitting the tip of the iceberg.

So, my challenge to you today is to get involved in something.

JusticeOver the next four weeks, our church will be going through a series entitled, Justice. We’ll hear about God’s love for the city, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the poor, the oppressed, and the prisoner. I’d love to have you join us. We meet at 9:00 and 10:30 each Sunday. It all starts this week with a Minnesota guy who moved his family to one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago to be part of transforming his community through the Gospel. His name is Joel Hamernick and he serves as the Executive Director of Sunshine Gospel Ministries in Chicago. You won’t want to miss his message as he talks about God’s heart for the city.

On September 15, I’ll be talking about God’s heart for widows and orphans. After the service we’ll be taking an all-church field trip to the Midtown Global Market, Karmel Square and Mercado Central in the Midtown Section of Minneapolis. This little corner of the cities is like taking a trip to a different world. We are encouraging all families and individuals to plan on taking this field trip, which will include lunch at the Global Market . Here, you will be exposed to a number of different ethnic groups and see just how great our opportunity is. We’ll also hear about the real life stories of human trafficking that happen in this part of the cities every week.

Randy Mortensen of World Wide Village will be speaking on Sunday, September 22. He will be talking about human trafficking and how the church can respond to modern day slavery.

Then I’ll conclude the series with a message on how the church should respond to prisoners.

Justice Series

September 8: God’s Heart for the City

September 15: God’s Heart for the Widow and Orphan

September 22: Unacceptable – Modern Day Slavery

September 29: Loving Society’s Throwaways

In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the final judgment. He said:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

I want to be among those whose heart beats for that which Jesus heart beats for. I hope you do too!

I want to leave you with a video from this year Q Conference. In it, Richard Stearns presents how the church could help solve the issues of clean water, starvation, education and a host of other issues in our generation. I encourage all of you to take the time to watch this. It is a life-changing and paradigm shifting video.

Good Friday and Saturday

goodfridaypic

Several years ago I wrote a poem for Good Friday, using the seven last words of Christ from the cross. I’ve posted it each year during Easter Season on this site. Here it is again. I hope it encourages you. Below the poem are some thoughts about Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday.

A Poem For Good Friday

Hoisted upon Calvary’s tree
To rectify the sin in me
Jesus looked upon the crowd
Announcing in a voice so loud

“Father forgive them for they know not what they do”
Beautiful words spoken to Gentile and Jew
Callously gambling for a piece of His clothing
The soldiers oblivious man’s redemption He was buying

“Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
Crowd spoken mockery on Golgotha’s sod
Criminals, on either side of the Lamb
Both facing life’s final exam

“ Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
Criminal’s jeering words in the form of a cuss.
“Jesus remember me when You come into Your Kingdom!”
Contrasting words, heart changing, unable to stay mum.

The lips of our Lord move a second time
Responding to the one convicted of crime
Looking straight at the man, knowing all of his vice
“Today you will be with me in paradise.”

That’s when His gaze came upon those He loved,
Some women, a disciple and the mother beloved.
“Dear woman, here is your son,” pronounced He to Mary.
“Here is your mother,” to John, while so wearied.

And then in the middle of that solemn day
Darkness hovered, black sky, not just gray
He who was holy became sin, no facade
And for the first time God was separated from God

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Was the awful cry that came from that tree.
The only thing in all the world capable of dividing the Trinity
Was the sin of every man, every woman, every boy, every girl, yes even you and me.

Later knowing that all was completed
That sin and Satan would soon be defeated
Jesus, all divine, showed His humanity
“I am thirsty,” He said, displaying no vanity.

When He received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
His time had come, His work was accomplished.
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

At that moment the world reacted
But most of humanity was too distracted
To notice the veil in the temple torn in two
From top to bottom what should we construe?

That Jesus’ death on the cross paved the way
For us to have access to God when we pray
The earth shook and the rocks split
On the day God was hit and we offered spit.

The bodies of some dead were raised to life that day
Holy people appeared in Jerusalem to convey
That Jesus is God, He is the way, Centurion and squad
Declared, “Surely He was the Son of God!”

No bones were broken
Prophecy spoken
Declared body piercing
Blood and water producing

As evening approached so did two powerful men
Perhaps they were remembering when
Jesus had spoken and challenged their thinking
Waiting to live for Him until the world was sinking

They took His body, wrapped it in a shroud
Just as Pontius Pilate had allowed
To the tomb He was taken
Christ had been forsaken.

Forsaken by man and forsaken by God
So great was the cost on the road that He trod
But great is the victory He won on Golgotha
A victory summed up in the word Maranatha

The Lord is coming soon is the word’s special meaning
Three days later, He arose and sin took a beating
He will come again soon to take those who are His
Truer words never spoken, it’s the truth, that it is

Will you be like humanity’s generations?
Too busy, distracted, for His interventions?
Don’t miss Calvary’s message of Christ’s great love
Offered to all of us who are undeserving of.

– Brian Schulenburg
April 9, 2009

disciples

The Saturday of Holy Week always makes me think of what it must have been like for  the disciples to have lost all hope. Many times I’ve thought of this day as the Day When Hope Disappeared. Disciples were scattered in clusters. One was dead –  a betrayer with such guilt that he hung himself. Some were alone, hiding in fear. Some were together.Was the last 3 1/2 years just an empty adventure? Was it possible that their eyes had deceived them? Was it possible that Jesus was not who He said that He was? Why hadn’t they stayed true? Why hadn’t they fought for Him? What had He done that merited death on a cross? What would become of them?Sunday morning was coming . . . but they didn’t know what Sunday would bring.What are your questions today? What are your doubts?

It may be the day when your hope is gone, but HOPE is not dead. HE is alive! And Sunday? It’s coming!

Ten Books Every Preacher Should Read

Over on my e-book blog tonight, I posted the following.

Earlier this month, Al Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky published an important article entitled, The 2012 Preaching Survey of the Year’s Best Books for Preachers.  It’s an article that I believe every preacher should read, no matter what your denominational background.

At the end of the article Mohler includes his annual Ten Books Every Preacher Should Read. Many of the readers of this blog are pastors. I hope this post is a blessing to you as you shepherd the church. My hope is that many church members will read the books in this list as well.

Because many of these books are Academic books, you’ll find that the Kindle prices, while higher than most books on this site, are much lower than the hardcover or paperback editions.

Here are the e-books from this year’s list.

the-juvenilization-of-american-christianity

The Juvenilization of American Christianity by Thomas E. Bergler

Kindle Price – $14.75

Pop worship music. Falling in love with Jesus. Mission trips. Wearing jeans and T-shirts to church. Spiritual searching and church hopping. Faith-based political activism. Seeker-sensitive outreach. These now-commonplace elements of American church life all began as innovative ways to reach young people, yet they have gradually become accepted as important parts of a spiritual ideal for all ages. What on earth has happened?

In The Juvenilization of American Christianity Thomas Bergler traces the way in which, over seventy-five years, youth ministries have breathed new vitality into four major American church traditions — African American, Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, and Roman Catholic. Bergler shows too how this “juvenilization” of churches has led to widespread spiritual immaturity, consumerism, and self-centeredness, popularizing a feel-good faith with neither intergenerational community nor theological literacy. Bergler’s critique further offers constructive suggestions for taming juvenilization.


sojourners-and-strangers-the-doctrine-of-the-church-foundations-of-evangelical-theology_3351_500Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Foundations of Evangelical Theology) by Gregg R. Allisoon

Kindle Price – $15.99

What is a church? This can be a difficult question to answer and Christians have offered a variety of perspectives. Gregg Allison thus explores and synthesizes all that Scripture affirms about the new covenant people of God, capturing a full picture of the biblical church. He covers the topics of the church’s identity and characteristics; its growth through purity, unity, and discipline; its offices and leadership structures; its ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and its ministries. Here is a rich approach to ecclesiology consisting of sustained doctrinal reflection and wise, practical application.

readingthegospels

Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction by Jonathan T. Pennington 

Kindle Price – $13.74

This textbook on how to read the Gospels well can stand on its own as a guide to reading this New Testament genre as Scripture. It is also ideally suited to serve as a supplemental text to more conventional textbooks that discuss each Gospel systematically. Most textbooks tend to introduce students to historical-critical concerns but may be less adequate for showing how the Gospel narratives, read as Scripture within the canonical framework of the entire New Testament and the whole Bible, yield material for theological reflection and moral edification.

Pennington neither dismisses nor duplicates the results of current historical-critical work on the Gospels as historical sources. Rather, he offers critically aware and hermeneutically intelligent instruction in reading the Gospels in order to hear their witness to Christ in a way that supports Christian application and proclamation.

GoldsworthyChrist-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles by Graeme Goldsworthy

Kindle Price – $9.99

The appeal of biblical theology is that it provides a “big picture” that makes sense of the diversity of biblical literature. Through the lens of biblical theology the Bible ceases to be a mass of unconnected texts, but takes shape as a unified metanarrative connecting the story of Israel with that of Jesus. It presents the whole scene of God’s revelation as one mighty plan of salvation.

For fifty years Graeme Goldsworthy has been refining his understanding of biblical theology through his experiences as a student, pastor and teacher. In this valuable complement to his , Goldsworthy defends and refines the rationale for his approach, drawing especially on the work of Australian biblical scholar Donald Robinson.

throughtheeyeThrough the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD by Peter Brown (Princeton University Press)

Kindle Price – $21.97

Jesus taught his followers that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Yet by the fall of Rome, the church was becoming rich beyond measure. Through the Eye of a Needle is a sweeping intellectual and social history of the vexing problem of wealth in Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire, written by the world’s foremost scholar of late antiquity.

Peter Brown examines the rise of the church through the lens of money and the challenges it posed to an institution that espoused the virtue of poverty and called avarice the root of all evil. Drawing on the writings of major Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome, Brown examines the controversies and changing attitudes toward money caused by the influx of new wealth into church coffers, and describes the spectacular acts of divestment by rich donors and their growing influence in an empire beset with crisis. He shows how the use of wealth for the care of the poor competed with older forms of philanthropy deeply rooted in the Roman world, and sheds light on the ordinary people who gave away their money in hopes of treasure in heaven.

Through the Eye of a Needle challenges the widely held notion that Christianity’s growing wealth sapped Rome of its ability to resist the barbarian invasions, and offers a fresh perspective on the social history of the church in late antiquity.

charles-murray-coming-apart-the-state-of-white-america-1960-2010Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray

Kindle Price – $12.99

From the bestselling author of Losing Ground and The Bell Curve, this startling long-lens view shows how America is coming apart at the seams that historically have joined our classes.

In Coming Apart, Charles Murray explores the formation of American classes that are different in kind from anything we have ever known, focusing on whites as a way of driving home the fact that the trends he describes do not break along lines of race or ethnicity.

Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, Coming Apart demonstrates that a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.

The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. That divergence puts the success of the American project at risk.

The evidence in Coming Apart is about white America. Its message is about all of America.

intoleranceThe Intolerance of Tolerance by D.A. Carson  

Kindle Price – $9.21

Tolerance currently occupies a very high place in Western societies: it is considered gauche, even boorish, to question it. In The Intolerance of Tolerance, however, questioning tolerance — or, at least, contemporary understandings of tolerance — is exactly what D. A . Carson does.

Carson traces the subtle but enormous shift in the way we have come to understand tolerance over recent years — from defending the rights of those who hold different beliefs to affirming all beliefs as equally valid and correct. He looks back at the history of this shift and discusses its implications for culture today, especially its bearing on democracy, discussions about good and evil, and Christian truth claims.

Using real-life examples that will sometimes arouse laughter and sometimes make the blood boil, Carson argues not only that the “new tolerance” is socially dangerous and intellectually debilitating but also that it actually leads to genuine intolerance of all who struggle to hold fast to their beliefs.

badreligionBad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat 

Kindle Price – $11.04

As the youngest-ever op-ed columnist for the New York Times, Ross Douthat has emerged as one of the most provocative and influential voices of his generation. In Bad Religion he offers a masterful and hard-hitting account of how American Christianity has gone off the rails—and why it threatens to take American society with it.

Writing for an era dominated by recession, gridlock, and fears of American decline, Douthat exposes the spiritual roots of the nation’s political and economic crises. He argues that America’s problem isn’t too much religion, as a growing chorus of atheists have argued; nor is it an intolerant secularism, as many on the Christian right believe. Rather, it’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional faith and the rise of a variety of pseudo-Christianities that stroke our egos, indulge our follies, and encourage our worst impulses.

These faiths speak from many pulpits—conservative and liberal, political and pop cultural, traditionally religious and fashionably “spiritual”—and many of their preachers claim a Christian warrant. But they are increasingly offering distortions of traditional Christianity—not the real thing. Christianity’s place in American life has increasingly been taken over, not by atheism, Douthat argues, but by heresy: debased versions of Christian faith that breed hubris, greed, and self-absorption.

In a story that moves from the 1950s to the age of Obama, he brilliantly charts institutional Christianity’s decline from a vigorous, mainstream, and bipartisan faith—which acted as a “vital center” and the moral force behind the civil rights movement—through the culture wars of the 1960s and 1970s to the polarizing debates of the present day. Ranging from Glenn Beck to Barack Obama, Eat Pray Love to Joel Osteen, and Oprah Winfrey to The Da Vinci Code, Douthat explores how the prosperity gospel’s mantra of “pray and grow rich,” a cult of self-esteem that reduces God to a life coach, and the warring political religions of left and right have crippled the country’s ability to confront our most pressing challenges and accelerated American decline.

His urgent call for a revival of traditional Christianity is sure to generate controversy, and it will be vital reading for all those concerned about the imperiled American future.

God-Is-Love-BrayGod Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology by Gerald Bray

Kindle Price – $12.99

While there is no substitute for personal, faithful, and careful Bible reading and prayer, the Bible’s vast size and diversity can make distilling its truth a daunting task. Thus most Christians benefit from supplemental resources to help learn and apply what Scripture teaches.Renowned theologian, Gerald Bray has produced just such a resource in his new systematic theology. Though packed with robust content, he writes about this volume: “the aim . . . is to reach those who would not normally find systematic theology appealing or even comprehensible.”This volume is unique from others in that Bray traces the common theme of God’s love through the Bible categorically—from God’s love for himself and his creation to the cross as the ultimate expression of God’s love, among other categories. The centrality of God’s love in Bray’s theology reflects a deep conviction that the Bible shows us God for who he really is. This volume will be of interest to Christians seeking to grow in their faith.

delighting-in-trinity-introduction-christian-faith-michael-reeves-paperback-cover-artDelighting in the Trinity: an Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves 

Kindle Price – $7.92

In this brief and winsome book, Michael Reeves presents an introduction to the Christian faith that is rooted in the triune God. He takes cues from preachers and teachers down through the ages, setting key doctrines of creation, the person and work of Christ, and life in the Spirit into a simple framework of the Christian life. A rich and enjoyable read on the basic beliefs of Christianity that avoids dumbing down its profound and life changing truths.