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.

DSC_0339

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:

Promises Every Pastor Should Make

I-Promise (1)When a church calls a pastor, the expectations that are made upon that person can sometimes be unrealistic. In a few instances, the expectations of a pastor can border on abuse. When counseling pastors who are considering a call to a church, I often times tell the pastor to take a  long look at the job description. After looking at that, I tell the pastor to ask about any expectations that are not listed in the job description. Sometimes the assumed expectations that a congregation has about what a pastor will or will not do are even more important than the job description itself. In my years of ministry I have heard nightmare stories from pastors and churches about misunderstood expectations that have led to incredible pain on the part of the pastor or congregation.

So, what are some of the promises that every pastor should make to the Lord, their family, and to the church that they serve?

Here are some things that I think the Lord, my family, and my congregation should expect from me. These are areas that every pastor struggles with. Every pastor will fail on these from time to time. We are, after all, human. But, that should not stop us from striving to do our best to keep these promises. These promises should motivate us to get back up and try again whenever we fail.

In my relationship with God:

I promise to make Jesus Christ the greatest Love of my life. I will pursue a growing relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I will make God my top priority. I will seek the approval of the Lord over the approval any human being. I will strive to live my life in such a way that those around me will see Christ reflected in me; following in the servant way of Jesus. I will seek to make much of Jesus and little of me. I will strive to do the work of ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing that anything I accomplish of eternal significance will be because of His power at work within me. I will make my prayer life a priority, seeking God’s face continually throughout each day. I will seek to understand God’s preferred future for my life, my family and the church that He has called me to serve. Then, I will follow His path no matter the cost. I will recognize my spiritual poverty and need of God’s grace, and forgive as God has forgiven me. I will confess my sin, daily, to the Lord; and seek to join Him, daily, in His mission of making more disciples. .

In my relationship with my family:

I promise to love my family more than the church that I serve, the work that I do, and the personal dreams that I have. I will seek to be the shepherd of my family more than being the shepherd of the church God has called me to serve. My spouse will be my greatest love after the Lord. My spouse should know that she is more important to me than the church that I serve. I will model to my family that loving God and loving the church isn’t the same thing. I am called to love God first, my family second, and then others.

To my children, I will strive to love your Mom as Christ loved the Church; laying down my life and my dreams, for our life and our dreams. I will love you for all of my life. I will recognize that you are the greatest gift that God has ever given me, next to Himself and your Mom. I will not let the busyness of ministry crowd out the life that God has planned for our family. You are my greatest priority – after God and after your Mom. I will disciple you at home, and be a volunteer in some of the ministries that you are a part of. I will do my best to not embarrass you, and will ask your permission before using you as an illustration in a sermon I preach or a lesson that I teach. I will take an interest in the things that you are interested in; because if it is important to you, it is important to me too. I will not expect of you the perfection that belongs to God and God alone. I will love you when you make mistakes and not allow the unrealistic expectations of those in our church to be expectations that I place upon you. I will pray for your future spouse and when the time comes to let go, I will give you back to God, recognizing that you were never really mine to begin with.

In my relationship with my church family: 

I promise to remember that the church that I pastor is God’s church. It doesn’t belong to me. I will seek His direction, in tandem with the leaders that God has placed around me, for this church body. I promise to love you, with the hopes that the community around us will know that we are Christians because we love one another. I promise to work hard. I will study God’s Word and do my best to accurately teach what Scripture teaches. I won’t be perfect. When I make a mistake, and realize it, I will own up to it and do my best to correct the problem. I will be an advocate for the pastoral and support staff that you have entrusted me with. I will pursue integrity in all areas of my life, seeking to be someone that you can trust, surrounding myself with people who will hold me accountable to God’s standards. I will do my best to not embarrass you, or the cause of Christ, by bringing shame upon His name. I will do my best to treat each attender of our church with honor, respect, fairness and confidentiality. I will speak the truth in love, even when it may not be what you want to hear, and I will welcome the same from you. I will welcome all, but not affirm the sin in any – including myself. I will recognize that there will be some people at our church who will be difficult for me to love, and try to remember that I am many people’s  person who is difficult to love. I will recognize that I am not the Savior, and therefore won’t have the solution to every struggle that our church has. God does. I am not ultimate authority. God is. I am not going to be competent in every area that our church will face; so I will work together with the beautiful body that Christ has built here to accomplish His purposes. I will recognize that the church that I serve does not have the “corner on the market” on God. I will live a life of inter-dependency with other pastors and church leaders across denominational lines.

We will pray as a body. We will serve as a body. We will learn as a body. We will worship as a body. I will seek to make sure that the vision that we pursue as a body comes from Christ speaking to the church and not just to me. I will do my best to help you discover your gifts so that you can honor God in the unique way that He has made you. I will recognize you as a gift to the body of Christ. That said, I will not reward dysfunction or those whose motives prove to be detrimental to the overall body. I will hang out with people who don’t know Jesus so that you can see modeled in me someone who is actively living out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

Okay, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these.

For further ideas, check out the National Association of Evangelical’s recent Code of Ethics for Pastors.

No Words . . .

NewtownI first saw the news on an Internet web page.

A gunman had once again done the unthinkable. As I write this, 27 people are confirmed dead at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, including 20 children. It is the worst elementary or middle school shooting in the history of the United States.

Incidents like this should never happen. When they do, there are no words that are adequate to numb the pain. Like our President, I view incidents like this from the lens of a parent. When my sons came home from school today, I hugged each one of them. Families all over our nation are experiencing the same thing tonight.There will be those who over the next several days who will ask where God was during this tragedy. It’s a normal question, and a fair one.

I believe with all of my heart that God was right there, with the victims, in their final moments. He was there when teachers made brave choices. He was there as law enforcement officers came face-to-face with the gravity of the situation at Sandy Hook. He will be there tonight, when parents hold each other and cry over the child they will bury instead of give Christmas gifts to. He will be there in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

While never walking with a family who has lost someone in a school shooting, I’ve walked with far too many families who have lost children. Well-meaning folks will tell families to just trust God day-by-day for their strength. These folks need more than day-to-day strength. They will need second-by-second strength just to make it through.

Our English language has no words for a parent who loses a child. We call those who lose a spouse a widow or widower. We call those who lose parents an orphan. We don’t have a word for those who lose a child, because the pain is just too much. It is not supposed to happen.

24 hours ago was just another Thursday night in America. These precious children were dreaming about Christmas. Parents were sharing a last meal with their kids with no idea of what lie ahead. I’m praying for these families tonight. I’m lifting up those who are leading in Connecticut in the aftermath of a senseless act. And, I’m praying that we don’t have another of these tragedies.We will be praying for these families at Woodbury Community Church this Sunday.

My wonderful Aunt Marlene, a pastor’s wife for decades, put the following prayer on her Facebook page today. It is one she found from a pastor named Mark Jeske.

Dear heavenly Father, We lift up all those families involved in the elementary school shooting today. How monstrous that an armed man should have forced innocent people in an elementary school to be part of his anger drama. How crushed are the hearts of parents who lost their children today in what was supposed to be a safe place. How long their grief will be. Our hearts are with them today and will be tomorrow too. Your all-seeing eyes have witnessed much terrible human cruelty over the centuries, and today you and we had to witness all over again how deeply Satan has his hooks in the human race.

Lord Jesus, you came to this broken world to be broken yourself. You wept at the graves of people you loved. Your human heart resonates with human grief. You know our sadness because you too are sad today. What great hope your first coming and your physical resurrection give us. You came to bring forgiveness of sins and immortality to all, and all who believe it have it. For the Connecticut families, for all the responders, and for all people who are experiencing death right now, we pray that the hope of resurrection in Jesus brings comfort to broken hearts.

Holy Spirit, let your Word move at this time. Let Christians share hope and comfort, and may all those whose lives were invaded by death remember and believe the Scripture’s bold promises that our Redeemer lives. We eagerly look forward to the time when death itself will have to die and we will never be separated again. In the meantime, bring comfort and hope to sad families, and somehow use this dreadful disaster to work some good and advance your saving agenda.

It is only through Jesus’ name that we can bring such huge requests to your throne. Amen.