My wife Michele and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary this past August 5th in beautiful Miami Florida. What an adventure it has been for both of us. I love her so much. She is an amazing woman of God. She is my best friend and encourager. Together we have raised three children of our own and a host of wonderful kids who have adopted themselves into our family. It is rarely quiet in our home and that's how we like it.
Our anniversary fell on a Sunday this year. The picture above taken just 30 minutes or so before we joined the Christ's Fellowship church in downtown Miami, for their morning worship service. We both love God and His wonderful church so much that it was fitting that on our 35th anniversary we were in His house with His people. Both of us were raised in the ministry. My dad and Michele's were pastors and at one time or another both men were my pastor.
In January of this year we rolled out the theme for our church for 2018 "52 Hours with God". There are 52 Sundays to gather together to worship Jesus and the challenge is what can happen if we give those 52 hours to God, if we make coming together to Worship Jesus a priority in our lives? There is nothing more powerful than a committed disciple of Jesus Christ!
All 35 of those years we have dedicated ourselves to serving as pastor leaders wherever God places us. 23 years in Phoenix, 4 in Las Vegas and now 8 in Texas. JP Moreland’ author of 23 books on the Bible and life of Jesus once explained what he was looking for in a wife:
“What I was looking for in a wife was a woman who could not stand to see Jesus ridiculed in culture.” (JP Moreland)
I could not say it better than that and I found exactly that in my wife Michele. We have weathered storms of all kinds in the past 35 years. How have we made it 35 years? We anchored our marriage to the Rock who is Jesus Christ. We love Jesus and put Him first in our lives, it really is as simple and as complex as that.
Over the years we have witnessed the marriages of some of our friends and family members fall apart and end in divorce. In every instance they put themselves FIRST and Jesus last. Christianity is not a religion. It is a personal relationship with God through Jesus. It is a daily surrender of your rights and a daily acceptance of your responsibilities. In our marriage we submit to God FIRST and we share in the responsibilities of the mission He gave to us. I am half of the ministry God has given us and she is the other half. We are committed to Jesus and to one another.
What advice do we have to offer for long happy marriage?
1. Put God first in your life!
2. Be faithful in Church attendance and get plugged in to serving His mission
3. Laugh together and enjoy the life God has given you.
4. Do not lay blame or Justify when you make a mistake "Take responsibility" and ask for forgiveness.
5. Show each other the highest respect in private and public.
In 35 years of marriage I have learned never to take any gift for granite. If she made my lunch today, she is not obligated to do it tomorrow, it was todays precious gift and I am grateful for it. If I wash the dishes today, it is not my life responsibility it is todays gift. I want to do wonderful things for my wife because I am so grateful for her and I want to show it and she feels that way toward me. Neither of us feel as though we deserve these gifts but we are grateful for big and smalls ones we receive from each other everyday. Looking forward to 35 more if God chooses to grant them. Happy Anniversary Michele.
Some of you may know I have been working on a book that will help tell the story of the Grace Place. It is a labor of love. The book will be more than our story it will be the story of How God's Grace works in advancing us into His presence as a full fledged disciple of Jesus Christ. On my end there remains a great deal of work to bring this book to completion. To that end I would be grateful for your prayers over me in this effort. I believe God wants to say something through me to the church in this book and I am grateful for the opportunity to be His conduit.
Below are a excepts from the book.
As I started the invitation following the morning sermon, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to clarify the difference between a fan and a true follower of Jesus. On any given Sunday gathering, there are those who are committed disciples of Jesus and those who are big fans of Jesus and all He historically accomplished.
Among His fans there are those who are deeply moved and overwhelmed by the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, the code of ethics He taught, the way of life He lived, the miracles, the love He demonstrated. Sunday, for them, is a meaningful reminder an opportune encounter, an emotional and intellectual stimuli. There big question each Sunday is “What is in this gathering for me”? They are hoping that something happens that will get them through the week, inspire them to change, clarify some of the why questions of life.
The fans of Jesus are wonderful people. They see real value in the Christian life. Their primary struggle is Lordship. They are struggling to make Jesus Lord of their life. They easily see how He is Lord over all things. They longingly want what they see in true disciples of Jesus Christ but they do not know how to get there from where they are now....
After service Greg came up to me. Greg would often confront me after service with points of disagreement about my message, so that is what I was expecting this time as well. To my surprise he said “This is the first time I have really understood my own struggle. I have never heard it that way…Fan or Disciple. Thank you for helping make it clear”.
A happy ending to the story of Greg and me would have been that he took that next step and asked for prayer and made full surrender to the Lordship Jesus Christ. Unfortunately that’s not what happened. Greg turned from me and walked out the door. Years in the pastorate ministry told me that if Greg did not surrender soon he would leave our church. Why? Because now there was clarity in truth. You cannot continue in the lie when truth exposes it. When we refuse to apply revealed truth in our lives we get uncomfortable, like trying to sleep on a bed of nails. After "truth" we can never again get comfortable with the lie.
Greg became more and more frustrated with the church and with me over the course of the next few weeks. It was as if he were working overtime to invent problems with the church and my role as leader. Finally he sent me an email message that stated he and his family had discussed it and they would no longer be coming to our church.
In all my memory I cannot remember a time when I was at church and communion was served but not to me. This past Sunday it happened! It was a strange feeling to watch but not participate. The entire worship team also missed out on communion. I did not speak to them individually but I am certain we felt the same about missing out on communion. It's happened before to them so they may be somewhat more used to it than I.
How strange it felt. Knowing the sacrifice made on my behalf by Jesus and not being able to participate in this sacred moment of remembrance. So why was I left out? No big conspiracy it was just a simple over sight. I was seated in the front row by myself in the middle of the auditorium. It was "first serve" Sunday which meant our Youth were helping dispense the elements for communion. They were focused on doing it correctly, effectively and quickly. It was the quickly part that took the nearest youth usher past me and into the rest of the auditorium. I am certain they did not even notice me.
In one respect I am glad they missed me. For the first time I was able to experience what some on our worship team routinely experience and it was no fun. A few times over the past year I had remembered to celebrate communion with our worship team before service started during our morning meeting time. It was a really great experience and a nice way to make sure they were included and given an opportunity to celebrate the Lord's Table. I am determined to make sure this is done each Sunday we receive communion.
Our church habit is to receive communion the third Sunday of each month and yesterday I missed it. My wife was scheduled on the worship team so she missed it too. I started thinking about our Sunday School teachers and our media team as well. I am not sure all of them received the elements for communion. Our teachers, media team and worship team serve in rotation so they are sometimes in the auditorium when we receive communion. My experience on Sunday makes me want to be more diligent about making sure everyone has an opportunity to receive communion on communion Sunday.
In about an hour I will be leaving the office to head home. I am stopping by the church kitchen to prepare two servings for communion. When I get home my wife and I will receive communion together. How grateful I am for the sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf. Jesus paid it all!
A real encounter with the living God changes everything! Have we lost our first purpose? In an effort to message the current generation, make them feel warm, comfortable, accepted and understood, have we sacrificed what Christianity is all about? As we target the missing people groups: Men and Millennials is it possible we forgot why we are targeting them?
I am calling for a WAKE UP in American Christian churches! Our church started the year by asking if each member would be able to commit to God 52 hours over the course of the year. Just 52 hours during the 365 days that make up 2018. Most of us work 40 plus hours in a week. Could we give God just 52 of those hours to gather each Sunday to put Him first over the course of the year?
Currently we have spent 27 of those 52 hours this year. If we were graded as a church on our attendance we would currently receive a C minus. That's not bad considering what is happening in churches across America. What does it say about the church if we struggle to make the most basic of commitments to our faith...SHOWING UP?? That's one reason why I am calling for AMERICAN CHRISTIANS TO WAKE UP!
Let's face it would you be interested in joining a weekly program, gathering, school, club...where the attenders were going to show up about once or twice a month. Think about it. If you joined a group like that you might well be there a year or more before you even meet all the people who say they belong to the group. I remember seeing a bumper sticker on a pastors car several years back and it read:
"CH CH...what's missing? UR"
The church is MIA. Why? I contend it is because things are OUT OF THE NATURAL ORDER. What do I mean by that? The priority of GOD FIRST is missing. We say it but we are struggling to live it. We daily push the pause button on prioritizing Jesus as LORD and LEADER of our life. He is more the God of crises help than the Lord of our daily life. We remember Him but we don't know Him. We like Him but we don't Worship Him. We talk about Him but we don't trust Him completely with our lives.
At a time in History when the church is needed most we are least able to respond. Moral confusion, identity crises, suicide, sex trafficking, political corruption, murder, terrorism, hatred, domestic violence the list could go on and on. The church of Jesus Christ is the answer but will we BE the CHURCH.
The church gathers weekly to worship God, to recalibrate our motives in life, to surrender our will to God, to unite together as the body of Christ that we might accomplish HIS mission on earth! The church gathers weekly to restore HOPE, to preach the gospel because it changes lives, to restore broken relationships to make heaven our HOME! The church gathers weekly to bring the lost sheep to the only true shepherd who is LORD of the pasture. The Church gathers weekly to respond to the depravity of man in culture and to point to the only one who can change an evil heart!
“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Gen. 2:2-3)
Is there something about rest that we are missing? The fact that God rested should give us pause to think through a "theology of rest". I don't believe we are talking about just a nap, we are talking about a RESTful season that is needed so desperately that God was willing to model it. God did not need a nap. He did not need to rest his muscles so they could regenerate. He was not exhausted from working on the universe.
How do I know this?
"My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. The Lord himself watches over you!" (Ps. 121:2-5)
God does not need rest in the way we need it. It appears God knows something about rest that He wants to impart to us: "The Joy of Rest." On the day after his creative work was complete, God took time to see His handwork and enjoy it. Yes, it was all good and worthy of a day of rest.
Contrast this with how we live our lives today. We wear busy like a badge of honor. We drag our children from pillar to post, enrolling them, testing them, working them out, introducing them to everything but REST. Rest is a byword of our culture. It lives too close to lazy. Life is short there is no time to waste. This would be good advice if rest were wasteful time, but it is not.
Rest is an opportunity to enjoy what life is all about. Rest is the peace that accompanies the understanding that life is best seen through the lens of eternity. When we live with eternity in focus we live differently. We work smarter, rather than harder. We play to enjoy rather than conquer. Our spiritual formation is a primary focus along with the mission given us by our God: proclaim the gospel and make disciples.
Draw a picture of what REST looks like for you. Challenge your family to make Sunday a Day of family rest. A day to be thankful, to worship, to play together: silence and put away cell phones. Turn off the TV. Read a passage or chapter from the Bible together, enjoy a meal that everyone helps prepare. Take time to listen to each others hopes and dreams.
Join us this Summer at the Grace Place Church for our Leisure Days series. www.gp.church
6 David was now in great trouble, because his men were all very bitter about losing their children, and they were threatening to stone him; but the Lord his God gave him courage. (I Sam. 30:6 GNT)
Have you ever just had one of those days…weeks, months, years, lifetimes when things just seemed to get worse the harder you worked to make them better? Things were looking very dark for David in this passage of scripture. The back story is this: David’s enemies the Amalekites had attacked his hometown while he and his men were out on patrol. The Amalekites burned the city and took all the women and children captive and rode off into the sunset.
David’s 600 soldiers, who had been so faithful to him and trusted his leadership up to this point, now were in deep grief and despair to see their homes burnt and their families missing. They turned on their leader blaming him for the crises. If David was such a great leader why did he not see this coming, why not leave behind a small army to protect the town and families?
What is your first response in difficult times? Life is filled with moments of crises, dark seasons, difficulties and impossibilities. What is your first response when you crash into one of these? David could have tried to defend his actions to the men, he could have run away, he could have tried to persuade the men that their real enemy was the Amalekites not him.
David was not just a good leader he was a good follower of a good God. David asked God what he should do. When we suddenly face a crisis, we immediately go into shock. Our thoughts are clouded, our fears rise to the surface. Even the brightest and best of us are hard pressed to make good decisions in the middle of a crisis. David was willing to do whatever God required. If God had told him to step aside and let someone else lead, he would have done that, but instead God encouraged him to go after the enemy and all the people would be saved. David’s first response to dark times was to reach out to God.
When we face dark times, it is not only difficult for us but it is also difficult on those who love us and follow us. It is hard on our spouse, our children, our friends, our co-workers. How we respond to difficulties we face will have a huge impact on many lives. David allowed God to encourage him and he obeyed God. As a result David got back everything his enemy had stolen.
Read the entire story: I Samuel 30:1-20)
What is your first response in difficult times? In the last crisis you faced what might have gone differently if you had responded as David did?
God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
Upon arriving at my office for my first day on the job at the Grace Place Church, I found myself surrounded by quiet. I was alone. There was one other part time employee but they had the day off that day so it was just me and the unbroken silence of a very large portable that houses 7 offices. The church was recovering from a very difficult season that left all but two of those offices empty. In fact until that faithful day I arrived even my office had been empty. It remained quiet throughout the day: no phone calls, no doors opening and closing, no footsteps in the hall, no laughter, no muffled conversations, nothing.
When you are alone for an extended period of time you start to miss the noise of life. Amazingly enough you do not need to be without people or noise to feel alone. All of us have felt alone in a crowd. Maybe you have sat in a busy airport or a downtown mall and wondered if you were to yell out loud would anyone even notice? "HEY I AM HERE DOES ANYBODY SEE ME?" This kind of "alone" is a warning sign. It indicates that we are disconnected. Disconnected from people, purpose and self worth. Most importantly it reveals we are disconnecting from God.
We need to listen to the warning sings of "feeling alone". Our feelings do not always tell us the truth but they do tell us what we are feeling in that moment. You can be surrounded by a loving family and "feel alone". From the beginning God established that "It is not good for man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18) Bad things can happen to good people when they are alone.
"God places the lonely in families". He gave Eve to Adam and family to Adam and Eve. God did not want man to be alone. God has given all of us the "family of God' in the church for fellowship, encouragement, direction and to assist in helping us find our purpose. Here are three things you can do when you feel alone:
1. Do not ignore the warning sign. Recognize you are disconnecting.
2. Get reconnected: reconnect with your church and church family, reach out to your Christian friends and spiritual leaders, make friends not excuses.
3. Ask God to help you reconnect. Invite Him into your daily life in worship, prayer and study of His Word.
What could happen if you were to reconnect with God's family? Invite God's family to share in your life? What holds you back?
Read: Romans 8:35-39
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!”7 Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.”
(John 19: 25-27)
In John 7 verse 5 we read “For even His brothers did not believe in Him.”The gospels make it clear that Jesus’ siblings did not believe in Him until after the resurrection. We know that Jesus appeared to James, for 1 Corinthians 15:7 says “After that He was seen by James.” It is probable that this event is what finally inspired James to believe in His brother as the Son of God.
At the time Jesus hung on the cross, His siblings did not believe in Him. It stands to reason, then, that He would ask one of His followers to care for His mother. He selected John, his closest friend who is consistently referred to as “the disciple Jesus loved,” to take on this responsibility.
That’s the backdrop on this story from scripture and it helps us understand why Jesus gave care of his mother to his disciple and friend John. It seems clear that at this time, Joseph was dead and the responsibility to care for His mother was in the hands of Jesus by custom and law. Keeping the law of the 5thcommandment to honor father and mother, Jesus places the responsibility to care for his mother with John.
As I read this passage several things stand out for me: Jesus places incredible value on the care of His mother. In a time of the greatest suffering of his life on earth, he is focused on the future of his mother not his personal suffering and pain. Giving John this responsibility and privilege demonstrates the confidence, trust and character of John. John was the closest disciple and friend Jesus had on earth. No doubt the conversation about the care of Jesus mother was one Jesus already had with John. Jesus life was under threat from the beginning of his ministry, he would have wanted to make sure His mother would be cared for and kept safe.
His mother was there at the beginning of His life on earth and stood there broken and in tears as he suffered and died on the cross. Though Mary experienced great grief she did not need to concern herself with how she would provide for her basic needs. John took complete responsibility for Mary and provided for her needs all through her life. History shows that John did not pen his contributions to scripture until after Mary had passed away years later. He was so focused on caring for her and following through on the responsibility of her care given to him by Jesus.
Moms are of great value to us all. They are worthy of our respect, love and care. Jesus set the example for us to follow. Let’s celebrate moms and honor them. Join us this Sunday as we honor moms at the Grace Place Church 10:30am
It’s seems simple enough, I do things that God wants me to do so why won’t He do what I want Him to do? I once read something about this in the Bible it goes like this…
“But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” (John 15:7 NLT)
Is it too much to ask that God answer my prayer? What is prayer anyway?
What is prayer? Great question! Is prayer our opportunity to nudge God along in the direction we hope He will go? The things we are asking of God in prayer are not selfish things. We pray for a friend who is sick or a loved one in the hospital. We ask God to help someone who needs a job or a spouse. We ask him to help us do better, be better, want better for our lives. This does not qualify as selfish praying or even wrong prayer so why would God not grant prayers like these?
Let’s first consider where God has answered prayer in our life. Part of being human is being forgetful or even worse ungrateful. Even our national calendar calls us once a year to remember to give Thanks. Why? Because we forget and are at times, ungrateful. Take some time to remember the wonderful answers to prayer you and your family and friends have received from God. It was not always as you had hoped or planned but God did come through, he rescued, healed, provided, encouraged, lifted, gave strength, hope, He showed up in powerful ways. You probably do not need to think long and hard to find God’s provision for your life.
Now if that exercise did not work to produce gratitude in your life you have an “I” problem. You remember the letter “I” it is sandwiched between the letter “S” and “N” when you look at the word SIN. When we are overcome by our own sinful nature we struggle to see outside of our own wants, desires, hopes and dreams.
Example after example of human behavior in Sin is recorded in the Bible. A brother kills his brother because he is jealous. A King takes another man’s wife because he desires her. A son deceives his father to get the inheritance that belongs to his brother because he wants it for himself. “I” will have what I want even if God will not help me get it.
Maybe you are not in the “I” camp. You are grateful for answered prayer. But you are confused as to why a recent prayer was not answered or at least not in the way you had hoped it would be answered. May I suggest to you that perhaps prayer is not for getting God moving in our direction but rather to get us to move in His direction. Could it be that prayer is about aligning our will with God’s rather than trying to get God’s will aligned with ours. We can find a good deal of evidence for this in the Bible.
39 Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. 40 There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.”
41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”(Luke 22:39-42 NLT)
I can imagine how we might have prayed this prayer:
“Father…please take this cup of suffering away from me. Amen.”
When Jesus prayed, the priority of the Father was what He wanted. He was praying “Father make my will like yours.” It is the hard work of prayer that begins to mold, bend and shape our will to God’s. Prayer opens us to trust God. Prayer puts the problem in proper perspective, we get an eternity view rather than a momentary view. Large problems become smaller in the presence of a big God! When we bring our needs, hopes, desires and dreams to God in prayer we are bringing them where they belong and placing them in His tender care.
Perhaps the best way to begin this post on the church is with this very personal short note I received just a few days ago. It is from a grandmother who lost her precious granddaughter around the Christmas season last year. Kasey was only 11 years old.
(Shared with permission)
I cannot convey all the joy in my heart and soul
I FEEL as if a great weight has lifted
I have turned the wheel over to God and letting him drive awhile
We shall see where my path goes
But i know with you Michelle Amanda Austin Jake etc etc the entire grace place church
I can make it through anything this world throws at me
So bring it on World ...
GOD'S on my side and i feel stronger than ever
The grief of this precious family is shared community wide as Kasey was a wonderful ray of sunshine in an often too dark world. She had recently been coming to church with a friend who attended. She jumped right in and got involved. She joined as a key cast member in our Children’s Christmas play. Kasey accepted Jesus as her Lord and Leader at one of our gatherings as a church.
The last time I saw Kasey alive was at my middle daughter’s college graduation party. She gave me a hug when she came in and was her usual social butterfly self though out the party. At one point, I walked my granddaughter Allison (2yrs) outside to the nearby community park. Kasey and her friend Sam were already there. Kasey took over with Allison and helped her climb onto the slide.
I never dreamed that would be the last time I would see Kasey on earth. I would have held on tighter to that hug had I known, whispered in her ear to save me a place near her heavenly home, asked her to hold tightly to the Savior we both love who is the Head of this institution we call the Church. At her funeral, I talked about heaven. It is the eternal home our souls long for all our lives. The closest I get to feeling at home here on earth is when I gather with God’s people in a gathering we call “church”.
I love the church! In it God gave us a little heaven on earth. When we gather to worship Jesus, we are in the company of heaven. There is no separation from the angels of heaven, the saints who have gone before us, the Holy Spirit shreds the vale that separates us in life and we corporately lift our voices in unison to praise the one who conquered death!
The church embodies the hope of the world in Jesus Christ. If you think this world has problems now try to imagine what it would look like without the people of God present. No one to contend for Justice, stand up for the trodden down, give of their time, talent and treasure to those who cannot help themselves, share the burden of grief for those who are suffering in this life, encourage the discouraged, preach the good news of Jesus Christ, give an eternal perspective to those who see only this life.’
Where do people go when they lose hope in their future? They go to drugs, alcohol, sex, temporal escapes of all manner. They are overcome by depression and unable to find the energy needed to live life at its fullest. They come to believe that broken relationships are the only kind available. They rationalize that this is as good as life gets so suck it up and live it out. Real joy is replaced with incremental enjoyable moments.
Into the midst of this God planted His Church! More than a building on a piece of property the church is the people of God. They live differently in this dark world. They have a joy even in sadness that is inexplicable. They look at life differently. They see not only this life but in their eyes, you glimpse eternity. A loving community who owe their allegiance to not just a King but one who is King of Kings. A place where there are no strangers. A little heaven, right here on the earth that's the church.
Easter, one of the highest celebrations on the Christian Calendar. We celebrate a risen Savior. All that Jesus said and did would have faded away over time had it not been for Resurrection Sunday!
Behind the scenes at your home church there is a lot of stress! Pastors and leaders feel pressured to make "Easter Sunday" a "perfect Sunday". People from the community who do not have a Sunday church habit will come out on Easter to celebrate with our church family. It's easy on this end to get so caught in preparations that we miss out on a personal Easter.
This year I told our staff and volunteers that we are not going to let that happen. We are going to put together an awesome service for Easter but one that is very much like every other Sunday service. There are 52 Sundays in each year and we do our best to make each one special. Our goal each Sunday is to challenge, encourage, inspire, surprise and most importantly invite each attendee to experience the incredible presence of the Lord in their lives personally.
What can you expect at the Grace Place Church on Sunday? Expect a warm welcome, loving church family, awesome live worship. Expect to encounter the presence of the Holy Spirit who will inspire, challenge and encourage you through God's Word. Most of all expect authentic Christianity. We are not putting on a show for Easter. This Sunday will be very much like many Sundays at the Grace Place. We always expect God to show up and people lives to be changed.
Our serving teams of volunteers work this hard all year long to help us create an environment where life change can happen. The media team, Worship team, teaching team, ushers and greeters are all about serving Jesus by serving you. We are human and we may make a mistake but our focus is on doing our best for Jesus.
I really love our church family and the people of our community. The best decision I ever made was to say "Yes" to the call to pastor the people of this community. We welcome every new face. On behalf of our entire ministry team we invite you to consider making GPC your home. God has great things in store for your life and they start this Easter!
Where are the Men? Women have outnumbered men in church for decades now. In my home church, as a young man, the women outnumbered the men 3 to one. With each passing year, the absence of men at church has increased. Before I go further let me just list some facts to this articles assertion.
You’re not just imagining it. Christianity is short on men. Here are the facts:
· The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories.
· On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches.
· This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands.
· Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants.
· The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained clergy, who are overwhelmingly male).
· Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return.
· More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only one out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church.
· Churches overseas report gender gaps of up to 9 women for every adult man in attendance.
· Christian universities are becoming convents. The typical Christian college in the U.S. enrolls almost 2 women for every 1 man.
· Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry.
At this point you may be asking; what can we do to change this? Before we look at what can be done to invite men and boys back to church, so to speak, let me say a few things. Let me start by saying, this is an issue I have grappled with my entire ministry life. I am engaged, interested and want to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.
Having read, several books and periodicals on the issue some things surface that I believe need to be addressed. Some writers believe that church is more structured for women than men. They site men were created for adventure. They site that most service structures are about nurturing and safety which is more immediately comforting to women. Many of the writers agree that men are not being challenged in church today. I can understand some of these concerns and continue to address them to meet men and impact them when they come to our church gatherings.
I firmly believe that men are key to church growth. Statistics bare it out, add 100 men to your church you will add 100 families to your church. When men are all in the family is all in.
Talking with many pastors across the country on this issue has also caused me to evaluate: Church service structure, men’s groups, approaches and curriculum for boys and men. Just to repeat, this is not a recent problem it is (at least for me) a lifetime problem. Women have dominated the church make up from the time I was a baby in the 1960’s till this day.
What are we missing? Is it our church services are geared more for women than men? Why don’t men and boys value church, spiritual growth, worshipping God as a high life priority?
To be completely honest I really struggle with trying to figure this out and here is why… I’m a man who loves church! There has never been a time in my life when anything has been more important on Sunday than being in church with my church family. I have been frustrated by men who don’t care about spiritual life, the church, reading your Bible, growing in faith, worshipping Jesus. Sometimes I want to say, “Stop whining and GROW UP! Grow up in Jesus. Answer the call of God on your life and make a difference in your home, our church and in our community.”
As a man, I am competitive and I take it as a daily challenge when I see women hungry for God, pursuing Him and learning more about Him daily. It is amazing to see the hunger of God in many women today and I am especially grateful to see that many are answering a full time call of God on their lives and entering the ministry. Where would the church be if it were not for faithful women answering the call of God to serve, minister and lead? Where could the church be if men would join the effort in huge numbers?
Here is the bottom line. The church needs men! I need men to help with the work of ministry. We are overmatched and underpowered, in our efforts to share the gospel with our world. The church should be filled with men and women who are answering the mission call of God to reach our world for Him.
How can we engage men where they are and get them involved in church?
· PRAY: We always overestimate what we can accomplish in our own power, genius and creativity. We need God to awaken a sleeping giant…MEN.
· MEN SERVING: To all the men who call GPC your home let me encourage you to serve here. Currently we have only one male teacher in our Grace Kids class. When men come to our church and see other men serving they know there will be a place for them in our church.
· INVITE MEN: When we invite men and they show up it gives God an opportunity to work on their hearts through our service.
Our church will never give up on men! If we are going to impact our cities and this world for Christ we need men to help us accomplish it. We are going to do everything we can to reach men where they are and get them engaged with the mission God has given us through Jesus. A special thank you to all the men of Grace Place who are already serving, setting great examples through your faithful attendance and sharing your faith with other men in your life.
There is a sense of urgency in this post that moves me to write even though I am currently sitting next to a desk full of work that requires my attention. The thoughts I am going to share were brewing in my heart and mind last week spurred by the tragedy that took place in Parkland Florida where a 19-year old opened fire on his classmates, killing 17 and injuring many more. Even further back the tragedy in Las Vegas where a man shot from a hotel window killing 58 and injuring many more, the seed thoughts of what I want to share were being planted.
The photo above is a photo recently circulating on social media captures what is driving me to speak. I am not sure if this is an actual photo of what this person sent to a congressman or something put together by someone who wanted to make a statement. In the end, it does not matter because it is a philosophy of current culture that seeks to silence the core of practicing Christianity. Central to our faith is the ability to “call on the name of the Lord”. In fact, one might rightfully say that the beginning of all faith was when men/women began to call on the name of the Lord.
26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord. (Gen. 4:26)
This short verse is penned sometime after mankind fell into sin and experienced, for the first time, being separated from God. There is so much in this brief verse that jumps off the page as we read through it. After the birth of Enosh, (Enosh is mentioned in Luke 3:38 in the linage of Jesus) men started calling on God in prayer. This is no small thing! It is the beginning, of everything!
In Genesis 12 God met with Abraham as he “called on the name of the Lord” and promised to make him a great nation. In I Kings 18:24 the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal (an Idol) to call on the name of their god and he would call on the name of his God and the God who answered by fire would be declared God! Elijah’s God answered by fire and the people present fell face down and worshipped the God who answers prayer. In Acts 2:21 the great promise: “…everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”
For those who would treat prayer as if it were just kind thoughts toward individuals in peril… To those who would equate prayer with the words penned in a condolence card… To those who believe the actions of men are more powerful than the prayers of the saints… You are deceived.
If mankind could solve the problems of mankind we would not need to call on God. But mankind cannot cure evil or establish lasting peace or heal those pronounced terminally ill. No law we have passed has cured the sinful heart, saved one sinner, given a sound mind in place of a troubled one. Prayer, turned the heart of a wicked King to allow and fund Nehemiah to rebuild the destroyed walls of Jerusalem and the temple of God.
I am a first-hand witness to the power of prayer to heal the sick, make whole the financially ruined, restrain the work of evil, change wicked hearts, heal the deep wounds of the abused. In my lifetime, the Berlin wall fell in answer to prayer, Revival swept across our nation in the Charismatic Renewal and the Jesus movement of the 60’ and 70’s in answer to prayer.
Many Christians experience answered prayer every day. In the little and big things of life, we can see God at work daily in our lives and in the world around us. When tragedies like those listed above strike our communities we are fixed on them for good reason, we grieve with all those who suffer. We should also recognize the answered prayers we receive each day: Every time our children return home safely from school, each time we arrive at a destination in tact with our family, each time we pray for each other in sickness and we recover to full health.
It is no small thing to pray for someone! To lift a need to the living God means everything. When we place circumstances, family members, loved ones in the hands of God through prayer we have done the very highest and best we can do on earth. It does not always mean we will get what we want, it does mean God’s presence has been invited into the circumstance and He always accepts that invitation and acts upon the circumstance for His glory.
Prayer takes a backseat to no one! Without prayer, our world would be in chaos and that’s the reason man first called out to God in prayer. They recognized their need of the God who created them. They also recognized the limitation of humanity. We call out to God because He loves us but most of all because He hears and ANSWERS PRAYER!
How's Your Faith Doing?
Jill Bledsoe wrote: “The storms in my life, have become workshops where I can practice my faith in God’s Sovereignty”. Wow! What a powerful truth! The Christian walk often goes off the safe road. It’s far from boring, if you are doing it right. Your faith will be tested daily in big and small ways.
As we start the new year 2018, I want to challenge you to join me on a dangerous road trip. A 52 hour with God road trip. Leave your smartphone with navigation app in the glove box. I suggest that no matter how difficult the journey becomes that we commit to letting God drive. My faith always gets in trouble when I try to drive.
Can your faith handle the dangerous, unpaved, roads God will lead us down? Are you up for an adventure? Are you done with routine? Ready for a challenge? Each hour you will need to personally answer the question: Do I trust God to get me through?
God has proven, He can be trusted.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Prov. 3:5.6)
There is nothing I can say or do that will prepare you for this journey with God. We can all look to our past experiences with God and glean from them wisdoms, but our God is a God of surprises. The Children of Israel were excited to leave slavery in Egypt but they soon would face the Red Sea before them and Pharaoh’s army behind them in hot pursuit to kill them. That’s a journey all of them would not have signed up for if they knew about it in advance. SURPRISE!
The good news is that God always has a navigation plan that works no matter the circumstances. A Red Sea is no match for a Mighty God. I can promise you this: If you will commit to the journey, God will see you through it. There may be joys and sorrows to face but we will never need to face them alone. God will be with us.
What do you dream? What do you hope? Pack lightly and join me for 52 hours with God beginning January 7th 2018.
What we celebrate in Christmas is great news for our hearts…
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)
Few of us want to extensively examine the contents of our hearts but the prophet Jeremiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit over 3000 years ago warned humanity with these words. It is so much easier to believe our intentions are mostly good and if someone was hurt or wounded along the way we could not possibly be responsible.
Outwardly we know how to disguise our thoughts, intents, disgust. We are the masters of disguise. With our smile, our charm and purposeful body language we choreograph a new story. Yet something does not feel right. We have been able to justify our feelings and lay blame at the door of someone or something else, yet there remains an uneasiness deep down inside. At the heart of the matter, there is a problem.
We do need a Savior. We are not good enough on our own. We can’t fix what is broken down deep. We need a new start, a new heart, a new beginning. Enter the baby!
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa. 9:6)
Christmas is good news and timely. A good Savior for a bad heart. A Wonderful Counselor for bad decision makers, a Mighty God for mighty big problems, an Everlasting Father for the failures of earthly fathers, a Prince of Peace for divided nations and earthly conflicts. Christmas is for your heart, your home, your world. God clothed Himself in flesh to touch you and be touched by you. In his poetry, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described how the hatred of mankind meets the Prince of Peace of Christmas:
“And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A Child is born at every surrendered heart at the cross of Christ. Newborn, free from sin, wide eyed in wonder and fresh born in spirit. What you really want for Christmas is a new heart.
You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town
My favorite Christmas Carol is “Joy to the World”. It seems to strike the appropriate chord for the season: “Let every heart prepare Him room”. Our first year at Grace Place we invited the church to go with us through the neighborhood across the street from the church to sing Christmas Carols. Joy to the World was the first song we sang at each home. You could see the sparkle in the eyes of the people as we would sing. The message of Christmas is that the Savior has come and that event should be received with great Joy. It’s the best NEWS mankind could have ever received.
So where does Santa fit into Christmas? I did not grow up where it snows in winter so my memories of Christmas rarely included snow. A few times growing up we had a winter storm around Christmas that would bring some snow. It would only last a day or two. I think snow looks lovely in pictures but if you were to ask me what would be my dream Christmas location I would want Jimmy Buffet’s Christmas Island…
How'd ja like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?
How'd ja like to spend the Holiday away across the sea?
How'd ja like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?
How'd ja like to hang your stockin' on a great big coconut tree?
Yes please, thank you very much, I would like to hang my stocking on a coconut tree. I think Santa would locate me just fine on Christmas Island. Santa? You ask. It’s interesting that our world would develop the legendary character of Santa to capture a snapshot of Christmas in action. The picture painted of Santa is an ageless man whose sole purpose is to bring gifts to children. The song “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” indicates that Santa: “sees you when you're sleeping He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good So be good for goodness sake!”
First, is Santa a threat to the meaning of Christmas? I don’t believe so. In fact, I think Santa embodies what our world hopes resides in every individual, namely goodness. The picture of Santa is the world’s wish that at least one time a year, mankind could set aside their differences and just do something good, something kind, something with no strings attached for someone other than themselves. Santa as a world view somewhat resembles what we as Christians know and believe about God.
1 God is our Father/Santa called Father Christmas
2 God never sleeps and is omnipresent/Santa is said to see us sleeping
3 God sees our hearts and is aware of ever action/Santa is said to know if we have been good or bad
4 God is ageless/Santa is said to be ageless
5 God is GOOD/Santa’s stated purpose is to do good
I think there is remarkable evidence that Santa is the world’s attempt at painting a picture of God. Agreed, the world's picture is a stick figure when compared to Wonder and Majesty of God’s character. But for a world who has not seen or experienced God it tells us a great deal about the kind of God they hope to find.
It also reveals why they are struggling to find God: “You better watch out you better not pout, you better not cry, I’m telling you why Santa clause is coming to town”. Sadly, the world view of God is driven by what man can do, not what God has done in Christ Jesus. Man’s attempts to earn an audience with God, fail and disappoint. Jesus said: “No one is good--except God alone.” (Matt. 10:18)
A relationship with God is based on His goodness not ours. We can never earn His favor by good works. That’s why Christmas is so wonderful for all of mankind. God came seeking us! God sent us a gift of goodness clothed in flesh, born of a virgin. This gift would satisfy our debt of sin, give us the ability to do good, bring us into relationship with our heavenly Father. That gift is Jesus. He is the light of the World. He brings Joy into a dark world.
“JOY TO THE WORLD THE SAVIOR REIGNS!”
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (II Cor. 4:8-9)
Las Vegas, New York, Sutherland Springs, Texas. Just the mention of those cities reminds us all, of major recent acts of Evil perpetrated upon the innocent. The Rise of evil in America and around the world is alarming. For many, it is perplexing to see what humans can do to humans. Without conscience three men recently ended the lives of innocent men, women and children in Las Vegas, New York, Sutherland Springs, Texas. The most recent at the time of this post, occurred in Sutherland Springs Texas, at First Baptist Church in this tiny rural community.
We are witnesses to the unfolding of Biblical prophecies concerning the final days before the return of the King of Kings.
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.” (Ps. 2:2-3)
The destroyer is actively seeking to throw off the shackles of constraint that have held back his anarchy. It is the Church of Jesus Christ that, with the power of the Holy Spirit, has invaded the darkness and pushed back the work of the destroyer. Binding him and his evil from overcoming the world.
11 They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer). (Rev. 9:11)
The warfare against evil is age long for the church. The real enemy is the destroyer, satan. Jn. 10:10 lays out his plan for every individual life. The three violent acts of evil were carried out by human beings, but make no mistake they were under the influence of demonic spirits. Each of these men were willing to open themselves up to the work of evil. They were complicit in the acts, they were not puppets. But the destroyer was directing the chaos.
Every act of evil is first justified in the heart of the individual who carries it out. “I deserve it”, “They deserve it”, “no one tells me what to do”, “they are dangerous and I am doing right”, “I make the rules!”
“All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” (Judges 17:6)
How do we combat evil? The challenge for each of us in the face of evil is to reclaim our footing. Evil forcefully pushes at our faith, kindles the flames for revenge, disturbs our inner peace, the injustice of it fuels our anger. God knows all about our feelings and emotions, the pain we suffer, the gross injustice, brutality and victimization brought on by evil. He gives us careful instructions on how to deal with evil acts and the people who perpetrate them.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Ro. 12:17-21)
These are the instructions that Jesus lived out on his way to the cross to pay the price for the sin and evil of mankind. He was wounded, beaten, spat upon every evil of mankind was placed upon him at the cross. In our helplessness, in our grief, in our deep despair we can hold on to the one who has overcome the world. We can gather our footing and stand strong. We are not overcome by evil! Evil is overcome by the goodness of God! He did not run from the cross, He boldly embraced the cross for all mankind. This is our message, this is our Hope, THIS IS OUR SAVIOR! We STAND IN CHRIST ALONE!
One of my responsibilities, as a Pastor, is to give sound Biblical counsel to people who ask. I have found that two primary issues are at the root of many of the problems people bring to counseling: SEX and MONEY. I want people to know what God’s Word says that can liberate us from the bondage created when we choose our lusts over His commands. The root issue for us all, is the same now as in the garden of Eden, we want our will and our way over God’s will and God’s way.
When it comes to money we use the language: Our money, Mine, My savings, My 401k, Our investments, My paycheck, I pay my bills using my money, My debit card, My mad money, My cash stash. Money is very personal to us. We earned it, we have the right to consume it. Money takes on a life of its own. It has power, allure, with it we can, without it we can’t. We can never have too much of it.
10 Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. (Ecc. 5:10)
Money is not alive. It is Amoral. It has no opinions, no dreams, no passions, no preferences. It is our “love” of it that will direct it toward our wants, desires, passions and preferences. God does not have a problem with you or your money. He takes issue with the “Love” of money.
The Biblical command is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and being. Few things provide more allure and will challenge and compete for our love more than the two things we mentioned above: SEX and MONEY. That’s why Jesus said:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)
In the Amplified version the last verse (21) reads: “21 for where your treasure is, there your heart [your wishes, your desires; that on which your life centers] will be also.” The way we spend our money tells us a great deal about what is most important to us in life. It shows us what we really love. The world has a saying when it comes to finding the motive of a politician or a large corporation. That sayings is: “Follow the Money”.
Early on in our lives, our hearts get linked to our wallets, our bank account, our money. It is so natural we don’t even struggle. We see money as Happiness, Freedom, Joy, as our provider. Much of this is natural to a sinful nature and there are plenty of models who show us in their daily actions that this is the way to live. We are taught to look good, live life to the fullest, enjoy life you earned it. The vehicle for all this life enjoyment is…Money.
Money is the counterfeit god. We do all we can to serve it but at the end of life whatever is left gets passed around. It has no eternal value. It does not provide happiness, freedom, joy and it is not our provider. I have stood beside the wealthy, stricken by cancer, who have told me they would give away all their money if it would buy good health. I have talked with wealthy couples who, in vulnerable moments, have admitted they were happier when they were financially poorer.
Love of money is a shallow love. It is all one sided. Empty bank accounts replace that love with fear quickly. The Bible mentions money 140 times. God wants us to have clear perspective when it comes to our view of money. God is our provider! He alone puts money in your hands. When we understand that we can learn to handle money differently than the world who does not know God.
As committed disciples of Jesus Christ, Michele and I see ourselves as stewards of money and not owners. Everything belongs to God, not us. As stewards, we take what God gives and we give and use it where God directs us. Our priority is on obedience to God not self-preservation. We belong to Him and He takes good care of us. We trust Him and our bank account shows that we do. We have savings, we tithe to our local church, we support missions and we pay our bills on time. We can do this because God is our provider.
Do you trust God to provide for you? Is money in a place in your life where it does not belong? If your bank account shrinks are you in panic mode? I want to challenge you to do something for next 90 days. Put God to the test.
10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Mal. 3:10)
God invites you to test him with your finances. For the next 90 days give tithing a try. Take 10% of your income and put it into your local church, the place where your spiritually fed. The language of the passage above is not accidental. God says he will pone the “floodgates (other versions say Windows) of heaven”. The only other place this language shows up in the Bible is when God opened the floodgates/window of heaven to flood the earth with water in the days of Noah. Am I saying you are going to get Rich by obeying God? Yes! Maybe not the hit the lottery way rich but you will be rich in what is meaningful in life and eternity. You will be putting God in charge of your finances and He will show you what a great provider He is.
Are you up for it? You will find that you cannot out give God. He loves you! He died for you and He alone deserves first place in every area of your life. Remember: God does not want or need something from you, He wants something for you.
Identity struggles have been a part of the human condition since the fall of man in Genesis chapter 3. In 2017, the struggle with identity grows even more complex and is rising to crises levels as people struggle not only with their spiritual identity but their sexual identities as well.
The sexual identity struggle is not new in and of itself, it is,rather, how our culture has raised the issue. It is described as the brave new frontier where transgender individuals are boldly, bravely bringing their struggles to light so that the generations behind them will not suffer as they have.
According the American Psychological Society:
“Gender dysphoria involves a conflict between a person's physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify. People with gender dysphoria may be very uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned, sometimes described as being uncomfortable with their body (particularly developments during puberty) or being uncomfortable with the expected roles of their assigned gender.”
People we know and love are in a life struggle. Identity is so key to human existence that the last thing we should do as Christians is be dismissive or hateful. Some people strongly believe they are trapped in the wrong body or trapped in gender at all. In other words, perception can be greater than truth in the mind of the individual. What they feel, think and have come to believe may defy what they see as their creative body. So where is the starting point for Christians, as we seek to lead our generation through identity crises?
First, we begin where Jesus told us to start.
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (Jn. 13:34 NLT)
People do not care how much we know until they know how much we care. My heart is broken for our generation and for the ones behind who are grappling with sexual identity crisis. We should reach out to embrace every individual allowing them to experience God’s Love.
Second, we must present the TRUTH in Love.
33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (I Cor. 14:33)