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Tough Talk

Ephesians 4:15-16 (ESV) 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Boy talk about a tough topic!  Tough talk is a tough topic however, if we are ever going to accomplish all that God has for us we are going to have to have some hard conversations.  Hard conversations with ourselves and hard conversations with others.  Many of these conversations are going to be filled with tough talk.  Meaning we are going to speak the truth in love in order to preserve the unity that we have or in order to bring us into the unity that we need (John 17) in order to fulfill our life’s mission and the mission of the Church God has called us to.  Tough talk happens in every healthy relationship and should be modeled daily.  Tough talk is not, “Hey your dress is ugly and your Momma dresses you funny!”  Ephesians has one main idea in mind and that is the unity of the body growing into full maturity and being it’s most effective in advancing the kingdom.  It has little or nothing to do with being mean, spiteful or hurtful just for the sake of perceived truth.  This generation has an idea of that when they say, “Hey I’m just trying to be real.”, directly following an opinion, insult, or rude comment displaying no compassion or love just perceived truth.  Here is what I know and have learned, if we do not have hard conversations and if tough talk isn’t a part of our lives we suffer in many ways.  Our relationships suffer because where there is lack of honesty there is also a lack of trust and transparency.  Our ministry/ workplace suffers because bottled up emotions and feelings eventually come to surface in behaviors if not properly dealt with.  Ultimately disunity takes place in every area by avoiding tough talk and hard conversations.  I also know that tough talk creates huge amounts of stress and tension.  Actually I believe it reveals stress and tension that is already there just un-addressed.  The Apostle Paul tells the church to speak the truth in love so that we will grow into Christ.  We stay connected to Jesus by being honest and truthful while being equally compassionate and loving.  I have experienced tough talk multiple times in the past few months, weeks and days.  Each of these conversations has come to a peaceful resolution with love winning every time.  Now I’m not saying that is always going to be the case because some people like to fight and some people must get their way at all costs.  We are flawed human beings.  What I am saying is that tough talk and hard conversations act as a litmus test to the level of relationship we have or think we have with individuals.  Not speaking the truth in love doesn’t preserve anything, it actually prolongs negative feelings and promotes disunity and dysfunction.  Leaders who are afraid of hard conversations and avoid tough talk should seriously evaluate their leadership.  We cannot lead without having hard conversations and tough talk.  It is absolutely impossible!  Vision demands clarity and unity which only comes in hard conversations and tough talk.  A leader’s vision must not be for sale, rent, lease or loan which means we will have to defend and advance the vision which will definitely lead to hard conversations and tough talk.  Look at the results of speaking the truth in love.  Each part ends up working properly and the body builds itself up in love.  I don’t know maybe today you need to have a hard conversation and some tough talk with someone.  My encouragement to you is don’t put it off.  I don’t know maybe today someone has to have a hard conversation and some tough talk with you.  My encouragement to you is don’t put them off.  The longer we put off tough talk and hard conversations the longer we remain in disunity and the further we get away from the ultimate and perfect unity described in John 17.  Trust your relationships.  Test your relationships.  Live the life God has intended for you with those He intended you to live with.  Love hard and love well.  Be truth tellers filled with compassion.  Love people enough to tell them the truth and pray that God gives them the courage to love you the same way.  Be honest with God and honest with them.  I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at the outcome and the unity that you build and share in love through tough talk and hard conversations.  Be encouraged!
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On the Brink

I have to put a disclaimer right up front here for this blog.  It may  not be for everyone.  It reminds me of a quote from the movie A Few Good Men, “You want the truth?!  You can’t handle the truth!”  Anyway, here we go.  I am away at the Exponential Conference in Orlando.  It is the largest gathering of church planters on the planet.  I am here with 5,000 church planters, pastors and leaders from around the world.  My first experience at Exponential was two years ago.  I was a man without a church but not a man without a vision.  We were one month away from launching City on a Hill Church.  Needless to say I was excited, scared, thrilled, worried, expectant, anxious and every other emotion in between.  I was “On the Brink” of the greatest adventure I would ever be privileged to go on to date.  I was “On the Brink” of the most beautiful yet brutal spiritually demanding, emotionally charged, physically challenging, mentally exhausting journey of my life called church planting.  Here is the coolest part I knew I was “On the Brink” and God was about to do something through me even bigger than I could have ever asked thought, dreamed or imagined.  I could sense His hand of favor on me, my wife and the Launch Team of City on a Hill Church.  I knew that I knew that I knew that God was in this thing 1000%.  That was and is the beautiful part, now with all that being said we get to the brutal part.  Over these past two years I have been “On the Brink” multiple times.  I have been “On the Brink” to the good and to the bad.  I wish I could tell you it has all been a bed of roses.  No! Check that, no I don’t!  God never wastes a hurt.  Nothing worth having is free it comes at a high price.  The theme of this conference is Sifted from Luke 22:31-32 and I must tell you I have been Sifted and Re-sifted throughout this journey.  I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences I have had because they have shaped me into the husband, uncle, pastor, brother, leader and friend I am becoming.  I say, “I am becoming” because I know it isn’t over by a long shot.  There are going to be many more times when I am “On the Brink”.  I call Mondays “Blue Monday” because every week I am drained and “On the Brink”.  I told you this is raw and for all of my City on a Hillers don’t worry your pastor isn’t going anywhere!  I ain’t got no quit in me!  Sometimes I may be “On the Brink” but I am tethered to Jesus and His dream called City on a Hill Church.  I do have a thought or two for those of you “On the Brink”.  What if you are one day away from that breakthrough?  What if you are one more try from finding the answer?  What if you are one huge failure away from ultimate success?  If we quit we will never know!  Besides my friend Shawn Lovejoy taught at Exponential, “If we are doing what God has called us to do and we quit, it is sin.”  That statement resonated in my spirit and gave me a spiritual slap across the face and a defibrillator to the heart.  It was like spiritual smelling salts for me.  There are so many facets to the vision of City on a Hill Church still yet to be realized.  My heart’s cry is to see lost people found, wanderers brought home and restored, disciples being made into disciple making disciples and missionaries being sent into every culture in our city.  Sometimes I forget just how fast everything has happened for us at City on a Hill Church.  We are only going to be two years old next week and we are tracking like we are 5 to 7 years old or older. I just know we are “On the Brink” but recently every time we are “On the Brink” of taking our next big step it seems like when we get to that step we have a setback of some kind most behind the scenes.  I need to preface the next few comments.  I know and believe success isn’t based on nickels, numbers and noses, I get that.  However, numbers do tell part of the story.  We have seen steady growth from May of 2010 to February of 2012.  We went from 135 in average attendance to 280 in those short months.  That is almost double!  Glory to God forever!  However, in February of 2012 we were “On the Brink” of breaking into over 300 in average attendance every weekend, which is the natural growth mark.  I have been praying for COAH’s growth in every way.  The first growth I pray for always is spiritual because spiritual growth will produce numerical growth (evangelism), financial growth (stewardship) and exponential growth.  We had a huge Easter with over 450 in attendance and the two Sundays following Easter we had below average attendance which concerns me.  Not for reasons most would think.  No! It is not about the numbers it is about the people.  I am a shepherd in every sense of the word.  It breaks my heart when I see people “On the Brink” of incredible spiritual growth instead end up “On the Brink” of spiritual decline because of a setback.  Setbacks are comebacks in the making!  Usually when I don’t see people in church or if their attendance becomes sporadic it is because something negative has happened and the enemy of our soul is trying to isolate and insulate them from Jesus Christ, their faith and His Church.  I am left with the question, “What if that Sunday is the day in Church that God wants to give you that breakthrough?”  What if that Sunday was the day ordained by God that a brother or sister in Christ, known or unknown, speaks prophetically into your life?  Why do I ask this?  Because I saw it happen last weekend!  A brother came up to me after service and said, “Pastor Mike I have to tell you something.  I came in here this morning dragging and struggling.  After service a sister, I don’t even know her name, came up and gave me a word from the Lord.  There is no way she would know unless God told her.  I didn’t even know her.”  He went from “On the Brink” of a breakdown to “On the Brink” of a breakthrough.  There is a daily concern I carry for every person God has placed under my care.  I pray for the prayer requests, I call hundreds by name weekly, I cruise facebook looking for opportunities to pray, I just love City on a Hillers passionately and compassionately.  I just know we are all “On the Brink” of something amazing!  God has not gathered such  incredible group of His servant’s in one place to wait on Heaven.  He has called us and gathered us together to impact our city, reach lost people, restore wanderers, be disciple making disciples and to send missionaries.  I know that we are “On the Brink” of a spiritual awakening because so many are “On the Brink” and going through tremendous personal struggles.  I am praying that God will help us all stay “On the Brink” of personal spiritual renewal and corporate spiritual growth in every sense of the Word.  I am equally praying that God will sustain those who feel “On the Brink” of a mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical decline to recognize we can lift our eyes up to the hills where our help comes from and fix our gaze upon Jesus!  You are “On the Brink” of stepping into the life and calling God has made you for!  Be encouraged!

 
 

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Auto-Focus

Romans 3:31 But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.

In the past two years I have learned a very valuable lesson about my life and leadership. I have learned the negative and positive value of focus. I have learned that we can train ourselves to focus on the negative or the positive. The big idea in the this lesson is what we focus on becomes our AUTO-FOCUS. It becomes the aspect that we instantly focus on and all of our energy and effort is spent there. If we choose to focus on the negative aspect of things and give our attention to what went wrong or what isn’t working every time we view ourselves, our organization or our vision the AUTO-FOCUS is stuck in negativity. Conversely, if we choose to focus on the positive aspects of things and give our attention to what went right and what is working every time we view ourselves, or organization or our vision the AUTO-FOCUS is set on the positive. Now this has nothing to do with fair and proper assessment or evaluation is has everything to do with the mindset in which we assess and evaluate. The principle is simple what and how we focus becomes our default or our AUTO-FOCUS. We must be ever so careful to pay attention to the instruction in the scripture listed above by focusing on what God is doing not what we are doing. When this becomes our AUTO-FOCUS we can’t help but to be positive. Church planting and church leadership is the hardest most beautiful yet brutal journey of have ever been on in my life. While on this journey and learning this valuable lesson I can confidently say I understand why statistics reveal that 75% of church plants fail. It really boils down to focus, better yet AUTO-FOCUS. As a church planter and pastor I must train myself to AUTO-FOCUS on what God is doing in and through me not what He is not doing. This weekend we celebrated 104 weekends in our 11,000 square foot miracle on Dr. MLK street. (Willis S. Johns Recreation center) Now here is a perfect example of learning to AUTO-FOCUS on God and the positive. I could whine and moan and complain about not having a building to call our own and how life would be easier if we didn’t have to set up and tear down every week. I could lament about not having a structure in the city that people could drive by and find us and how we could be growing and reaching even more people than we are if we only had a building of our own. OR I can praise and thank God for providing us with an 11,000 square foot facility right in the middle of our community. I can focus on God providing us with a facility that can seat 458 in the sanctuary (gym), has a fully equipped Teen Room and preschool, a spacious room with fully equipped video game systems and other game tables for our children and 300 parking spaces! Not to mention the manager is now a founding member of COAH. See how it works? It is AUTO-FOCUS. It is seeing what God has done not what He hasn’t. It is seeing God’s grace and thanking Him for His provision. As a church planter, pastor, leader and human being I must stay focused on the positive not just in the church but in my life. I must have my AUTO-FOCUS set on the positive. If I do not negative self-talk, naysayers, our enemy satan and life will consume our thoughts and cause us to AUTO-FOCUS negatively which leads to failure and crushed dreams. We never fail until we quit trying! Rather than look at a problem as one step further away from our goal why don’t we look at it as one step closer to our goal. In this past two years we have faced some pretty big challenges but God has always carried us through. There have been times I thought to myself, what am I going to do? But then I remember it is not what I’m going to do it is what God has already done. I have trained myself to AUTO-FOCUS on the positive and I rehearse the good deeds of God. I look back at how God has provided and I look to how He will provide again. I must tell you learning to AUTO-FOCUS is hard! I must also tell you that it is easy to switch the AUTO-FOCUS off and start trying to focus on your own. When we do this we usually get a blurry picture of the future or our current circumstance. We have had major shifts with key team leaders on our ministry teams and each time I have been tempted to switch off the AUTO-FOCUS. By God’s grace I have decided to leave the AUTO-FOCUS on God and His favor and He has never disappointed. Even as I write this we are in a huge transition and in need of a drummer, a bass player and a guitar player for the third and fourth Sunday worship teams. I just shift my AUTO-FOCUS back to April of 2010 when I had Jesus and a dream. I had no band, no building, no you name it and yet God has provided. We opened COAH with a full 13 member worship team. Two years later God has provided COAH with a host of skilled musicians and singers many whom have been with us from the very beginning and many whom God has called just at the right time. My encouragement to everyone today is check your AUTO-FOCUS to see who, where and what it is set on. Be sure to set is on God, His vision for your life and on the positive. I’m confident that if we all do this we will see and do things that we thought were only possible in dreams:) This isn’t just for church planters or pastors this is for everyone. Live the life God has planned for you. You can do it! Be encouraged!
 
 

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Embrace the Struggle

Yesterday was absolutely amazing! We celebrated City on a Hill Church’s second Easter. It started very early in the morning at sunrise with an Easter Sunday sunrise baptism. We shared in the sacred moment of baptism with 44 people. Needless to say it left me awestruck and the wonder of God’s hand. The shoreline was filled with over a hundred witnesses. Glory to God forever. Every Friday since January I have spent my morning out at North Gandy Beach praying over what took place yesterday and asking God for the impossible and improbable. Yesterday’s baptism reveals the unmistakable, undeniable testimony of God. We left the waters of baptism to go to two dynamic services where we saw over 20 people make decisions to follow Christ or re-commit their lives to Christ. Again I am left totally in awe of God’s saving power and redeeming grace. This Wednesday will mark the two year anniversary of the first meeting of COAH’s launch team in the Native Sun warehouse. It is so hard to believe it has already been two years. As I have stated multiple times over these past two years, “Church planting is the most beautiful, brutal adventure I have ever been on in my life.” Life itself is a beautiful struggle. As the joy of Easter began to subside and I began to reflect on the work God had accomplished in and through COAH a sobering reminder appeared that the struggle continues. I didn’t even get through the night before the reminder that we are in a struggle for the souls of men, women and children and the enemy never takes a day off. I received word that some key team members were going to have to go away leaving us in a very difficult position. Right away my mind raced and I began doing what I have been doing for the past two years praying like it all depends on God because it does, and working like it all depends on me. One thing I have learned is that church planters must have a masters in creative problem solving:) Rather than go into panic mode I just began to rehearse the good deeds of God in the life of COAH. His hand of provision and protection have been on us from the very beginning. I remembered back to two years ago when I didn’t have anything but Jesus and a dream. I had no Launch Team, no building, no money, no church, no nothing and God provided for us then. Why would He not provide for us now? So I began praying for God to raise up new team members to stand in the gap. I just have to embrace the struggle and recognize that to struggle is biblical. This struggle is seen all throughout the bible. In Isaiah 6 we hear God say, “Who will go for us? Who shall I send?” in Luke 10 we hear Jesus say, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers.” I am the last guy to complain about laborers! I have the most amazing Ministry Team on God’s green earth. I am humbled and honored at the choice group of servant’s that God has gathered and is gathering at City on a Hill Church. So rather than panic and lose my composure I will do what I have done from the beginning pray and ask. I basic biblical principle that can solve most of our struggles is simple, “We have not because we ask not and when we ask we ask with selfish motives.” I don’t want to be guilty of not making the “Big Ask” of God first before anyone else. I have asked God now I am making phone calls, sending emails, sending FB messages, and tweeting our needs. It is definitely not with selfish motives because at COAH it is all about Jesus, it has always been about Jesus and it will always be about Jesus. So I sit here in my office the day after Easter with a new struggle to embrace. It is not new to God and quite honestly it is not new to me. All I have to rely on is God’s amazing provision for us up to this point, which has been stellar. We need a drummer and a bass player to lead out congregation in worship and help us fulfill God’s divine call for COAH in St.Petersburg, FL. We need musicians to lead people into the magnified presence of God and to help people break through during our times of prayer. We need either one drummer and bass player that can play the third and fourth Sunday of the month or we need two drummers and two bass players that can play once per month. This will complete our teams and help us continue the struggle against the enemy of our soul and make it hard to go to Hell in St.Petersburg, FL. I invite you, no matter where you are, to embrace the struggle with us and join us in prayer asking and believing God to call and draw these folks to our church. I do not know what struggle you are facing but I encourage you to embrace the struggle, pray and seek God first, then work like you already have the answer. Remember life is a beautiful struggle so embrace it:) Be encouraged!

 

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“Snatching Cats Out the Fire”

I was in discipleship group this week and we were talking about the challenge of discipleship and the revolving door in the church. My shepherd’s heart kicks in when I see people come in and out of the church. My heart breaks when I don’t see people that I know need Jesus in their lives and the cares of this world keep drag them further and further away from God. I can barely breathe when I think about them going back out into the same world they came from and expecting to get different results. I pray over the people God has called to City on a Hill Church fervently. I identify with a lyric from a modern song, “You cut me open and I keep bleeding love.” I think of Jesus when He said;

Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

As our discussion continued I explained how it feels to be a shepherd but sometimes shepherding is like herding cats! It is an almost impossible task. But I am always reminded what is impossible for man is possible with God. I shared sometimes it can feel like you run into a burning building and pull folks from the fire and when you get them out and into safety and bolt right back into the burning building. You run back in and carry them back out turn around only to see them running right back into the building again so you run back in and bring them back out again. Eventually it gets to the point where you start thinking, “How many times can I run into that building before you yourself don’t come out?” But your shepherd’s heart won’t let you stop. I think about this so much especially around Easter with so many wanderers in our city totally devastated by the church in the name of God. I can’t help it. Thinking of these people and knowing they don’t have a church family or a place to call home breaks my heart over and over again. Couple that with the constant concern I have for the people under my care and it can be overwhelming, save Jesus! Paul said it like this:

2 Corinthians 11:25-28 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers,danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

Prayer is the key! Prayer is the weapon of mass destruction against all of the attacks of the enemy. I called our church to pray over those being baptized and our services this coming weekend. I didn’t call us to polite and demure prayers. I requested that everyone skip the formalities and get right into the “ugly faced” prayers. Prayers and move heaven and earth. Prayers that build hedges of protection around hearts and lives. Nothing is more powerful than the prayers of the saints. Prayer is a discipline of a disciple making disciple. Programs don’t make disciples, prayer does. Praying keeps us close to God even when we feel like He is distant from us. Jesus said it best when he said, “I wanted to gather you to myself but you were not willing.” As a pastor it can be so frustrating to see people abandon prayer, abandon their faith, abandon their God and abandon His church. They abandon the safety of the Gospel and go running right back into the fire. What should our response be? Let Jude answer for us:

Jude 1:22-24 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

We must be willing to snatch these people from the fire as many times as necessary because that is what Christ has done for us. Let me put it to you from a line from a rap song, “The Messiah died so I can preach Jeremiah. I run through the earth snatching cats out the fire. I always preach Christ when I rhyme baby. Cuz I ain’t got time for no jive baby.” Christ died so that we could set up outposts just outside the gates of Hell and snatch people from the flames. We must be committed to making it hard to go to Hell in St. Petersburg, FL or wherever you are. Not only do we catch fish but we must also clean fish. Meaning not only do we bring people to Jesus for a salvation experience we must also bring people to the Holy Spirit for sanctification. This happens in discipleship. We started this blog talking about the revolving door of the church. The question is how does it get shut for good? The answer is discipleship. This weekend we will watch as many, many folks take their next big step in discipleship by being baptized we must then teach them to obey everything Jesus commands and when it gets tough remember Jesus is with us always.

There is no cure for the shepherd’s heart. I don’t want one. I don’t need one! I will feel the same way Jesus felt about lost, wanderers and those under my care until I see Jesus. I will always want to gather them to Jesus like a mother hen gathers her chicks. There will always be a daily pressure on me for the churches in St. Petersburg, FL and around the world until Jesus comes. I will keep running into those burning buildings and pulling people out until Jesus comes no matter how many times I have to go in. God has blessed me with an incredible rescue team called City on a Hill Church and He adds daily to those willing to suit up and do the same, snatch cats out the fire. One thing I do know, “I always preach Christ when I rhyme baby. Cuz I ain’t got time for no jive baby.” Be encouraged!

 

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Exhibit A

Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV) 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As Easter fast approaches I find myself more and more interested in apologetics, the defense of the Gospel, not so much to prove God exists but to be aware of the objections and struggles that we all have in our faith walk. I know that there are going to be lost and wanderers being called from the North, South, East, and West on our city and I want to be prepared to share my faith journey with them and to carefully listen to their objections. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt I could never totally remove every one of their objections because admittedly not all of my objections have been fully answered that is why they call it faith. However, I do believe that the Bible provides significant information to shrink many objections made. I have been reading Tim Keller’s book The Reason For God and thoroughly enjoying the depth of his theology, scriptural knowledge and application. One specific objection has grabbed my attention for a number of years and my interest has been reignited since God has placed on my heart a call to reach wanders (Ezk. 34) and the lost (Luke 15). The objection of How Could a Good God Allow Evil and Suffering? The idea that the presence of evil and suffering in our world provides evidence to disprove God’s existence is incomplete and flawed. Keller says, “Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise, namely, that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless. The reasoning is, of course, fallacious. Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason for why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one. Lurking within hard-nosed skepticism is an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties.” Look at Joseph’s story in Genesis he goes through hardship, evil, and suffering. If God had not allowed Joseph to suffer he would have never been able to save a nation and prevent hundreds of thousands from suffering throughout the surrounding nations. Joseph would have never been the man he became without the suffering he endured. God’s purposes were accomplished in and through his life. I want to be careful to say that no one is grateful for the tragedies that life brings. However, on the other hand the wisdom, character, experiences and grace provided to us during those times are matchless in value and in building our faith, they are not for sale, rent, lease or loan. Could it be then that the presence of evil and suffering in our world can actually prove God’s existence along with creation itself acing as evidence in God’s favor. The question that remains is by what standard does the world make it’s judgement? By which standard does the atheist or non-believer in God measure injustice and evil? Keller says, “If you are sure that this natural world is unjust and filled with evil, you are assuming the reality of some extra-natural (or supernatural) standard by which you make your judgement.” For example if we base it on evolution’s idea of natural selection that relies in the strong surviving by bringing death, destruction and violence on the weak then this would be perfectly natural and no injustice or evil can be seen in just doing what comes natural. The issue of suffering, tragedy, and injustice is a problem for everyone not just Christians or believers. It provides just as big a problem for believers and non-believers concerning their belief in God. If we think for a minute that abandoning our belief in God makes it easier to deal with the presence of evil and suffering in our world we are sadly mistaken. I can not see one benefit for unbelief based upon the presence of suffering and evil in the world. The overwhelming truth is there is no ultimate answer for suffering and evil save God’s sovereignty. We must also take a sharp look at God’s grace in all of this. In His sovereignty and by His grace He takes on our suffering and misery and faces down evil in the flesh in the form of Jesus Christ. Even in the depth of our greatest suffering we have Emmanuel God with us in the form of Jesus Christ. When we take a deep look into the incarnation of Jesus Christ coming to earth, clothing Himself in humanity, experiencing suffering, enduring the cross, and defeating satan, sin, and death in the resurrection we find powerful consolation realizing that Jesus is present in our greatest sufferings. We do not face evil and suffering alone we face them side by side and face to face with Jesus in the power of the the Holy Spirit. We have a hope that goes beyond this life and it’s present sufferings. We have a hope that evil will be vanquished forever and love wins. Our God doesn’t want off the hook for evil and suffering in the world He put Himself on the hook, the cruel cross, in order to defeat evil and suffering and offer us hope in the face of the worst possible suffering known to mankind. Jesus understand our pain and suffering. Jesus understands injustice. Jesus understands what it feels like to face evil. Jesus knows what it feels like to be abandoned. Evil and suffering do not prove that God doesn’t exist. People who have experienced evil and suffering and overcame it by faith in Jesus Christ reveal that God does exist. We act as living testimonies, trophies of grace. I can not explain why evil and suffering take place in this world but I sure will not abandon my faith just because they do. I trust in Isaiah 55:8-9 that reminds me that God’s ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts. I find comfort in that truth. I find comfort I am not the standard by which the world is judged just or unjust God is. I find comfort in knowing even while this world was filled with evil and suffering God sent His one and Only Son, Jesus, to come and reconcile the world to Himself through suffering and paying sin’s ultimate penalty, death. I find comfort in knowing that God’s ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts because I can say with confidence I would not exchange my child’s life for anyone else’s on the planet. God sent His Son to be a ransom for many and to put an ultimate end to evil and suffering. One day that mission will be accomplished when the world is reconciled back to God. Until then whatever you are going through, what ever you are facing call out to Jesus and He will answer. Don’t run from God, run to God. Be encouraged!
 
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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in City on a Hill Church, COAH

 

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Search Party

Currently we are in a series called Rescue Me. I believe that the next few weeks leading up to Easter are going to be critical for the church. Not just City on a Hill Church but the church universal. Every year in March or April there is a time designated to celebrate Easter. Easter is a time recognized in this country and of around the world as a holiday where we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There’s no mistaking happy holidays for Easter instead it’s a time where most recognize the significance of Easter even though it is been highly commercialized the chocolate, Easter bunnies, jellybeans and the like. There is still an understanding that Easter is all about Jesus it’s always been about Jesus and it will always be about Jesus. Easter is also a time where so many folks are looking to go to church or to reengage in their faith. I feel such a sense of urgency over the next few weeks because I know that there is a spiritual preparation and an awareness in the hearts and lives of many in our city. It is my hope that the people of city on a Hill church and churches around the city will recognize this divine opportunity and will do everything within their power to invite and encourage folks to come out on Easter Sunday. For me Easter starts at sunrise at the baptism service. Baptism signifies the outward sign of an inward change. I love the significance of Easter sunrise baptisms. On the morning that we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ the son of God rising from the dead we get a beautiful word picture from creation as the sun rises in the east over the waters of North Gandy beach. We provide everyone being baptized with five invitations for their friends, their coworkers, neighbors and loved ones to witness their sacred moment. Receiving a personal invitation to someone’s baptism really raises the chances that people attend the baptism and attend Easter Sunday services directly following the baptism. It’s just a great way for them to feel included an important. It is equally a powerful witness to the grace of God in their lives. I believe every day God gives us divine opportunities to reach someone for the cause of Christ. We just have to be cognizant of these opportunities and we need to be willing to act when these opportunities present themselves. Studies have shown people will respond to an invitation and most of the time they respond in a positive fashion. My prayer is over the next few weeks that God will draw his nets from the North, the South, East, and the West and that he will use ordinary people like me and you to extend an invitation. When I started prep in the series Rescue Me I had lost people and wanderers in mind. I started praying months ago for Easter services and for this series because I know that is God’s desire that everyone come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. While I recognize I can’t control the decision that they make, I can control whether or not they receive the opportunity to accept or reject Jesus Christ by presenting the gospel and a life lived to the glory of God. Every Friday for the past few weeks and all the way up until Easter I will be at North Gandy beach praying over the waters and over that location. In my minds eye I can see the faces of so many precious people whose lives have been changed by God’s grace. I see their family members, friends, church family members, and neighbors standing on the shore witnessing the most significant decision that they will make in their lives. My heart grows with anticipation as the weeks get closer the intensity of my prayer increases knowing that there is a spiritual battle taking place for the souls of men, women and children in our city. We have two more weeks in the Rescue Me series and then it’s Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday kicks off Holy Week that leads us right into Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday I’ll be sharing a message entitled The Journey of a Skeptic, we will take a look into the life of Thomas. Between now and then I know that every week is critical every Sunday, every day, every moment is critical heaven and hell, life and death hang in the balance. Jesus spoke more about heaven and hell than any other prophet in the Bible. Jesus made it very clear there are two final resting places for the soul. One is in heaven with God with Jesus as the mediator between God and man reconciling us through his life, death, burial, and resurrection. Easter is the time we celebrate Jesus us final victory over mankind’s three greatest enemies Satan, sin, and death. It is in the awfulness of the cross that we see the justice of God and the grace of God come together. Objects of wrath become objects of affection and the rightful wrath of God is satisfied through the death of Jesus on the cruel cross. The resurrection of Jesus reveals Jesus’ final victory over our final enemy which is death and he offers us eternal life. That’s option number one. Option number two is hell. If hell was not a real place, Jesus would not have spent so much of his time speaking of hell as a real option for those who deny God and rebel against. Easter is a critical time because it acts as a mirror into the souls of men. It allows us to see a loving and merciful God offer his son as the ultimate sacrifice so that we might have life. It also allows us to see that there is a hope that goes beyond this life and into the next. The hope that we have comes from faith in Jesus. It really starts by us crying out to God saying rescue me, save me! We ask God , “Do for me what I cannot do for myself.” In doing this we recognize that we are not self autonomous, we admit that we need God, we need forgiveness, we need reconciliation, we need grace. I have such a sense of urgency in my heart that even now as I sit here in this place preparing this blog my heart goes out to those spiritually lost and in need of rescue, to those wanderers who have been made prey for wild beasts. It is my sincere prayer and hope that they listen to the still small voice of God calling them. That they listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as he leads them to safety. That they recognize there is a search party looking for them. It is equally my prayer that every Christ follower will recognize they are a point man on a search and rescue mission for their friends, family, coworkers, schoolmates, neighbors and our city. My prayer is that we will all use our story for God’s glory and I can’t think of a better time to do that than Easter Sunday. It is my prayer and hope that we will baptize 40 or 50 folks at sunrise on Easter Sunday morning. It is my prayer and hope that the shoreline will be filled with hundreds of witnesses of God’s incredible grace. If you don’t have any place to worship on Easter please consider this your invitation to worship with us at City on a Hill Church. It would be our honor and privilege to celebrate Easter with you. If you haven’t been to church in a while come on home:) Be encouraged!

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in City on a Hill Church, COAH

 

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