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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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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
Have you ever been tempted to cover something up to keep yourself out of trouble? Do you remember the feelings you had when you were trying to figure out how to get out of it? The feelings of guilt, fear, remorse, anger that it happened to you or that you made a mistake? It doesn’t have to be something earth shattering to make the point it can be something simple but the emotions and feelings are still the same. I remember when me and my buddy were home hanging out while our girls were out. We had prepared some food and I was grabbing the salt shaker. Now my wife has a set of dishes that everything matches plates, bowls, mugs, you get the picture. Well when I grabbed the salt shaker it slipped from my hand and took a big and noticeable chip out of it. Me and my boy were like, Oh no! Right away we started thinking we’re gonna be in trouble. He said, ‘Hey dude just hide it. She’ll never know.” To that I said, “Oh no she’ll know! I told him I would rather tell her what happened and get her a new one then carry the guilt of keeping a secret and the fear of her finding out and being disappointed in me. When she got home I told her what happened. She didn’t even make a big deal about it. She said, “Honey that’s alright no big deal. We can just try to fix that one or get a replacement.” I felt justified. I felt free of guilt, shame, fear, and remorse because I wasn’t trying to hide anything from my wife and there was nothing standing between us in our relationship. I came clean and received a clean slate. While that may be a small scale incident it can speak volumes to us in our relationship with God. To be justified means to qualify as bail or surety, to judge, regard, or treat as righteous and worthy of salvation, to set free from an obligation or the consequences of guilt. Justification is simply “the act of God declaring men free from guilt and acceptable to Him” You and I weren’t built to carry guilt. We have a accuser who does his best to try and keep us from God by telling us to hide things from Him. By telling us we don’t deserve forgiveness or a second chance. When we choose to believe that accuser we run far from God because we feel guilt, shame, fear, and remorse. We don’t realize all that God has done for us it leaves us empty and we have a deep longing just to be justified. If I would have kept that little secret from my wife it would have damaged our relationship because I would have had to operate in guilt and fear. It would have put a strain on our fellowship and every time we sat down to eat I would be waiting to hear, “Would you pass the salt? Hey where is the salt shaker?” And then I would be dealing with breaking her trust and maybe even her doubting my love for her or her trust in me. I chose to be up front and honest and to deal with it so that the accuser couldn’t step in and drive a wedge in our relationship. The accuser tries to and is rather successful at keeping people far from God. I only hope that we would all open our eyes and realize God is closer than we think. Ask yourself these questions. “Who does God justify through faith? The ungodly! Who did Christ die for? The ungodly! That means those without God. Ungodly. Why does God justify the ungodly? Why did Christ die for the ungodly? Because that’s the only kind of person there was. The clearest message of Jesus and the deepest message of the Bible is “God’s mercy, not our merit.” When it comes to our salvation we are neither saved by our merits nor justified by works. We are justified, declared righteous before God, solely through faith in Jesus Christ because of God’s mercy and Christ’s merit. We walk through this life carrying guilt, fear, shame, and remorse and more importantly a deep longing and desire Just to be Justified. When we put our trust in God Hope rises up from within us! Sin may have spoiled our glory but God’s glory is far greater. We just need to be honest with Him and admit our need for Him. The accuser can’t accuse us of something and hold it over our heads if God already knows about it. We can keep a short account with God. Let’s live our lives by trusting God so much that we don’t give accuser anything ammo. It is God’s mercy, not our merit that puts us in right standing with God. Not only do we need to forgive ourselves we must also be forgiven by God. Many times we are unable to forgive ourselves until we have received God’s forgiveness. Christ gave His life on the cross to take our place. He became our substitute. He took our penalty and punishment. We can’t be good enough to make up for all of the wrong. Christ died to offer you and I a second chance. We have to get past the guilt, fear, shame, and remorse and receive God’s forgiveness. God considers us righteous because of Jesus’ death. So God has forgiven our sin. This means that we will not suffer punishment from God for our sin. Our salvation is complete. We become God’s friends, although we used to be his enemies. This happens through Jesus’ death. God raised Jesus to life. And the result is that we too have a new life (Romans 6:4). Because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Christ’s death satisfies God’s wrath for sin. Christ’s resurrection offers us new life and hope in Christ. Both are reliant on our willingness to come clean with God. When we can shout with joy about the things that God has done for us. God sent Jesus Christ to die on our behalf and to bring us back to Him. Our joy is founded in everything that God has done for us. He has made us his friends. Joy is the inner animation of the soul and it comes from being justified. It comes from having the guilt lifted from us, the absence of fear, the removal of shame, and the forgiveness that melts away remorse and a hope that goes beyond this life. Check out Romans 5:1-11. Be encouraged!