This past Sunday at our monthly board meeting we made an exciting decision. Beginning June 3 we will begin having two Sunday morning services.
One at 8:00 AM and one at 10:30 AM.
We aren’t doing this in order to try to bring a crowd, we are doing this because we cannot house the crowd that the Lord has already brought us! During the process of making this decision many people have expressed their concerns about the varied difficulties that come with the many different which we might structure these services. The bottom line is that we are totally out of space and we have no further options.
Thinking about all of this has renewed my commitment to a few principles that I thought might be helpful for everyone to remember.
1. Nothing Great Is Easy
Whether you search the scriptures or history one thing is clear, anything that touches the entire world is very difficult. Touching the entire world is exactly what we have stated our measure of success to be. Therefore, difficulty is part and parcel to that process.
We are growing in every measurable area of our church. Just this past Sunday we had TWO PAGES of guests! At our new-comers brunch this past Sunday we had 77 people who are now considering this their church home and this is in three months! We had 88 children in Children’s church! God is answering our prayers and our job is to make the difficult decisions and the sacrifices necessary to be good stewards of those blessings.
2. All Growth Requires Change
The addition of a second service is just the first of many changes we will be required to make in order to stay in step with all that God will do through us. Already we are looking into additional buildings in order to house the growth that has and will occur. None of this could have happened without change and in order for us to see it continue more change will occur.
Be assured that myself and all of the leaders of the church, will be diligently praying and seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance about what change we should pursue and what we should avoid. As each of us remains flexible in the Spirit’s hands the necessary change will not only produce growth for the Kingdom of God but in us personally as well!
As many of you are aware we have just completed the first year of doing the Passion Play here at Abundant Life. We had 105 people involved in the production with five performances and about 2500 people in attendance. Hundreds of hours of work went into sets, soundtrack, props, acting, music, publicity and hospitality.
Many times during the years of working on this production I have asked why we do it and if it’s worth all the effort. That question is always answered at the first performance every year. If someone were to poise the question of why we do it to me I know exactly how I would answer. “I Like Seeing It.”
I’ve heard and told the story of the life of Jesus thousands of times. I’ve studied each of the gospel accounts to a degree that I think would put me in a fairly small fraternity. I’ve listened to these gospels many times over on my Ipod as I read along with the narrator. However, there is something about seeing it acted out. I realize that the actor that we have playing the part of Jesus probably does not look at all like Jesus and that our sets aren’t really that accurate to first-century Jerusalem but there is something in the effort. You see for me as the director to give direction on how I believe things looked and how people acted I have to imagine them real. I have to imagine how Jesus interacted with those the scriptures describe.
The magic for me is in construction of the characters. My process is that I take everything I know from the scriptures and everything that I believe the scriptures allude to and weave it together into gestures, attitudes, and priorities that get projected on to the character of Jesus in our play. Might we be missing it to some degree? Absolutely, but the real deal (in the words of Eric Hoffman) is bringing Jesus from the realm of story and fairy tale into the realm of reality in both my mind and the minds of those who see the play.
For me that’s a defining moment in a person’s walk towards eternity-saving faith, that moment when Jesus becomes a real person rather than a character in a story. How about you? Is Jesus real or just part of a story that you heard? Not sure which one describes you? Do a simple test. Do you talk to Jesus? Out loud? Do you go through your days thinking about what he thinks or feels? If not then perhaps He’s still just a part of a story.
He is real and alive and IS thinking about you.
Wow it has been a long time since I have posted something in this blog site. Sorry about the delay but we have been excitedly busy here at the church. We are in full swing passion play preparation mode with sets, props, lights, soundtracks, practices, animals, everything! Not only is the passion play going great but everything here is! Dozens of new families, powerful worship and altar times, amazing times of prayer on Sunday evenings, we are having an amazing time.
Two of the questions that we are constantly asking is why and how. Why are we being favored in this way and how do we not mess it up? It is with a daily sense of wonder that we see and hear the things that God is doing to bless us here at Abundant Life and I think we have discovered the answer to both of those questions as well as stumbling upon how and what we should always strive to be. Let me explain it this way.
Several weeks ago a member of our team related something that happened at their home. Her son who is three likes to crawl into bed with her and her husband. Recently when he did so he remarked in typical three-year-old fashion, “I love ‘da snuggle my family!” Can you feel the warmth and love in that statement? That statement exactly describes the atmosphere that prevails here at Abundant Life. This is a place where our Heavenly Father constantly communicates, “I love ‘da snuggle my family”! This is a place where we are allowed a small sample of what our eternity will be in full.
You see we were never meant to be away from God. In fact we were designed and created to experience the fullness of his presence. However, with the advent of sin mankind lost the blessing of being constantly in the glory and presence of God. Rather than being safe and warm like the parent’s bed of the little boy I referred to, this world became dangerous and hostile to that warmth and love that you and I were designed to always enjoy. It was a tragic loss.
However, Ephesians chapter 1 says that the Holy Spirit is the “earnest of our inheritance”. Earnest used in this way is hardly ever used in our vocabulary today. The only place we use it is in relation to real estate transactions where you give earnest money to secure a future transaction. That’s exactly what’s going on around here.
God is sending the Holy Spirit to “snuggle” his children! This is just a tiny tidbit of what heaven will be in full and people love it! Why? Because they were created to love it! It’s designed into every human being’s emotional, spiritual, and physical DNA. Because people love it, they are drawn to this place where we are enjoying fellowship with our heavenly father as we were created to.
So let me ask you a very serious question. Have you snuggled God yet today?
Currently I am sitting in church on Sunday morning here in Panama. The speaker is from Panama and as such he is preaching in Spanish. While I understand some Spanish much of what he is saying is lost to me. I simply do not speak the same language that he does. While listening to him it occurred to me that perhaps much of what we do as the church is the same to those who are outside of the church. Much of what we do has no meaning to them. Perhaps even the language that we use means nothing to them. This is not because of a decision that they made but rather because of decisions that we made. Much of our church culture has no meaning to them. Because we have heard things like this before, this does not strike us as profound.
What does strikes me as profound is this question. When did it get to be this way? Jesus was absolutely and always relevant to his hearers. The things that he said did not have to be translated in order to be understood. While the full meaning of Jesus’ message took some time for many to realize, all of those that heard him speak were profoundly impacted in some way.
The New Testament church experienced the same impact. While not always accepted, these followers of Jesus were not irrelevant. They were speaking directly to the heart and consciousness of the people’s they were called to. It is precisely this same relevance that we are called to. I believe there is an ever-present need for us as the church to examine our methodologies to insure that we are actually communicating what we think we are communicating. The moment that our language or methods become foreign and as such incomprehensible to our target audience, we have a mandate to change. Should we refuse to do so because of the pain that this change causes us, we have forsaken our biblical mandate.
The challenge for me and you is to not make our meetings fit what we like, but rather seek the leading of the Holy Spirit to direct us to those methods and tools most able to communicate the eternal truth of God’s Word to today’s generations.
Have you ever thought about the balance between law and grace? If you are not familiar with the term law then perhaps rules and grace might be easier. For many years there has been a sort of constant discussion about where a Christian should live in regards to rules and grace. The discussion goes sort of like this.
A person that believes that there are things that a person must do in order to be a Christian would fall into the rules camp. In practice this person would have things that usually have to do with their outward behavior and appearance that they feel are necessary components to their Christianity.
A person that believes that there is nothing they have to do other than truly believe in Jesus would fall into the grace camp. This person almost never has anything external that they feel is necessary for their Christianity to be genuine.
My question is where is the proper balance? Are there things that a Christian cannot do or must do? If grace is all reaching then can a Christian do anything and still go to heaven? In Rob Bells book “Love Wins” he suggests that because of the magnitude of God’s love and grace almost no one or perhaps even no one goes to hell. Which position is the proper one?
I would like to suggest that indeed there are things that a Christian cannot have as a part of their life and that there are things that must be a part of a genuine Christian’s life. However, it is not rules that govern what those things are and how they are expressed. Rather it is grace.
To me love and grace are much greater long-term motivators than is fear. Rules and law are all about fear. Primarily fear of being caught. As a child I always behaved better when my father was around. Why? I feared the punishment that he gave more than the punishment of my mother. Moreover, when both were absent the fear was gone and so was my good behavior. Much more constraining upon my behavior was the love that I learned for my adoptive parents (my aunt and uncle) later in my life. They disciplined me but that discipline came only as needed and was very infrequent when compared to the constant love that they demonstrated. Ultimately I was much more concerned about disappointing people who loved me so greatly than I was concerned about the potential punishment.
It’s the same in my relationship with my heavenly father. Do I fear his punishment? Yes, but not nearly as much as I desire to please and bless him in response to the kindness shown to me by his forgiveness and the love demonstrated by his constant care. It is grace that produces good behavior and prevents bad behavior. It is his love that causes me to guard my mind and my ears and my eyes. As long as I am truly motivated by his love I need never fear his discipline and even in the absence of his physical presence I am still motivated to live and act like a Christian.
Grace always requires more than law. Fall deeper in love with Jesus today and rules become unnecessary.
I have been acutely reminded of the power and necessity of prayer this week. Those of you who read this blog may not be familiar with the fact that here at Abundant Life Community Church we feel called of God to become the very best we can be in two vitally important areas: Discipleship and Prayer. In fact, initially we are linking these two together.
We have begun the process of training 45 disciple makers. As part of that training we have required each of them to identify 8 people with whom they already have relationship but who are not currently Christ-followers. After identifying these eight people they must then begin interceding for these people daily asking God to open a door of communication about spiritual things with one or all of these people. In just one week of praying, the reports are already amazing.
Let me share just two. One of our trainees had a man on his list that did not know the Lord and had never been to our church. After asking the Lord to create an opportunity to talk to this individual about being a Christ follower with the hope of beginning the discipleship journey, the trainee was amazed when the man for whom he had been praying came to our Sunday morning service!
One of our trainee ladies had placed a friend of hers on her list and had begun praying that God would soften her heart and create an opportunity for the beginning of the discipleship journey. This friend called the trainee last night in a crisis and was asking for her counsel and help!
James 5:16 tells us that when a righteous person lifts up prayers that are effective and passionate they make a great difference. Let me give you the guidelines that we are following that I believe is causing these prayers to be answered in such dramatic fashion.
First, we have no doubt that we are moving in a direction that is ordained by the Lord. The prayers we are praying are in exact alignment with what the Lord wants to accomplish and as such we have complete confidence that God will give us what we are praying for. In this particular case its easy to know we are praying the will of the father but what about other areas of prayer that might be less obvious in the scriptures or unique to us?
I believe that the secret is to listen to and be obedient to the voice of the Holy Spirit in the formation and substance of our prayers.
Even before we pray, we are asking the Holy Spirit to direct us in what we pray for and to guide us into God’s will for every situation. Then we simply pray in faith believing that we are inline with God’s will and as such we pray with confidence.
Second, we spend most of our time interceding for the needs of others rather than our own needs. We pray that God’s kingdom would be increased and in the process our needs are met. We “Seek first His kingdom”.
How about you? Are you experiencing the awesome blessing of seeing God use you to bring His Kingdom to earth? I believe you can if you will simply align yourself with God’s desire for people and then begin proactively praying that His kingdom would come to each of these lives and situations.
It’s an amazing adventure! Why not get started praying today?
A few days ago I was confronted with the reality of political correctness once again. Currently our church sign says “We Believe: God is talking and you don’t have to be crazy to hear his voice.” In case you can’t tell, the message is a confirmation that you are NOT crazy if you believe that the voices in your head are God. Anyway, we got an anonymous call saying that we were being insensitive to the 25% of our society that deals with mental illness and that we should change our sign. We are changing the sign today. Not because of this call but rather because we were going to change the sign today.
However, this does pose an interesting question. Were we being insensitive? In fact, I think we were very sensitive. The better question is were we being uncaring? We were both sensitive and caring. What we were not is correct in our presentation according to the current definition of correctness. It is this that I take issue with.
In Matthew 5 Jesus commands that Christians be both salt and light to the world. Salt in the historical context of first century Israel was primarily a preservative. It was used to keep things from spoiling and to keep them edible for longer periods of time pre-refrigeration. Light overwhelmed darkness and revealed things for what they truly were. That’s what we are called to do in our world today. Stepping outside this particular case, I would like to suggest that if we are going to be Christians, then we cannot be something else just because what we are makes someone nervous or uncomfortable. We are called to be accurate examples of Christ regardless of the correctness of those positions in the world’s opinion. While we cannot be insensitive or unkind, some of the things that we must say and be to the world will absolutely run across the grain of the world’s philosophies. When we do that the default reply in today’s world is that we are not being sensitive to viewpoints other than our own.
So here’s the deal as I see it. If you hear non-physical voices telling you to do things people will call you crazy. As Christians, we know that God speaks to us. Therefore…. We Believe: God is talking and you don’t have to be crazy to hear his voice!