A Great Church

My mentor and spiritual dad is Dr. Bob Lemon. He has spoken a lot of things into my life over the years. After a service years ago we were enjoying a meal and he said, “This is a comfortable church.” I knew immediately that this was not a compliment. He was relating that we can get too comfortable where we are, and stop moving ahead to where we need to be.

Later Dr. Lemon challenged us with this statement: “If your church was suddenly gone, would anyone notice?” In other words, are we having any impact on the community around us?

In my mind I’m merging those observations with images from a book I’ve started reading. The premise of the book is that we may be focusing too much energy into being BIGGER, when we should be endeavoring to be BETTER. Bigger is not necessarily better! We shouldn’t be comfortable sitting where we are. We are responsible to have an impact on the community around us. If our focus is primarily on numerical growth, we may not do either of these things well.

Here’s an interesting quote from the book: “Jesus didn’t wake up this morning depressed by the size of your church. You may have; sometimes I still do. But Jesus isn’t worried even a little bit.”

Consider this: in churches of every size, from the mega-church to the house church, there are good and bad, sick and healthy, friendly and unfriendly, etc., etc. Obviously we all want to be good, healthy and friendly. But none of those things are dependent on size. There’s nothing wrong with being big … or small! But no matter what the size, there’s no reason to be a sick, unfriendly congregation.

John Maxwell, among others said, “People don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.” A great church is a caring church. We should not only care about the community around us, but the brothers and sisters in Christ who congregate with us each Sunday. It really is easy to get lost in our own tribulations and totally block out hurting people around us. The good news is that as we care for a wounded brother or sister, our own needs have a way of either being met or not seeming as important.

I guess in all this rambling what I’m saying is let’s focus on excellence. Let’s take the next step – whatever that may be – to live like true disciples of our Lord. While doing that we just may get bigger!

Keep the Switch of Faith Turned On

Have you ever heard or read this expression: “Keep the switch of faith turned on”? I remember it well from my early venture into the message of faith. I think it was while I was a student at RHEMA that David Engles wrote the faith-inspiring song by that title. One of the lines came out of scripture: “Cast not away your confidence.” [So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! 36 Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. Hebrews 10:35, 36 (NLT)] “Confidence” is a force at the basis of this. The word in the original Greek means unreserved in speech; free and fearless confidence; cheerful courage, and assurance. The idea here is that staying confident is our responsibility. We need to be courageously confident in our demeanor and our words, based on what Jesus has accomplished for us.

Over the years I’ve discovered that this type of confidence, this refusal to quit, can’t be sustained by mental grit and determination. It has to emanate from deep inside. It’s a matter of the heart! [Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.]

Let’s take a step back first off. If we’re going to keep the switch turned on, it must first BE turned on! In other words, get established in faith. Faith is explicitly defined in Hebrews 11 as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The only reliable source of this kind of faith is the Bible – the Word of God. How can we possibly trust God without knowing what He said?

Possibly the biggest stumbling block to entering the realm of faith is not knowing God’s will for you. It’s not what you believe He’ll do for a big name minister or a “faith giant.” It’s what you believe He has done for YOU. As long as you entertain the thought that some get left out, you’ll be one who does without. So, how will you know what God’s will is in your case? Only by reading it in His Word and believing what you read.

Here’s a great verse that gives an overview of God’s will for our lives: John 10:10 [Amplified Bible] – The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).

Once we have discovered God’s will, here’s a scripture that comes into play: I Timothy 6:12 – “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” It would be nice if everything just fell into place the first time we felt we were “in faith.” The truth is that, for various reasons, some things require the investment of time. We must grow up spiritually. Our hearts must be repaired. And during this phase many will allow frustration to creep in, even to the extent of either quitting or becoming depressed. This is the time to “keep the switch of faith turned on.” How? Well, allow me to provide some points to ponder.

#1 – focus on what has already been accomplished. Did Jesus die for your sins? Was He bruised for your healing? Is He raised from death and alive forevermore? Does the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from death now live in you? (Romans 8:11)

#2 – watch your mouth. You will believe what you hear yourself say over all others. Stop disagreeing with God’s Word.

#3 – be aware of what has your attention. If the TV news or local newspaper cause anger or fear, eliminate them from your view. Don’t run to some online medical site every time you feel a “pang.” If hanging around a “friend” brings you down, limit your time with them.

#4 – don’t forget that God is on your side. Even if you fail He won’t give up on you, so don’t give up on yourself. Our loving heavenly Father deals with us as a child He prefers. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on.

Writing this has been an encouragement to me. I hope it does the same for you. So, keep the switch of faith turned on!

The Finished Work

Back in the early 70’s I worked for my brother-in-law in aluminum siding. A local company paid us for applying the siding to older homes, hopefully making them look like new. This company wouldn’t release our compensation until the job was completed. On the bigger houses this could take a month or more. As a job was nearing completion, I’d tell my wife, ‘I think we’ll get paid today.’ But invariably we’d finish the day with more work to do. Job not done = no pay.

I relate that story to illustrate this point: our Lord Jesus came to earth with a job to do. The consequences of sin had to be dealt with, once and for all. And the Word of God joyfully reveals that Jesus finished His assignment. Through His death, burial, time in hell and resurrection, Jesus completed the plan of redemption.  The work has been done with nothing more to do. The check is signed in His blood.

What does this mean to you and me? We’re not waiting on God. Prayer isn’t attempting to get God to do something He’s otherwise reluctant to do. We aren’t required to “eek out” a victory over the devil. No good works are necessary to receive answers in prayer. All requests for God’s promises have received a resounding answer: Yes!  The work’s already done. For those who have accepted Jesus’ Lordship, righteousness is ours, health is ours, peace is ours, deliverance is ours, and an abundant life is ours.

Why aren’t we experiencing more of what is already ours? The Bible declares four times, “The just shall live by faith.” We are responsible to believe! And not merely intellectually. We’re to believe in our hearts. Heart belief is at the core of everything we receive in life – good or bad. If we don’t like what we’re receiving, we must check our heart.

But for right now, focus on the finished work. Mankind owed a huge debt that we could never have paid. As Jesus entered heaven and sat on His throne at God’s right hand, He, in effect, handed over a receipt of our bill marked PAID IN FULL!

America’s Pastor Goes Home

I’m sure you’re all aware by now of the passing of Billy Graham this past Wednesday, February 21st. In November he would have turned 100 years old. The bible instructs us to give honor to whom honor is due. This is certainly appropriate when it comes to William Franklin Graham Jr. A biography of his life would require volumes of work. I’m sure that much will be written (and has already been) about this great American icon. I’d just like to add a few thoughts from my perspective.

Billy Graham’s crusades ran on television from 1947 until he retired in 2005. In the early days Christian TV was a rare commodity. With today’s satellite and cable networks we can watch it day and night, but not so back then. I don’t remember watching the crusades, but one incident concerning them stands out. In the summer of 1967 I was working in a dress factory in northeast Pennsylvania. I was wheeling a barrel of scraps through the sewing area when I overheard a conversation between two men. They had viewed a Graham crusade the night before. One man said to the other, “You listen to him and before long you start believing him!” As a true evangelist, Billy had that God-given gift of drawing people to the Light.

If you had ever attended a crusade you would have observed Billy’s gift in operation. He was an anointed speaker, no doubt, but I’m referring to his call to repentance (altar call). He would say something to the effect that it was time to come forward and receive Jesus as Savior. As soon as the words came forth from his lips people would rise to their feet and begin to scramble down the aisles. There was no begging or brow beating. They just came … and came … and kept coming. Who knows how many thousands (millions?) of people came to a saving knowledge of Jesus in the ministry of Billy Graham.

Another marvelous aspect of Billy Graham’s life was his affiliation with American presidents. He was a spiritual advisor for every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. According to Wikipedia, he was particularly close to Dwight D. EisenhowerLyndon B. Johnson (one of Graham’s closest friends), and Richard Nixon. Like Jesus, Billy didn’t take sides politically. Instead he built bridges of communication to all ideologies. He insisted on racial integration for his revivals and crusades at a time when that was not “popular.” In 1953 Billy invited Martin Luther King Jr. to preach along with him at a revival in New York City. Obviously he was a true ambassador of Christ.

Since his death I heard about an interview with Billy Graham where he was asked about entering heaven someday. He said, “All I want is to hear Jesus say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’” There’s no doubt that’s exactly what Jesus said as He welcomed this faithful witness home.

For those of us who remain, Billy Graham’s life and testimony serve as reminders maintain a living communion with God, and to love people unconditionally. We may not have the opportunity to minister to millions as Billy did. But we can live for God in such a way as to influence the family, friends and associates around us. One of those could be the next Billy Graham!