Wednesday, August 3, 2011

13 Characteristics of a Growing Church: Share

I am proud to say that I, Jimmy Mustion, am an only child! Let me tell you being an only child is pretty great. I had all of my parents' attention. I didn't have any sibling rivalry, and I got all the toys at Christmas.

However, my wife would be the first person to tell you that there is one major downfall to being an only child...we never learned to share as a child. Christiana grew up in a family with two sisters. She, Mary, and Gretel were forced to share all their toys. They had to make room for one another in the back seat of the car. They had to take turns watching the movies and TV shows that they wanted to see. Sharing was normal and expected. Not so with me.

I started learning how to share when I went to school. It wasn't normal. It wasn't easy. It still isn't easy. No wonder that our churches have so much trouble sharing...they are full of only children! OK so I am joking a little bit, but it's true. Our churches DO have trouble sharing. It's no wonder that we have trouble growing.


So here's a quick recap of the Characteristics of a Growing Church:
1st Love Genuinely
2nd Hate What is Evil
3rd Cling to What is Good
4th Devoted to One Another
5th Humility
6th Excitement
7th Stability
8th Service
9th Hope
10th Patience
11th Prayer

The 12th characteristic of a growing Church is Sharing.
"Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality." Romans 12:13 NIV

What do you think about when you read, "share with the Lord's people who are in need?" Let me tell you that the first idea that pops into my mind is financial aid given to struggling families. I have worked in churches for thirteen plus years now. I have seen the different people who come into the church office on almost a daily basis asking the church for money. Some of them are legitimately in need and others are trying to abuse the system. It's no wonder that churches are skeptical about helping people.

We had an experience like this in our church a few years ago. One of the youth families was "struggling" and they didn't have the money to pay the registration fee for the youth mission trip. They did the right thing. They came to the church staff seeking help. We willingly gave their child a scholarship for the full amount of the trip. Directly after leaving the church the family went out to eat at Red Lobster. There's something wrong with that picture. Does that mean that we should stop sharing with them if we are able to help them? No.

What?! They obviously abused the system! If they didn't have the $100 for mission trip then how did they have the money for Red Lobster! Yeah, it's wrong. They shouldn't have done it. Still, God doesn't tell us that we are to be the judge and jury on every single person coming to us for help. He simply tells us to share with those in need and as far as we knew (at the time) the family was genuinely in need. God is the judge. He will deal with our dishonesty. It's our job to share. So let's get to it!

Ok, so you are like us and you don't have money. Does that mean you get off the hook and you don't have to share? Absolutely not! Acutally it will be hard for you because your sharing will be more personal. Instead of cutting a check, God is calling you to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.

Your sharing might be taking someone to the airport if they need a ride. Or maybe a family in your church needs help moving and you are able and available. Or you might share your time by volunteering at a local food pantry. Who knows?! That's between you and God to figure out! Just get to sharing!

Share your time, your money, and yourself with those in your church and your community who are in need. Stop being selfish and skeptical. Just SHARE like God has called you to and you will be truly blessed and our churches will begin to grow again.

Monday, August 1, 2011

13 Characteristics of a Growing Church: Prayer

Busy busy busy. It's amazing how quickly an hour, a day, a week, a month, and even a year can go by. Sometimes it seems that you blink and you miss it all.

When my life gets busy and hectic like that I have to make sacrifices. I have to give up things that I would normally do to accomodate things that I now feel that I have to do. The real temptation there is to sacrifice the "God Things" in my life for the "Jimmy Things." It is so easy to sit down and play two hours of Xbox 360 than to spend 10 minutes reading my Bible and 10 minutes in prayer. I find that I have to make a concious decision to keep God and the "God Things" a priority in my life. If I don't then I will skip them. I will miss out on a blessing and my spiritual growth will be stunted if I continue skipping my prayer time. That's why what we are talking about today is SO important!

So here's a quick recap of the Characteristics of a Growing Church:
1st Love Genuinely
2nd Hate What is Evil
3rd Cling to What is Good
4th Devoted to One Another
5th Humility
6th Excitement
7th Stability
8th Service
9th Hope
10th Patience

The 11th characteristic of a growing Church is Faithful in Prayer.
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12 NIV

There it is in black and white...prayer is important. As Christians and as a church we are called to be faithful in prayer. So what does it mean to be faithful?

Faithful (def):
  1. strict or thorough in the performance of duty: a faithful worker.
  2. true to one's word, promises, vows, etc.
  3. steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant: faithful friends.
  4. reliable, trusted, or believed.

I believe that all of these different aspects and definitions of faithfulness are important. However, I want to focus on #2 & #3 because this is the type of faithfulness being addressed in Romans 12:12.

When you are faithful in prayer you consistently spend time in prayer on a daily basis. You are praying everyday--even multiple times a day--missing your prayer time isnt' an option. You make prayer a priority and you stick to that standard in your life. Prayer becomes as much a part of you as your name or your eye color. It is important to you and it is a part of you.

When you are faithful in prayer others can be sure that you will pray for them. When I think about someone in my church and my life that is faithful in prayer I think about Ms. Edna. Edna is a senior adult in our church who I call on a regular basis with prayer requests. Why do I call Edna? I know that if I call Edna she will actually pray for Christiana and me. Her prayer habits are consistent and reliable. I know that if she tells me, "I will pray for you" she isn't going to get busy and forget and she isn't goign to push it off on the back burner. She will actually pray. Edna is faithful in prayer.

So I asked myself, what can I do to be more like Edna? How can I become more faithful in prayer? Here's what I came up with:

  1. Set a specific time
  2. Keep a list of specific things that I need to pray about
  3. Pray first. Make the decision that I am not going to do any of the "Jimmy Things" on my list until after I spend time in prayer.

Being faithful in prayer is hard and it's a choice. Choose to pray today!

More Resources:
  • "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thess 5:16-18
  • "Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found;
    surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them." Psalm 32:6
  • “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

13 Characteristics of a Growing Church: Patience

Bad days happen. It's the truth, and it's a fact of life. We all have bad days. We all go through our own unique set of trials in life. We each suffer in our own way. Something that might be particularly trying for me--like going without air conditioning--might be no big deal for you. However, we all go through stuff in our lives.

We all have days like today where we just want to rip our hair out or throw ourselves down on the bed and cry until we can't possibly cry anymore. I know that in the week or so that we have been home from mission trip things have been trying for me and I have felt my own personal brand of suffering. People in the church just don't understand why the youth minister can't force the teenagers to come to church. I can encourage them and plan events that are exciting and hope to draw them in but I can't physically force them to come to church and sit through a worship service that may or may not appeal to them. I can't tell you how many times I have heard people say, "Where are the youth?" since we have been home. I don't know why but the first couple of weeks after mission trip are always the worst as far as youth attendance at church. I try my best to be patient but it isn't easy. I know this attendance slump will end and I won't have to hear the grumblings again until after mission trip next year but that doesn't make it much easier. So what should I do? That's what we are going to talk about today.

So here's a quick recap of the Characteristics of a Growing Church:
1st Love Genuinely
2nd Hate What is Evil
3rd Cling to What is Good
4th Devoted to One Another
5th Humility
6th Excitement
7th Stability
8th Service
9th Hope

The 10th characteristic of a growing Church is Patience in Affliction.
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12 NIV

Ok, so I realize that listening to people complain because our youth group church attendance isn't as high as they like it isn't the most "afflicted" thing that people are dealing with out in the world, but it is an example that I can relate to right now. So like I said before, what should I do?

I think that Romans 12:12 makes it pretty clear that we are to be patient. Patience isn't really one of my strongest virtues. How about you? Things can get pretty rough. Life can be overwhelmingly hard. The last thing we want to do is be patient and the first thing that we want to do is panic, but we can't do that. To make a snap decision or change or to simply pack it up and move because things got hard is not necessarily God's will for you or me or our churches. God wants us to be patient as we go through these hard times and to trust Him to see us through. It's a tough thing to do. Fortunately, God never promised us that life as a Christian or as a church was going to be easy so we can't feel like He's been deceiving us on that one.

There's a reason that God tells us to trust in Him and not in OUR understandings (Proverbs 3:5-6). Basically the reason is because we CAN'T understand it. Our nature is not to be patient when we are going through something that is hard. We want a quick and easy fix that is going to make life easier! That's the whole reason that the "Easy Button" campaign for Staples works so well. We want things to go our way and we want it to go our way fast.

However, there are times in our lives that we need to go through affliction and suffering. In Romans 5:3-5 it says, "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." God uses the struggles and hard things in our lives and our churches to develop important characteristics in us. Without those times as reference points in our lives, how can we really enjoy and appreciate the great and amazing things that He does for us? I know it's hard, but this week I encourage you to try and be patient with whatever struggles you are going through. Look for God and for His bigger picture, and I will try to do the same.

More Resources:

Monday, July 25, 2011

13 Characteristics of a Growing Church: Hope

Hopes and dreams...our lives are full of them. We dream about the person that we are going to marry. We hope we will have children. We dream about the job that is going to make us happy and hopefully pay us well. We dream about going on the vacation of a lifetime. We hope to get that new car that is going to be oh so perfect for us.

These dreams push us to reach for something that is better and further than we are right now. They give us hope for the future, and they keep us going. If our hopes and dreams can do that for our personal lives then why can't they do the same for our churches?

So here's a quick recap of the Characteristics of a Growing Church:
1st Love Genuinely
2nd Hate What is Evil
3rd Cling to What is Good
4th Devoted to One Another
5th Humility
6th Excitement
7th Stability
8th Service

The 9th characteristic of a growing Church is Hope.
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12 NIV

The lack of joyful hope in our churches makes me more than a little heartsick. Without joy and hope our churches die. They stop dreaming and making plans for the future. Without hope you begin to think that things can never be any better than they are right now so why bother. We stop dreaming about creating new programs, reaching new people, and bringing Christ to new areas. We get stagnant.

My wife, Christiana, works at a local baptist children's home. She works in their Public Relations department and works with the churches all the time. One of her main responsibility is managing promotional materials sent to the churches and the mailing list for those supplies. The other day she was telling me how depressing it was that she had just received phone calls from three separate churches who asked to be removed from the mailing list because the churches were closing their doors. What went wrong? Why are our churches dying?

I think it is in part because we have lost hope. We are too stuck in our rut of how we have always done things and we worry so much about our finances that we forget what is really important. We stop focusing on God. We stop reaching people and we start losing hope and getting depressed. Finally, we decide that it's just not worth the trouble anymore and people aren't coming anymore anyway so we close the doors. That's why our churches are dying.

It's time that we stopped worrying and started to hope and dream again! Something new is bound to surface. Something great is on the horizon. God can do anything in our churches! We have hope. We should be joyful in that. But it's a conscious choice that we have to choose to make everday. It isn't easy. It's going to be hard work, but I think it's going to be worth it. Don't you?

More Resources:
  • "Love the LORD, all his faithful people! The LORD preserves those who are true to him, but the proud he pays back in full. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD." Psalm 31:23-24
  • "We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name." Psalm 33:20-21
  • "Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:30-31
  • "We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized." Hebrews 6:11

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mission Trip 2011: Kansas City

In case you haven't already heard me say it...our mission trip this year was to Kansas City, MO.

**UPDATE: I am coming back to add this link as promised. Here is a link to Christiana's Mission Trip Blog Post**

We are now about half way through the week, and things have been a little bit crazy as mision trips can tend to be. We are doing a lot of great work and lives are getting touched--both in the community and in our groups. As I was thinking about it I realized that this year our group is different than any other group we have taken from Villebrook in the last four years. Not only is the group smaller it is also closer knit, has a lot less drama, and a lot more new believers. It has been an interesting experience to watch how they have responded.

Phil and Kody with the 2lb Rice Krispie Treat that Kody
bought for himself during our drive to Kansas City, MO.

So if you read my last post you probably remember me mentioning a guy named Kody. Well not only is Kody a young believer and an amazing young man...today is also Kody's birthday. Yeah, we sang to him and people wished him happy birthday but I am sure that it was nothing like he would have had at home, but he came on mission trip anyway. Then the "icing on the cake" (ha ha) was that Kody and Phil were working at their service projects today shoveling out a basement where a sewage pipe had burst and left a royal mess. The amazing thing is that I didn't hear him complain once!

I know that too many times in my life I have been focused on my "sacrifices" or the circumstances that I am in and I miss what God is trying to get me to do. I think that I can say with very little doubt that Kody didn't miss it. Kody was right in the middle of it, serving and showing others the love of Christ today.

I know that God is going to use Kody's testimony to touch peoples' hearts and I personally can't wait to see what the other half of the week has yet to bring to us.

Monday, July 18, 2011

13 Characteristics of a Growing Church: Service

This week couldn't have been more perfect if I had actually planned it this way--which I didn't! So here we are in Kansas City, Missouri, on mission trip and today we are going to be talking about Serving the Lord! Let's just say that God blows my mind. I want to stop and praise the Lord a little bit before we jump in. Praise God that our car made it hear without issue after all the problems we had with our fuel system last week. Praise God that we all made it to Kansas City safely (despite the car problems some of the other teams suffered). And praise God for this opportunity to serve! Just so you know, I am probably going to take a break from this series on Wednesday and write a little ditty about mission trip, and I will be sure to post links if Christiana writes anything although I think she is waiting until we get home. So anyway, let's talk about serving God!

So here's a quick recap of the Characteristics of a Growing Church:
1st Love Genuinely
2nd Hate What is Evil
3rd Cling to What is Good
4th Devoted to One Another
5th Humility
6th Excitement
7th Stability

The 8th characteristic of a growing Church is Service.
"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." Romans 12:11 NIV

I don't know about you but I think that Americans are really spoiled. For the most part our country is really great and we have a lot of freedoms--including religious ones. Just the fact that I can have a blog that's all about God and the things that He is teaching me and how I try to serve Him is a privilege that I often take for granted but others around the world would die for. I can go around and scream "I LOVE JESUS!!!" and all I will get are a few stares or some harsh words. Others could literally die for that. Then why aren't we as Americans taking advantage of our freedom to proclaim God and using it to serve Him? I personally think it's because we are lazy and we are worried about what our friends will think of us being "Jesus Freaks".

On Friday night I was really encouraged by one of our students. Planning for this mission trip has been difficult and there were a few times that we thought about calling it off completely. No one seemed to be excited about going to Kansas City to share Christ and to serve Him in 100+ degree heat. So I had some really mixed feelings about how things were going to turn out. Then Friday night came and so did Kody.

Kody is a new believer. This is His first ever mission trip, and He's still figuring out the whole Christian thing. Well Kody was supposed to come to our house at 9pm on Friday so that he and Scott could help us load stuff into our van bright and early Saturday morning. Kody got to our house at 8pm. His smile was beaming and his excitement was contagious. In fact, he was so excited about mission trip and coming over to help load stuff that he forgot half of his mission trip supplies including a sleeping bag, towel, pillow, water bottle, and Bible. I just laughed and was thankful that my wife keeps a stock of a few extra hospitality items. So Kody and I talked about how excited he was about mission trip while Christiana pulled out our extra sleeping bag, water, towels, Bible, and other items Kody needed.

I look forward to see if Kody's excitement continues as he serves God this week. Kody helped to remind me that a church that is focused on missions is a church that is focused on Christ. After all, Jesus' last instructions to His disciples were to go and tell all people about Him (Matt. 28:19-20). Why would they call it the Great Commission if it wasn't important? We constantly need to be serving not only other Christians but also anyone who comes in contact with the church and with us as Christians.

Serving wasn't a suggestion or just some great idea. It was a command. Go! Missions is one of the most obvious ways that we can serve God, but there are many other ways as well. Just because you can't get off work for a week to serve God in Kansas City or elsewhere doesn't mean that you get a free pass from serving. Find a need in your church or your community and meet it. You can do that. I know you can!

More Resources:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

13 Characteristics of a Growing Church: Stability

If you have ever been inside the church walls for more than a few hours then there's a pretty good chance that you have heard someone talk about burnout. Why is that? Too often we as Christians and church members get too busy and too over-committed to doing stuff. All the stuff--even good stuff--can pull you away from God and from the fire of your faith. Therefore you get tired and you simply have nothing left to give. That's when you experience spiritual "burn out". You literally lose your spiritual fire and your desire to serve God. Today we are going to talk about keeping that fire (spiritual fervor) burning strong.

So here's a quick recap of the Characteristics of a Growing Church:
1st Love Genuinely
2nd Hate What is Evil
3rd Cling to What is Good
4th Devoted to One Another
5th Humility
6th Excitement

The 7th characteristic of a growing Church is Stability.
"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." Romans 12:11 NIV

Think back to what I was just saying when I talked about spiritual burnout. Picture this... if you taken a hug glowing ember from a fire it is bright and white hot, but the longer it stays out of the fire the colder and dimmer it becomes. It's the same with us. You have to keep yourself in the fire if you are going to "keep your spiritual fervor". I'm going to call this stability.

Stability is all about being stable. You aren't up and down like a rollercoaster. You aren't in and out of church on a whim. You are doing everything you can to be consisten and consistently remain in Christ. As Christians, we are our own worst enemies when it comes to stability. We let our emotions keep us angry with our Christian brother or sister so we will skip church so that we don't have to see them. Or maybe we have allowed ourselves to be drawn into too many different ministries or areas of service and now we are angry and bitter toward the church or just plain numb.

If we are going to be stable Christians who can keep our spiritual fire and passion for God then we are going to have to start by taking care of ourselves. Fires that aren't fed die. You can't stay on fire for Christ if you aren't spending time with Him on a daily basis! No exceptions! You have to fan that love for Jesus and feed it with the Word and prayer. By not doing your quiet times you are pulling yourself away from the spiritual fire (Christ). The same goes for church--be there! Other Christians are meant to build us up and encourage us. You don't have to go to church and be fake. You should be real and honest. I know that sometimes that can be really painful and people don't always understand but some of them will. Then you will be surprised in the ways that God uses those understanding individuals to meet your needs and it's all because you were real. Lastly, learn how to say "No!" By all means, if you feel like God is calling you to serve in a certain area then do it, but a need does not necessitate a call. Just because there isn't a pre-school Sunday School teacher doesn't mean that you should be the one to take it over--especially if you already have a lot on your plate. Pray about it. If God says, "serve" then serve. If not then leave the opportunity open for the person God is calling to fill it.

More Resources:

Monday, July 11, 2011

13 Characteristics of a Growing Church: Excitement!

What does your calendar look like right now? What are you looking forward to doing? Maybe you have a special vacation planned or a friend who you are going to go see. Right now I am looking at my calendar and I see one BIG thing...Mission Trip! There is a whole 8 days blocked off for our mission trip to Kansas City, Missouri (and that doesn't even count prep time!). If you are interested in some more of the specifics about our trip, feel free to read Busy Week (written by my wife) which talks more about our trip. Anyway... I am excited about mission trip! If you can't tell, today we are talking about EXCITEMENT!

So here's a quick recap of the Characteristics of a Growing Church:
1st Love Genuinely
2nd Hate What is Evil
3rd Cling to What is Good
4th Devoted to One Another
5th Humility

The 6th characteristic of a growing Church is Excitement.
"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." Romans 12:11 NIV

OK, I have said over and over that we are going to be talking about excitement but the verse above says "never be lacking in zeal" so I think that we should pause just a moment to talk about what zeal means.

According to Dictionary.com, Zeal is "fervor for a person, cause, or object; eager desire or endeavor; enthusiastic diligence; ardor." So some of these words are starting to sound familiar...enthusiastic...you know enthusiasm, but really who uses words like ardor? So the next best place we can check out is the thesaurus. I know, it's almost like school. However, these can be really great tools. Now we are really finding some words I think that we can all relate to: passion, fire, instensity, drive, and enthusiasm.

What makes you excited about church? About Christ? Whatever you can find to be passionate about in regards to church is where you should try to get involved. Are you excited about the little snot nosed preschoolers? Volunteer to help in the nursery! Maybe you love nothing better than a good, hard math problem...you should check out the budget and finance committees.

Don't let your excitement go to waste. Use it! If you don't then you will be like all the other dead beat Christians who are warming a pew and wasting their God given talents, abilities, and excitement! God gave you the talents and excitement you have for a reason. You just have to learn how to use them.

More Resources:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

13 Characteristics of a Growing Church: Humility

I bet you know this person...everyone does. They always think that their ideas are the best. They know what is going to best for everyone, especially themself. They even have to top your stories because they know or have experienced more than you. You couldn't possibly be in pain because they are hurting more than you. All in all it's just about THEM. Conciously or not they are putting themselves ahead of every other person on the planet. That attitude isn't good for a friendship, a relationship, or a church. In fact, today we are going to talk about the exact opposite--humility!

So here's a quick recap of the Characteristics of a Growing Church:
1st Love Genuinely
2nd Hate What is Evil
3rd Cling to What is Good
4th Devoted to One Another

The 5th characteristic of a growing Church is Humility.
"Honor one another above yourselves." Romans 12:10b NIV

Too many times we get this false picture of humility stuck in our heads. We either equate humility with weakness and allowing ourselves to be walked all over or we think of false humility where we put ourselves down all the time and belittle our talents and strengths so that we actually draw more attention to those attributes. Neither of these ideas are a true picture of Biblical humility. So what is?

According to Romans 12:10, Biblical humility is the ability to honor others above yourself. That means putting others first. I do like how The Message words it when it says that we are to "practice playing second fiddle." When we are truly humble it isn't all about us, which allows it to be all about Christ and those around us.

In Proverbs 22:4 it says, "Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honor and life." There are two things I want us to get out of this #1 we are humble when we put God in His proper place in our lives and #2 our humility and obedience to God are rewarded and honored. In an ironic way, true humility is one of the most beneficial things that anyone could do for themselves.

When we are truly humble and allowing God His rightful rule in our lives then we will want to serve others and put them first. Jesus was the ultimate example of godly humility. Even though He was fully God He came down to earth and became fully man. He put our needs so far above His own that the Bible says He humbled himself and became obedient to death on the cross (Phil.2:6-8). He didn't have to do it. No one made Him. He simply put our eternal needs above His own physical well being. That's a humbling thought.

What can you do to be humble and put other's needs above your own?

More Resources:

Monday, July 4, 2011

13 Characteristics of a Growing Church: Devoted

As the phone rang for the fifteenth million time today, I groaned and reached for the receiver. I don't know about you but my family is pretty messed up, and I don't always jump at the opportunity to be sucked into that drama. However, they are still my family and they will always be my family. No matter where we are or what we have done or not done in our lives, we will always have one another. I thought about that today as I picked up that phone to talk to my dad, and it goes along perfectly with the characteristic of a growing church that we will be talking about today.

So here's a quick recap of the Characteristics of a Growing Church:
1st Love Genuinely
2nd Hate What is Evil
3rd Cling to What is Good

The 4th characteristic of a growing is Church is Devotion.
"Be devoted to one another in brotherly love;" Romans 12:10a NASB

So what does it mean to be devoted? According to Dictionary.com devotion is defined as "zealous or ardent in attachment, loyalty, or affection." When you are devoted to something or someone you are zealous (passionate) about it/them. You won't easily let it/them go. You cling to it/them like family.

I know that some families aren't like this, but in my family there was never anything that you could do to be kicked out. That's what a growing church is like. We should cling to one another like family. That doesn't mean letting everyone get away with everything or to continue sinning. What it does mean that as a family we should confront those sins and help our brothers and sisters turn from those things in their lives. Why not minister to the one who is struggling with their sins and addictions instead of shunning them because they aren't as righteous or holy as we see ourselves to be?

In families we see the good, the bad, and the really, really ugly in our family members. Still we love one another. Still we accept one another. Why can't our churches be like that? Why do we shun the young mother who had sex outside of marriage even after she has repented of her sin? Why do we treat people that honestly want help overcoming their porn addictions like they are lepers instead of offering love and healing?

That's not how Jesus operated. He didn't shun people. He didn't act better than them. He went to them and accepted them as children of God. He showed them unconditional love and healing. He turned them from their sins by welcoming them into HIS family. A growing church is a family.

We are the family of God.

Isn't it time that we started acting like it?

More Resources:

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

13 Characteristics of a Growing Church: Cling to Good

I am constantly amazed at the shear quantity of horrible and stressful things that happen in the lives and ministry of those in the church--and it all happens in the name of God and ministry. Over the past few months I have had a youth ministry friend who has struggled with finding joy in his ministry and his church. Things are piling up all around him and the stress in mounting. Students are flaking on responsibilities while he is given new responsibilities almost daily. He is frustrated and overwhelmed and doesn't know what he should. Today we are going to talk about clinging to what is good. That is my friend's hope right now. He must cling to what is good for it is just as vital in a growing personal relationship with Christ as it is in a growing Church.

So here's a quick recap of the Characteristics of a Growing Church:
1st Love Genuinely
2nd Hate What is Evil

The 3rd characteristic of a growing Church is to Cling to What is Good.
"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." Romans 12:9

There are several different ways that this verse is translated. I love what the ESV says...hold fast. When you cling to something or hold fast to it you basically have a death grip on whatever you are clinging to or holding on to. The key word here is "good". It won't do anything for you or for your church if you are clinging to your bitterness or anger or a dead program. You have to hold fast to what is good.

This same phrase is used in Psalm 63:8 when it says, "I cling to you; your right hand upholds me." Here the psalmist is talking about clinging to the ultimate good which is God. If we are going to have growing Christian lives and churchs then we should cling to God and His will for us and our church. Clinging to God means that sometimes we must let go of the other things that we have been holding on to for so long. Psalm 31:6 says, "I hate those who cling to worthless idols; as for me, I trust in the LORD."

The things that we are holding on to can be good in nature but if we are desperately holding on to them when God is telling us to let them go then they are what the verse calls "worthless idols" and they get in the way of holding on to God. These things that were "good" are now stumbling blocks in our growth and in our walk with Christ. Sadly that is what is wrong with many of our churches. We are dying because we are too busy holding on to the "good" things that we have always done instead of holding on to God. Sometimes we must let go of our ideas of what is good and our traditions so that we have our hands free to hold on to God.

More Resources:

Monday, June 27, 2011

13 Characteristics of a Growing Church: Hate Evil

Too many times as Christians we belive that we are better than other people or maybe we go too far to the other extreme that we always show love but we never stop to preach the truth of the gospel. Very rarely does God call us to live in either of these extremes. God is a god of balance and order. He doesn't want us to throw the baby out with the bath water but neither does He want us to allow wolves to live among our sheep. Last time, we talked about Love being the 1st Characteristic of a Growing Church. Today we will talk about the 2nd characteristic.

The 2nd characteristic of a growing Church is to Hate what is Evil.
"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." Romans 12:9

Love and hate are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. They are--by their very natures--opposites. How can we love and hate at the same time? I think in this particular case it's pretty easy because God is telling us the same thing in two different ways. First He told us to have a genuine and accepting love for the people in our lives. Now He goes further to tell us to hate what is evil. We are to accept the sinner but NOT the sin.

This all goes back to what I was saying last time about meeting people where they are, loving them and meeting their needs, and then pointing them to Christ. At the end of the last Bible study I included a clip of Jesus meeting the woman at the well (John 4). Jesus knew before everything about this woman before she even approached. Instead of shunning her He talked to her and met her need. He took the time to tell her about the water of life. He didn't hate this woman, but He did hate the sin that He knew she was living in. After showing her love through his time and conversation then He pointed to the sin that she needed to get out her life.

Jesus showed the same love for a sinner and hate for sin when He had his feet washed by the woman who washed His feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50). There are so many other examples in the Bible of this love for people and the hate of sin. I know that as people we often fall short of Jesus' example but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't at least try.

This week...meet people where they are, love them unconditionally, and point them away from their sin and to Jesus.



More Resources:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

13 Characteristics of a Growing Church: Love

This week I have been prepping to preach the Sunday morning and Sunday night services at Villebrook Baptist Church while my pastor recovers from surgery. While I was studying and praying, God laid it on my heart that I should talk about characteristics of a growing church as laid out in Romans. I don't want to give everything away before I preach but I will give you the first point in my 13 point sermon and then for the sake of attention spans, I will break the other 12 points out over the next few weeks. Hope that sounds good to you because that's the plan...so here you go...the sneak preview of my GIANT HUGE 13 Point Sermon...

The 1st Characteristic of a Growing Church is Love.
"Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good." Romans 12:9

In the English language, the word love is tossed about WAY to easily! We love pizza. We love going to the movies. We love our favorite sports team--Go Cards! But what does it mean to have a genuine love?

I don't want to go into a ton of detail here about all the different words for love in the Greek language (For more about the 4 Greek Words for Love, Click here to visit my wife's blog). Basically, unlike English the Greek language has several different words for love and each of these words have a unique meaning and usage. The word translated here as "love" is the Greek word "agape". Agape is an unconditionally, Christ-like love.

According to Romans 12:9 a growing church should have a genuine Christ-like, unconditional love. That means that we really have to love people where they are. We can't say "I love and accept you" with out mouths and let our actions show them differently. If you do you can gaurantee that those people will not bother coming to your church again. We are to hate the sin and love the sinner (Jude 1:22-24). When Christ was reaching out to people around Him, He didn't tell them how awful they were or how bad their lifestyle was. First, He met their need and showed them love. Then He told them to turn from their sins and from their ungodly lifestyle and they did.

That's what it means to have a Christ-like love!

A growing church meets sinners (every single one of us) where they are, shows them the unconditional love of Christ, and then through that love and relationship points them to Christ!

More Resources:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Peacekeepers

This morning I was thinking about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I don't know if you have read the books or not. Over the holidays, Christiana and I listened to them on audiobook while we travelled back and forth spending time with our families. It was odd to think about it this morning though. I guess was sparked my thought process was my dwelling on a recent conversation I had about keeping the peace. Then I thought we are the Peacekeepers in the church.

Much like the Peacekeepers in Collins' novel, we are often fake and we only promote a false sense of "peace". We turn a blind eye to what is really going on around us because it is convenient for us to allow the behavior to go "unnoticed" so we don't have to say anything about it. Or we are too busy with our own agendas to have anything to do with it.

Don't get me wrong. Keeping the peace isn't about trying to watch everyone and make sure that they are towing the line or whatever other cliche you want to use. I actually think that there were times where simply letting things go does keep the peace. Just like how the Peacekeepers continued to allow Gale and Katniss to poach because it filled their bellies and provided for Gale and Katniss' families. That's really as far as that analogy goes though and I know it isn't perfect by a long shot.

But what I am getting at is that there is a right and wrong way to keep the peace in a church.

In Ephesians 4:3 God tells us to "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." What exactly does that mean?

I believe that in order to keep unity and peace in the church sometimes we have to swallow our pride and not say the things we really want to--even if they are absolute truth! Sometimes it is better to remain silent (Prov. 17:28). Does that mean that you let everyone walk all over you? No way! What it does mean is using wisdom and discernment when choosing when to speak and what to say and how to say it. I know this is really as clear as mud. For that I truly apologize. It's just so hard to get this out right.

Often keeping the peace relies on our ability to value others more than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). Ask yourself, "If I am brutely honest will I do more harm than good? Am I telling them this to build them up or to tear them down or to cause trouble? What are my motives?" I believe when we take time to stop and consider things then we are doing our best to maintain peace and unity.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Xtreme Makeover

This week is our annual Vacation Bible School at Villebrook Baptist Church. For the last two years, we have been coming up with our own themes and writing our own curriculm. This year we are doing Xtreme Makeover.

In the Bible, there are many stories of people who God took ahold of their lives and flipped them a complete 180. Just think about it...



Abram
  • childless man
  • No hope for an heir from his wife Sarai
  • Doesn't know God

 becomes...

Abraham
  • Follower of God
  • Given the son God promised him thru Sarai/Sarah(Isaac)
  • Becomes the Father of all Jewish people

Esther
  • Poor Jewish girl
  • Living in captivity

 becomes...

Queen Esther
  • Queen of all Persia
  • Used by God to save the Jewish people

Saul
  • Kills Christians for a living
  • Does everything he can to stop the spread of the Story of Jesus

 becomes...

Paul
  • One of the greatest missionaries of all time
  • Spreads the gospel of Jesus and strengthens the church
  • Ultimately gives his own life for serving Christ

I look at these people and it gives me hope. If God can defy nature and give Abraham a son and he can use a murdered like Saul who persecuted the church to reach people for Himself, then surely he can use me too. We all have areas in our lives where God is calling us to do a 180. He wants us to allow Him to give us an Xtreme Makeover. He wants to be the builder and perfector of our faith.

Think About It:
  • What areas in your life does God need to change?
  • Are you willing to let God come in and tear those areas apart so that He can make them beautiful and useful?
  • Are you ready to let God give you an Xtreme Makeover?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Check Your Hearing!: Seeking God's Will Part 4

This is Part Four of a series called Seeking God's Will. If you are new to this series, I suggest you read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three before reading this post.

I was watching TV this week and I was struck by a commercial that I have seen about a million times. There's a good chance that you have seen it too. It's AT&T's "Hey Marcel!" U-verse commercial. Poor Marcel, he's sitting there trying to watch his show and all the other shows are literally screaming for his attention. The premise of this commercial is that you don't have to choose who to listen too because you can view multiple channels at one time so you don't miss a thing. I've included it below.



What jumped out at me wasn't that this is a great commercial, but how true it is that we have so many things in our lives that are screaming for our attention. They want to be heard and they will make their presence known. Last week we talked about hearing God, but how can you be sure that you are really hearing God when there are so many other voices calling out for your attention? That's what I want to talk about today.

I call this "Check Your Hearing". What I mean by that is that the third and often most vital step in seeking God's will for your life, is checking that you are hearing God correctly when He speaks to you.

How to Check that You are Hearing God Correctly:
Checking what you are hearing from God is called using discernment (to perceive by the sight or some other sense or by the intellect; see, recognize, or apprehend). There are a couple of ways that you can discern whether what you are really hearing is from God, and I recommend using more than one.
  • Reading Scripture
  • Talking to Older Christian friends and mentors (it's best if you talk to more than one person even)
  • Circumstances in your life
  • What you feel God is telling you through time in prayer
These items are in no specific order, and all of these things are important. Any one or two of these things by themselves can be skewed--Oh! there was an ad about a car sale in the paper today...God must want me to buy a car! I think you better stop and look at some other things going on before you rush out and sign those papers. The more of these things that come into line, the more sure you can be that you are truly hearing and seeking God's will for you.

Most importantly, take the time to find out what God is really saying and what is really going on. Very rarely does God lead us into the biggest decisions in our lives on the spur of the moment or a mere whim. God is a god of order. He has a plan and He has known it from the very beginning. He has been using the circumstances over the course of your whole life to prepare you for where you are right now. He isn't just going to throw things at you blindly.

Questions to Ask Yourself:
  • What am I learning from God's Word about this situation?
  • What do I feel like God is telling me when I pray?
  • What are the older Christians in my life telling me about this situation/decision?
  • Have there been any circumstances in my life that have confirmed what I have been learning in scripture and what I have been hearing in prayer and what my Christian mentors are saying to me?
  • Have a really prayed about this?
If you can answer "Yes" to all of these questions then you are on the right track to Seeking God's Will for your life!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Listen to God: Seeking God's Will Part 3

If you didn't read the title, this is Part 3 of a series about Seeking God's Will. I highly recommend that you read Part 1 and Part 2 before continuing on in this post.

So anyway, I don't know about you but I have had a really crazy last couple of days! The long and short of everything that is going on right now is that on Monday somone vanadlized our neighbor's dryer and stole our fabric softener, and this morning my wife found our fabric softener in the gas tank of our minivan. Sounds like great fun doesn't it! It's in these crazy times that it can really be hard to hear God. We are too busy being distracted and overwhelmed by all the things happening around us and to us to take the time to really talk to God and listen to God. That's what we are going to talk about today.

Step Two: Listen to God
"The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them."
Ralph Nichols
I think this quote also applies to God. The best way to get to know God and His will for your life is to take the time to listen to Him. If you are too busy talking you will never be able to hear the answers that God is trying to give to you. Psalm 46:10 reads, "[God] says, 'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'" The best way to listen to God is to "be still". Listen for what God lays upon your heart. Wait to see if God gives you an idea. Stop talking!

Quick Review:
Step One - Talk to God
Step Two - Listen to God

Next week we are going to talk about how you can make sure that what you are hearing is coming from God.

Listening to God Resources:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Talk to God: Seeking God's Will Part 2

Normally I am not really one for doing series but lately it seems that I just have so much to say and I know I have to break it up or no one is ever going to read it all. I laughed a little when I thought about it because it made me feel like I should come with a packing slip Jimmy box 1 of ???. Anyway, random but just couldn't resist sharing. So like I said this is a continuation of the previous Seeking God's Will posts. If you are just now reading I suggest that you start with Seeking God's Will: Part 1.

In part one, we learned that seeking God's will is really all about seeking God. You can't find God's will for your life if you don't know God. Seeking God and hearing Him speak is not a formula. A + B doesn't equal a miraculously clear word from God--I wish it did. It would make life so much easier! However, there are some simple steps that will lead you down the right path toward finding God and His will for your life. Today we are going to talk about the first step in seeking God's will.

Step One: Talk to God
I really hope that this seems like a no brainer to you. Duh, to get to know God we should talk to Him through prayer. Prayer is basic but it is also very, very important. In fact, prayer was so important that Jesus made sure to teach His disciples how to pray. You've probably even heard that lesson--hint it's called The Lord's Prayer. You can read about it in Matthew 6:5-15 and Luke 1:1-13.

You can't expect to know God or God's plans for your lives without talking to Him. Think about your best friend. What would your relationship be like if you never talked to them and you never spent any time with them? I bet you wouldn't be very close. You might not even be friends at all. It's the same way with God. You can't be close to Him if you don't spend time with Him, and part of spending time with Him is spending time in prayer. If you need suggestions on things to talk to God about try reading 10 Simple Prayer Ideas for Teens by Rethinking Youth Ministry.

More Resources on Prayer:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Seeking God's Will: Part 1

Hello, everyone! Good morning and welcome back to SURVIVING Student Ministry. Okay. Enough with the formalities!

This past week I have been thinking about and praying about our annual summer mission trip. Due to the economy and other financial situations it is even more important than normal that I (and my wife) seek God's will about the whens, hows, wheres, and whys of Villebrook's Mission trip. This started me thinking and I realized that Seeking the Will of God is not easy so I might as well write about it. I plan to break this up into three or four or more sections so it won't be crazy long. So here we go...

Seeking God's Will: Part 1

Let's start with the basics...

What does it mean to Seek God's Will?
According to Dictionary.com, Seek is a verb which means:
  1. to go in search or quest of
  2. to try to find or discover by searching or questioning
  3. to try to obtain
  4. to make inquiry
  5. be sought after, to be desired or in demand

So if you chip down to the very basics/simpliest meaning, to seek God's will it to go in search of what God wants for you and your life. God wants you to inquire (ask) Him what His plan is for you. He wants you to seek Him and to desire to know Him and His plans for you.

What does the Bible has to Say about Seeking God's Will?
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'" Jeremiah 29:11-13

According to Jeremiah 29:11, God has a plan for us. This plan is His Will, and we will only find God's Will for us by Seeking God himself. To find God, we must "seek [Him] with all [our] hearts."

These are the basics. Now we have a foundation and basic understand of what it means to Seek God's Will. Next time, we will begin talking about How we can seek God's Will for us.

Check Out More Verses about Seeking God:
Deut. 4:29Job 8:5-6
Deut. 12:5Ps. 24:3-6
1 Chron. 22:19Heb. 11:6

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Cost of Discipleship: Part Three

This is the third and final portion of a three part series on the Cost of Discipleship. .I fyou are just now joining us, I suggest you start by reading Part One and Part Two first.

#3 Disciples must Crucify their Sinful Desires to be Like Christ
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20

“Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Galatians 5:24 & 25

When you crucify something, you kill it. It’s dead. It isn’t coming back. The only thing/person to ever come back after being crucified was/is Christ. He conquered death so that we can conquer sin through Him. To crucify sin you must consciously say no to temptation and turn your back on the behaviors that you know aren’t Christ like. You should flee, run away from temptation. Don’t let it have a place in your life. Instead fill those places with Christ.

That’s the cost of Discipleship!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Cost of Discipleship: Part Two

If you are just now joinging us, this is the second part of a series on the Cost of Discipleship. I suggest you start by reading Part One.

#2 Disciples must be Willing to Suffer for Christ
Speaking of Saul/Paul, Acts 9:14-16 says, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake.’”

“For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…” Philippians 1:29

I will be the first person to tell you that American Christians don’t know a thing about suffering for Christ. We assume that if someone makes fun of us or makes us feel inferior for our beliefs that we are enduring the worst kind of suffering for our faith. Yes, those things are a form of suffering, but it just doesn’t hold a candle to the suffering of our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who can literally lose their lives for following Christ or claiming to be a Christian. If you want to read about real Christian suffering read the Jesus Freaks books. They will give you a small taste of what it’s like in other parts of the world.

“The heart of discipleship, beloved, is a commitment to Jesus Christ. That means that you're willing to publicly identified with Him no matter what that cost.” – John MacArthur

Tune in next time for the Cost of Discipleship Part Three!



The Jesus Freak Books:
   

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Cost of Discipleship: Part 1

Last week, in Discipleship 101, we covered the very basics of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. As Christians we are Christ’s disciples. We should daily be striving to be more like Christ—more like our Master. Jesus taught His disciples that if they truly wanted to follow Him and be like Him there would be sacrifices they needed to make. It was going to cost them—not necessarily money—but it would cost none the less. So today we are going to talk about the cost of discipleship.

#1 Disciples must Put Christ First
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24 NASB

John MacArthur once said, “Discipleship... more than just being a learner, being an intimate follower, having an intimate relationship, following to the point where you would go as far as death out of love.” This is what it means to put Christ first. This is what it means to take up your cross. It means that no matter what trials or suffering or pain or ridicule you face as a Christian you will continue to seek God and His will for your life and make decisions for your life based on the Word of God and its truth rather than turning to your desires or whatever seems easiest or right at the moment.

Tune in next week, for the Cost of Discipleship: Part Two!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Discipleship 101

Too often Christians go around speaking church-ese and expecting everyone to understand them. They take for granted that everyone knows all the church lingo and should understand them perfectly when often people don’t. Today I want to talk about being a disciple.

Who/What is a Disciple?
The definition of a disciple is:
• A follower of a master, spiritual teacher, religious leader, or guru
• One who lives by the teachings and lifestyle of his/her master
• One who holds the standards and ideals set by his/her master
• One who wants to be like his/her master

The New Testament uses the Greek word mathetes when talking about disciples. This word generally refers to a student, pupil, or apprentice.

What does is mean to be a Disciple of Christ?
As Christians we are to be Christ’s disciples, but what does that really mean? Considering what we have just learned. Being Christ’s disciples literally means to be an apprentice of Christ—one who holds to the standards and ideals set by his master and wants to be like his master. We are to be followers and imitators of Christ.

This is Discipleship 101. Now that you know what it means to be a Disciple of Christ, next week we will talk about the Cost of Discipleship.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thinking Back on David Nassar

I was thinking back today about this guy called David Nassar. Nassar is an author and evangelist. I have heard him speak and it's amazing to see and hear the passion that God has given to this man. In reflecting, I realized that part of the reason Nassar is so passionate and his faith is so real is that it cost him. Becoming a Christian wasn't just something that he did on a whim. Below, I have included a video of a portion of Nassar's testimony.



David Nassar was born in Iran. He grew up as a Muslim in a Muslim household. Later, his family moved to America. After high school David was invited to church by a friend and eventually he chose to follow Christ. When he decided to get baptized his family disowned Him--a common practice in Muslim families when someone leaves the faith. Still Nassar followed Jesus. I believe that God rewarded David's obedience and sacrifice and blessed it by allowing him to see each of his family members come to Christ.


Would you be willing to give up everything you know to follow Christ? What about all your possessions? What about your family? If you answered "No" maybe you should stop and take some time to consider who Jesus really is to you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Heart of Worship

Worship. Does that word give you a warm uplifting feeling or a feeling of dread? Worship is supposed to be a heartfelt connection with our object of worship (God) but too often we only think about the music during our Sunday morning church service and whether or not we like that particular kind of music. But it's so much more than just Sunday morning music.

According to Dictionary.com worship is:
  • Noun
    1. reverent honor and homage paid to god or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.
    2. formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage
    3. adoring reverence or regard
  • Verb
    1. to render religious reverence and homage to
    2. to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing)
    3. to feel an adoring reverence or regard
As people, we are easily distracted and too often our worship (honor, homage, regard, reverence, etc.) is paid to something or someone other than our Lord and Savior--Jesus. But that's not really what I want to dwell on today. I want to talk about having a heart of worship.

If you have a heart of worship you can worship no matter where you are or what kind of music is being played. It shouldn't matter whether there are hymns playing or more current choruses you should be able to worship. Worship is a matter of the heart. It is you coming before God and giving Him your honor and your attention and all you are. Music is secondary. Don't let the secondary distract you and keep you from worshipping God.

So the next time you are tempted to complain that the worship service isn't playing your kind of music check to see if your attention and regard are directed to the right person. If you are focused on God the rest won't matter as much.

Heart of Worship
when the music fades
all is stripped away
and i simply come
longing just to bring
something that's of worth
that will bless your heart

i'll bring you more than a song
for a song in itself
is not what you have required
you search much deeper within
through the way things appear
you're looking into my heart

chorus
I'm coming back to the heart of worship
and it's all about you
It's all about you, Jesus
I'm sorry Lord for the things i've made it
when it's all about you
it's all about you, Jesus

King of endless worth
no one could express
how much you deserve
though i'm weak and poor
all i have is yours
every single breath