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“The One Prevailing Promise of the Church”—Pt. 1 CHURCHES PREVAILING AGAINST THE DARKNESS

Flying in an airplane at night, and looking out the window, I am struck by the profound darkness that envelopes the Earth. Yet, in the midst of the darkness are pinpricks of light; homes, businesses, and places of worship, that pierce the darkness and provide a sharp contrast  to their surroundings. Some of the lights are clustered together in small luminous communities, and in some places the lights are so numerous, and the glow so great, as to virtually prevail against the pressing darkness.

Churches, yours and others, are like those pinpricks of light, placed in the midst of the darkness by the hand of God. Your church exists to pierce the darkness, poke holes in it, push it back, to prevail against it; doing what Christ, commissions, equips, empowers, and expects the church to do.  Needed are churches that will not stand for evil, but rather stand against it, communities of faith not holed up inside their holy fortresses, holding out until Christ returns, but holding forth the word of God like a beacon in the darkness. Prevailing churches don’t wring their hands in frustration, or shrug their shoulders with indifference. Instead, prevailing churches faithfully resist the forces of darkness, and rescue the perishing in the name of Jesus.

But, how does a church become a prevailing church? Whether newly planted or long established, a church shines in the darkness with the same basic elements. Building a church that prevail against the darkness is not easy, but it is basic as 1-2-3.  There is one prevailing promise, two prevailing priorities, and three prevailing principles that are key in building a prevailing church. Lets deal first with the one prevailing promise.

The experts have much to say about church growth, the life cycle of churches, and why and how they die. While no expert, I have for 35 years, studied, observed, and experienced church growth and non-growth. I love celebrating with churches that are reaping a harvest of souls, and experiencing a season of divine blessing. But, I am also familiar with the plight of plateaued and failing churches. I strategize and sympathize with churches, stuck in a downward spiral, and numerical free fall. I ache with pastors who hear, and vaguely understand, that the church they serve will probably never turnaround unless they are replaced. While human expertise is of value, and experience can be a wonderful teacher, I most of all want to hear from the word of God. Is there any hope for the failing church? What does the Bible say about prevailing churches?

Of course, the Bible has much to say about the church, but there is one overriding statement, a soaring promise, that glows brighter than all others for the church. The promise is simple but powerful; THERE IS VICTORY IN JESUS! Jesus said, “…I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). What hope! What a help! What encouragement for the church! The church belongs to Jesus. He is its foundation, founder, architect, cornerstone, and builder. Jesus, who gave sight to the blind, healing to the leper, legs to the paralytic, sanity to the maniac, life to the dead, and new life to those who trust Him, promises that His church will prevail against the darkness.

“Hound and Bear” was a book we often read to our children when they were young.  The hound was a mischievous, and silly character, while his good friend Bear was gentle, serious, and sensible. One day Hound decided to play a trick on Bear. When Bear went to sleep in his little house, Hound painted the bedroom window black. The sun was shining brightly when Bear woke up the next morning and looked out the window, but all he saw was the blackness. Thinking it was still nighttime Bear went back to sleep. After a while Bear became hungry, but because of the darkness he believed it was only 12 o’clock midnight instead of noon. Bear went back to bed and slept all day and the next night. The following morning Hound knocked on the door, and laughingly revealed the trick he had played on Bear.

Satan, too, is into tricks. But his schemes are no laughing matter. Satan has painted all the windows of the world black so no one can see the light. Without the light of the gospel, people exist in darkness, wasting their lives, ignorant of blessings of God. But we have the great promise of Jesus that Satan’s schemes will not prevail. The Lord has given the church the keys of the kingdom, with which we are to bind the darkness, and loose the light (Matt 16:19). If by faith, we trust Jesus to build the church, believe in His promise, follow His plan, and depend on His power, the church will prevail against the darkness of evil and the designs of the enemy. THERE IS VICTORY IN JESUS!

Part 2 will deal with 2 prevailing priorities of the church.

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THE TURNING POINT….by Robert Beike

The score was 63-0 at halftime. The year was 1916 and little Cumberland College of Lebanon, Tennessee was being steamrolled by mighty Georgia Tech. Cumberland’s coach was doing more coaxing than coaching. His players were deserting en masse. Two Cumberland players had left the field to seek refuge behind a fence. A frightened halfback discovered them when he ran off the field to avoid a host of Tech tacklers. Not feeling safe enough out of bounds he scaled the fence surrounding the gridiron landing in the laps of his terrified teammates. Another Cumberland player sought safety on Georgia Tech’s bench, hoping to remain undetected by the opposition. Others grabbed their arms or legs and feigned injury so the coach wouldn’t put them in the game. The situation was hopeless. The most lopsided game in college football history ended with a 222-0 score.

2,000 years ago mankind faced a similar situation. Hopelessly overwhelmed by the enemy, they were being terrified by evil and steamrolled by sin. Fear and suffering dominated the day. All humanity was effected. All were searching desperately for refuge and safety, but to no avail. Satan was running up the score. The end result seemed certain, and the situation appeared hopeless.

But, then came the turning point. Just when all seemed lost, a substitute was sent into the fray and turned the tide of battle. A substitute willingly took the field and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. When the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus, whose birth we celebrate each Christmas, is that turning point. From cradle to cross He paved the way to victory. With the whole world condemned to die for their sins, Jesus became our substitute, because “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Jesus is still the way to victory. If you feel like life is steamrolling you, sin holds the upper hand, and evil is running up the score, don’t despair. Turn to Jesus. He can be the turning point in your life.

REAL THANKSGIVING DAYS….by Robert Beike

On September 8, 1860 the Lady Elgin, a crowded passenger steamer sank off the shore of Lake Michigan. Among those who gathered on the shore was Edward W. Spencer, a student at Garrett Biblical Institute. He saw a woman clinging to some wreckage far out in the breakers. Edward threw off his coat and swam out through the heavy waves, succeeding in getting her safely to land.

Sixteen times that day young Spencer braved the fierce waves, rescuing seventeen persons, before collapsing exhausted and delirious. Ed Spencer recovered slowly, but never completely, from the exposure and exertion of his efforts. With broken health he lived quietly, unable to fully pursue his chosen lifework of the ministry. He died in California at the age of eighty-one. In a notice of his death, one paper said not one of those seventeen rescued persons ever came to thank him.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have all been rescued. Our Savior spent His life that ours might be spared. Have you properly thanked Him? The Apostle Paul spells out the only proper thank you in his letter to the Romans; “I urge you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). Real thanksgiving requires nothing less than committing all we are and have totally to the Lord. Does your life say, “Thank you?” Let’s make everyday a real thanksgiving day.

“QUOTES OF NOTE” about Change……by Robert Beike

  1. “Watch out! You live in a sea of change. Never turn your back on the ocean or the currents of change.”—-Hans Finzel
  2. “It is difficult to change organizations. It is like tending the garden. When you relax, the culture goes back to the weeds.”—Ichak Adizes
  3. “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from the old ones.” — John Maynard Keynes/Economist
  4. “A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.” — Charlie Brower
  5. “The less I have to do with it, the less I like the idea.” — anonymous church member
  6. “We live in a weather map kind of world. It’s constantly changing. Be prepared for the change, or be prepared for the consequences.” — R. Beike
  7. “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler
  8. “Blessed are the control freaks, for they shall inhibit the earth.” — Rev. Will B. Dunn in Kudzu comic strip
  9. Progress is often just a good idea away.” — John Maxwell
  10. “The Holy Spirit has a way of moving a church beyond its comfort zone.” — Bill Easum
  11. “Control is the sacred cow of established churches, and needs to be ground into gourmet hamburger.” — Bill Easum
  12. “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” — Leo Tolstoy
  13. “When your through changing, you’re through.” — Bruce Barton
  14. “The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” — Tacitus
  15. “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes
  16. “There is a huge difference in being stretched and just getting bent out of shape. God wants to stretch you.” — R. Beike
  17. “If it aint right shouldn’t we change it?”
  18. “Practice the ‘baby philosophy’– if something stinks, change it.”
  19. “(Leaders) have to architect the condition for right decisions to happen.” — Jim Collins
  20. “42% of pastors reported that the church board was the #1 source of resistance to the turnaround plan.” — John C. Larue Jr.
  21. “A church can become so rigid that it becomes brittle, resulting in chunks breaking off whenever there are attempts at alterations. Change requires malleability.” — R. Beike
  22. “You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.” — John Maxwell
  23. “…be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self…” —- Apostle Paul
  24. “New wine should be put into fresh wineskins.” — Jesus
  25. “…we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet…” — Apostle Paul

Why Preaching is Sometimes like Halloween…by Robert Beike

Sometimes preaching can be like Halloween. It can be a very frightening experience. Consider how many neighbors come to worship dressed as “church people,” many wearing masks to hide their real feelings. When you factor in all the people who promised to “be there in spirit,” church can be a pretty spooky place. Even the Pastor, often, wears a costume. It might be the coat and tie of past pulpiteers, or shirtsleeves and skinny jeans of a post-modern “communicator.” Either way, he’s dressed for the occassion.

The sermon itself can be a scary proposition.The preacher’s wife is scared that her husband will be misunderstood, or she embarrassed in some way. The preacher’s children are terrified they may become the main attraction in their father’s illustrations. Guests are afraid they will be singled out or feel left out, and the congregation must be scared of something. Why else would they huddle for safety in the back of the sanctuary. But, the most frightened of all is the preacher himself.

The preacher stands before an expectant gathering scared that he will misrepresent or miscommunicate the precious word of God. Worse, he fears that the Spirit of God will not show up to animate the dry bones in the pews. Real, too, is the fear of unleashing a disembodied sermon to wander aimlessly for 45 minutes, or the appearance of a fleshless skeleton of a message that speaks more about work ethic than the exposited Word. The preacher is often haunted by the undead apparitions of sermons past, never quite alive, but unwilling to vacate his tortured consciousness. The preacher knows too well that what is pieced together in the laboratory of his study can take on a life of its own in the pulpit. Loosed from theological restraints, or unteathered by grace or compassion, a sermon can run rampant and out of control, leaving a trail of confusion and mayhem. Monday could find deacons or elders at his office door, carrying torches and pitchforks, demanding the end of the three point monstrosities the preacher harbors in his filing cabinets.

But fear is no match for faith, and it is faithfulness that drives the preacher to dispense healthy offerings from God’s Word and to transform the scary into the sacred. It is faith in God and faithfulness to their calling that helps preachers get past the fear and experience the hallowed in the preaching event. “Call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you…For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:5,6).

Part 2….50 WAYS TO LOVE YOUR LEADERS……by Robert Beike

October is Pastor Appreciation month, but here are the rest of the “50 Ways to Love Your Leaders” all year round.

 

21.  Allow them a weekend off to see how ministry is done elsewhere

22.  Give them a CD of their favorite music

23. Invite them to a ballgame

24.  Buy them some peanuts and Cracker Jack

25. Golf with them (just for laughs)

26.  Respect their day off

27.  Be on time for meetings

28.  Sit near the front during worship (its not as dangerous as it looks)

29.  Be kind to their spouse

30.  Serve with gladness, not grumbling

31.  Allow and encourage continuing education and training

32.  Treat them as called by God, not merely hired by the church

33.  Bring their favorite dessert to the next pot-luck dinner

34.  Have them in your home for fun and fellowship

35.  Consider a merit raise when possible

36.  Say, “Thank-you” when they have been of help

37.  Compliment them to others in their presence

38.  Recognize major ministry milestones (5, 10, 15, 20 yrs. etc)

39.  Provide a book allowance

40.  As much as possible, provide adequate compensation

41.  Short-circuit the rumor machine (You know, “put a sock in it”)

42.  Remember them at the holidays

43.  Upgrade technical resources

44.  Appreciate them for their strengths, and don’t beat them up for their weaknesses

45.  When you have an issue with them, sit down face-to-face and discuss it

46.  Focus on positive aspects of their ministry (skip the “roast-leader” at lunch time)

47.  Use your spiritual gifts in God’s kingdom for God’s glory

48.  Commit to grow spiritually

49.  Bring them an occasional cup of coffee and a donut (OK, maybe that’s not so loving in the long run, but you get the idea)

50.  Smile (Joy is contagious)

Part 1 — 50 Ways to Love Your Leaders….by Robert Beike

October is Pastor Appreciation month. In honor of church leaders, and in an effort to contribute to the cause, here are 50 ways to love your leaders all year round…part 1.

  1. Send them a card–this month & on their birthday.
  2. Celebrate their birthday. (even a small gesture like cake & ice cream)
  3. Recognize their wedding anniversary.
  4. Find ways to encourage them.
  5. Offer a sincere compliment. (think of something)
  6. Take notes when they speak. (doodling doesn’t count)
  7. Pray for them regularly.
  8. Buy or lend them a book that will benefit them. (Not just to make a point)
  9. Provide a Sabbatical. (And not a permanent one)
  10. Provide an occasional dinner out with spouse & family.
  11. Provide occasional child care.
  12. Provide a get-away; overnight or weekend.
  13. Give them an occasional bonus or “love offering.”
  14. Send them to a conference of their choice.
  15. Volunteer to help with some aspect of ministry.
  16. Provide some new office or study furniture. (Before the old collapses or becomes eligible for the National Historical Society)
  17. Compliment their children.
  18. Give them a gift card for clothing.
  19. Send them a thank-you card.
  20. Attend services regularly

…..to be continued

 

A TRUE WHODUNIT….by Robert Beike

(Peter…addressed the people:) “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or godliness we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus?…”

(Acts 3:12-13)

The picture of the church in the book of Acts is not a still life portrait, but rather a serial-action adventure motion picture. The episode in Acts 3 is a true whodunit best viewed in 3-D. It begins with amazing special effects, as a lame man is dramatically and completely healed, which produces a mystery that peter unravels for the baffled onlookers. Like a detective in a parlor full of anxious guests, Peter deflects attention from the obvious suspects and directs their focus to the responsible parties.

Peter is not afraid to name names. First he identifies the source of the miracle, and next the true guilty parties. “Why do you stare at us, Peter begins, “as though by our own power or godliness we have made him walk?” “We didn’t do it!” “It’s a God thing!” The fisherman turned fisher of men then launched out into the deep water of explaining God’s amazing grace to a thoroughly amazed audience. Tracing clues through the Old Testament, Peter connects the known with the unknown, demonstrating how the evidence points to a greater power than their own. The miracle’s true whodunit is identified as “Jesus Christ the Nazarene” (Acts 3:6), a.k.a. God’s “Servant” (Acts 3:13), “the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14), and “the source of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15). The names reveal the man, His mission, His character and ultimate power, and Peter insists that it was faith in the name of Jesus that made the lame man whole.

After pointing them to the one who healed the lame man, Peter then pointed an accusing finger at them. In a twist of irony, they had chose to crucify the very one God chose to glorify. They preferred to grant life to a guilty murderer, and put to death the holy, righteous, giver of life. They plotted to have Jesus dead and buried, but God raised Him from the dead. Now, in spite of their evil schemes, because Jesus lives, they had a chance to re-script their life stories.

Explaining God’s whodunit in the world is a part all Christians must embrace. As God acts, our role is to deflect attention from ourselves and defer to the real star—Jesus Christ. Keeping His name on the marquee of our lives and making His story the feature presentation in our circles of influence is the action-adventure to which we’ve been called. Know whodunit in your own life. Learn the back story by reading the Bible. Prepare through prayer. Rehearse daily. Seek cues from the Holy Spirit. Lights! Action! You’re on!

THE MOST POWERFUL OF ALL ILLUSTRATIONS……by Robert Beike

“While he was holding on to Peter and John, all the people, greatly amazed, ran toward them in what is called Solomon’s Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he addressed the people...

(Acts 3:11-12a)

Illustrations can be a powerful tool in the hands of a skillful communicator. Like opening a window, they allow needed light and fresh air at critical moments. When used at the outset of a talk, or sermon, illustrations can be effective attention grabbers, especially if they are spectacular in nature. I have known preachers to utilize such visual aids as rappelling down from the rafters, and rumbling in on motorbikes and earthmovers. Elaborate sets, expensive props, extravagant costumes, movie clips and dramatic skits, are just some of the means speakers employ to attract an audience. Yet, it would be hard to top the illustration that introduced Peter’s second sermon. A flesh and blood changed life is the most powerful of all illustrations.

Minutes earlier a missionary moment had resulted in a miracle. Peter and John had encountered a lame beggar at the temple gate called Beautiful. Now, that same man was kangarooing all over the temple complex. Healed in the name of Jesus, he attached himself to the human instruments of that transformation, as if separation would undo the miracle. All of this created a buzz and attracted a crowd. Like metal shavings to a magnet, the temple crowd was drawn to the scene of the incident, providing Peter an attentive audience.

Is your life illustrating the transforming power of Jesus Christ? Is a steady stream of changed lives creating a sense of amazement in your community? What is grabbing the attention of people you know? Is the focus on the failings and foul ups of the Christian community, or the obvious difference of a life touched by God? As God blesses our efforts to sow gospel seed, the spiritual fruit of new believers will appear and ripen, providing visible evidence of new life in Christ. As Christians walk in newness of life the fruits of God’s indwelling Spirit will mature and produce powerful illustrations that will attract an audience anxious to investigate what they see.

After experimenting by sowing seeds with plaster in crop fields, Ben Franklin tried to convince his neighbors of the benefits discovered. When this failed, and recognizing that people learn easier by observation than through argumentation, he wrote letters in a field with a stick, filled the letters with plaster, and planted wheat in the plaster along a well traveled path. When the wheat came up, people walking the path could read in richer greens and taller sheaves the words Franklin had spelled; “This field has been plastered.” When the fruit of a relationship with Christ is displayed, its a powerful illustration for all to see, that “this life has been changed.”

 

NON-STOP LEARNING……by Robert Beike

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”  (Acts 2:42a HCSB)

Three thousand brand new, born again, believers in one day! The events at Pentecost turned the Jerusalem church into a giant nursery for baby Christians. They all needed to learn how to feed themselves, walk, and talk as members of God’s family. What was needed was a crash course in spiritual pediatrics.

With so much to learn and so much at stake, it’s not surprising that the new believers devoted themselves, continuously, and steadfastly, to the apostles’ teaching. The Holy Spirit had given them an appetite for the things of God. The church provided a healthy diet of the word of God.

Like life itself, the Christian experience is a non-stop process of learning, growing, and becoming. What the apostles learned at the feet of Jesus was now poured into the hearts and minds of the next generation of believers. A disciple is a learner–a devoted one. Do not overlook the fact that they devoted themselves to the teaching/learning process. Teachers are essential, and a faith community critical to making disciples, but the whole thing unravels without individual responsibility.

Unless we commit ourselves fully to following Christ, and strenuously persist in learning God’s word, we will remain spiritual infants, and vulnerable to every adverse wind and perverse doctrine. Even after we grow enough to feed others, devoting ourselves to the study of scripture remains paramount in importance. When we stop learning we stop growing, and start becoming less and less what God intends. Or as country singer Loretta Lynn says, “You’ve got to continue to grow, or you’re just like last night’s cornbread–stale and dry.”

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