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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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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

 

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.”

What You Have Can Make a Difference…..by Robert Beike

“So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have neither silver or gold, but what I have, I give to you; In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk”‘”     (Acts 3:5-6 HCSB)

 

“If only our church was bigger, and had more to offer.” “If only we had more money and resources…then we could really impact our community.” “If only I had more talent, or more time, or was better connected…then I could make a difference.” When facing the monumental problems around us, we often default to an “if only” stance. Confronted by poverty, illiteracy, and depravity, loneliness, depression, dysfunction, and physical difficulties, we naturally feel overwhelmed and inadequate. We’d like to make a difference, but our inventory of resources seems woefully inadequate to meet the demand. And humanly speaking, that’s true. But, you are not limited to your own resources. God gives you all you need, to do all He wants you to do, as long as He wants you to do it. What you have can make a difference, if you are willing to give it away.

Thomas Aquinas called on Pope Innocent in the thirteenth century. The Pope, who was counting a large sum of money that had come to the church, told Aquinas, “See, Thomas, the church can no longer say, ‘Silver and Gold have I none.'”

“True, holy father,” Aquinas responded, “But neither can she now say, ‘Arise and walk.'”

Packed pews and overflowing offering plates don’t guarantee effective ministry. But, neither does the absence of such things indicate a lack of power to say “arise and walk.”

Peter and John lacked funds for an offering, but what they possessed was exactly what the beggar needed. They had access to all the resources of heaven and the power to make a real difference in the man’s life. So do you, if you have a personal relationship with Jesus. Like Peter and John, a Christian may have nothing, yet possess everything (2 Corinthians 6:10). Followers of Christ carry within them a treasure far superior to silver or gold, or anything the world offers. The gospel is more than a message, its an experience. God’s forgiveness, mercy, grace, and transforming presence are part of the Christian package delivered to us at salvation. You already have what it takes to make a world of difference. You can make a difference where you are, with what you have, if you are willing to give what you have “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene.”

LOOK AT US…..by Robert Beike

“Look at Us”  (Acts 3:4b HCSB)

     “Look at us?” “Look at me?” Whoa! Wait! Doesn’t saying that to a person in need imply that we can meet that need? How could anyone have the audacity to say that to a world of hurting and needy people? Is that believable, or even thinkable? Yet, that is precisely what Peter, along with John, said to a lame beggar at the temple gate in Jerusalem. The man’s paralyzed condition seemed hopeless. When he asked for a mercy offering, they said it, knowing they did not have money to give– “Look at us.” Where did they get the notion that they could offer a solution to his problems?–From Jesus!

Three and a half years of spending quality time with Jesus had convinced them that He could make a difference in the lives of people. They were there when Jesus healed the paralytic lowered through a roof, and when He commanded the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda to pick up his bedroll and walk. They had watched the Master give sight to the blind, sanity to the demoniac, and even life to the dearly departed. They had also participated with Jesus in feeding a multitude with only the meager lunch of a little boy.

     In addition to observing Jesus meet the needs of people, they believed what He told them; The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these” (John 14:12).< Peter and John were simply living out the expectations of their Savior, and when the church says to the world, “look at us,” they are doing likewise. As the body of Christ, His ambassadors, we must be willing to not only capture, but invite the world’s attention. But, looking at us, they must see Jesus.

John A. Huffman, Jr. relates a story about Florence Nightingale, who was ministering in hospitals during the Crimean war. One night while making the rounds she paused at the bed of a wounded soldier, bending down and looking at the young man with eyes of compassion. The wounded man looked up and said, “You’re Christ come to me.”

Peter and John were Christ come to the lame beggar, although he didn’t yet realize it. Likewise, as those sent by Jesus on an incarnational mission to flesh out His love, we are Christ come to the world. Saying “look at us” anticipates a relationship–a personal connection with those we would help. It also includes a responsibility for their well being–physical and spiritual, and foresees a reorientation of a life touched by God. A world in need sits, virtually, on the steps of our churches. Life transforming ministry could begin with the simple, but audacious, words, “Look at us.”

THE EYES HAVE IT……………by Robert Beike

“Peter, along with John, looked at him intently…” (Acts 2:4)

     What you see is what you get passionate about. Needs that are unnoticed tend to stay unmet. That is why Jesus told His disciples, including Peter and John, “Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest” (John 4:35 HCSB). Scientists estimate that the human eye is capable of seeing a light from a candle twenty miles away on a clear night. Even more remarkable is the ability to see, with God-given perception, real human need around us.

     Unfortunately, some form of people blindness afflicts most of us, skewing our ability to see as God designed. Prejudice and bias cloud our spiritual vision like physical cataracts. Near-sightedness prevents our seeing those who are culturally or ethnically distant, while far-sightedness causes us to overlook those on our own doorstep. And because of spiritual tunnel vision, people on the periphery of society are marginalized or missed altogether. Obviously, to really see with Christ-like perception we need corrective lenses. As Peter and John approached the temple in Jerusalem they saw this lame beggar clearly, for perhaps the first time, through lenses corrected by the Holy Spirit and polished through regular prayer and worship.

     Every opportunity to make a difference begins with a problem. Vision for ministry is often birthed from a desire to see what is become what must and should be. “Peter, along with John, looked at him intently.” They fixed their attention on this broken man, in the shadow of the beauty of God’s temple, and knew something needed to be different.

     Apart from God, all humanity is spiritually lame, and are pitiful beggars. Suffering from the debilitating condition of sinfulness, they are helpless, and hopeless, trapped in a desperate existence of unfulfilled potential, and undiscovered purpose. Clearly, something needs to be different. Go ahead, look around you–intently.

 

The Great Omission of the Church…..by Robert Beike

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8 HCSB)

     Jesus gave the church its great commission in Matthew 28:18-20. The great ignition of the church occurred with the infilling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). But, the great omission of the church may well be the words Jesus spoke in Acts 1:8.

     A number of years ago during a well publicized trial in Cincinnati, Ohio, one witness had an adverse, and bizarre, reaction to a single word. Each time the word “sex” was used in the courtroom this witness would faint, and need to be revived. This scene was repeated over and over. The cause of such extreme behavior is a bit hazy, but clearly, there are certain words in Christian circles that cause equally severe responses. “Witnessing” is one of those words. There is nothing like the words, “Let’s now go out and witness,” to cause church members to get weak in the knees.

     It is estimated that only 2% of Christians regularly share their faith, and less than 10% ever lead another person to Christ. Numerous reasons have been offered for this omission. Some suggest it is a matter of ignorance–a lack of know-how. For others it could be indolence; many Christians are, perhaps, too lazy and comfortable to make the effort. Often, not sharing one’s faith is due to indifference; being too preoccupied, not caring, or expecting someone else to do it. Still others are silenced by insecurity–fearful of being made a fool, experiencing hostility, or losing a friendship. Then, also, there is the isolation  factor of our comfortable homes, personal automobiles, and privacy fences that reduce relationships to a wave and a nod.

     Whatever the cause of the church’s great omission, the greater issue is how to fix it. The power of The Holy Spirit is the obvious key. Power that Jesus promises is a delegated power and authority from God that gets things done. The Holy Spirit animates and energizes Christ followers for the task of giving witness of the life, death, burial, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. The Spirit also authorizes offering the free gift of God’s salvation to all people groups in our community, our country, our continent, and even to the extremities of our world. Since the indwelling Spirit of God is a common experience to all true believers, then perhaps eliminating the great omission requires the uncommon practice of yielding to the Holy Spirit, that His power may flow through us to those around us.

THE HAND AND HEART OF GOD….by Robert Beike

“There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.”

(Acts 2:5 HCSB)

     A Hebrew mid-wife, at the birth of  a child, would crush grapes or dates with her finger and then rub that finger inside the mouth of a newborn to create a thirst or hunger for grapes or dates. (James Merritt, Friends, Foes and Fools: Broadman & Holman, 1997 p. 172)  God created a thirst for the nations in the newborn church in Jerusalem through its Spirit animated witness to an international multitude at Pentecost. In this way, our heavenly father was teaching “a youth about the way he should go,” so that “even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6 HCSB). From day one in the life of the church, there has been instilled an international thirst, and an ethnic flavor. It was as if the church was born with an international spoon in its mouth.

     The reason Jesus had them wait in Jerusalem was now clear–the pieces of the puzzle fit together to reveal  the hand and heart of God working in perfect harmony.  Jerusalem was not only the strategic and spiritual center of Jewish life, it was also the strategic and spiritual center of God’s plan for world evangelism. The coming of the Holy Spirit coincided perfectly with the presence of “devout men from every nation under heaven.”  The ethnic mix that God had gathered for a harvest celebration is described in Acts 2:8-11. These were people born elsewhere–representatives of the Mediterranean world. Many were now permanent residents of Jerusalem, but many others were in the city temporarily for the festival of Pentecost.

     It is hard to miss the divine intentionality of this event. The hand and heart of God was in heavenly concert producing a multi-national church and supplying that church with a pattern for fulfilling its purpose. God has always been a people mover, ever active in human history and the accomplishing of heaven’s redemptive plans. Gathering and sending, casting out and bringing in, impelling believers to go, compelling unbelievers to come, the Lord is the author of diversity and the architect of disbursement (Genesis 11).  Like the vinyl recordings of another era, the great commission has two sides. The flip side of the church going to the nations is God gathering the nations in proximity to the church.

     Because the heart of God desires that no one perishes but all come to repentance (1 Peter 3:9), the hand of God continually draws lines that connect the people of God with the people who need God. In God’s providence, your city, community, and possibly your neighborhood is becoming a rich tapestry of ethnic hues, hand crafted by a loving God. As you share your faith, and God’s love, you can make a world of difference without ever leaving home.

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