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OPPORTUNITY SOMETIMES BEGS…..by Robert Beike

“Now Peter and John were going to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon. And a man who was lame from his mother’s womb was carried there and placed every day at the gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help.”

(Acts 3:1-3 HCSB)

     We’ve always heard that opportunity knocks. The truth is, opportunity sometimes begs. It did for Peter and John as they made their way to a prayer meeting. Likely, they were traveling their usual route past familiar surroundings to participate in a common practice; their hurried footsteps taking them past a lame beggar who was carried to the same place every day to beg for mercy offerings. But this was no ordinary day, and what began as routine, became anything but. When Peter and John were confronted by this pitiful sight in front of that beautiful gate, the customary gave way to a customized divine encounter. Opportunity was begging.

     Opportunities to meet needs, share Christ, and make an eternal difference are all around us. Recognizing and responding to those opportunities is part of great commission living. The following is from Blaine Allen’s book, When People Throw Stones: “Researchers in human behavior decided to find out whether people who trained for vocational ministry at seminaries are Good Samaritans. William McRae writes:

They met individually with 40 of the ministerial students under the pretense of doing a study on careers in the church. Each student was instructed to walk to a nearby building to dictate an impromptu talk into a tape recorder. Some were to talk on the Good Samaritan parable, others on their career concerns. Meanwhile, the researchers planted an actor along the path who, as a seminarian approached, groaned and slumped to the ground. More than half the students walked right on by, reported the researchers in Human Behavior. ‘Some, who were planning their dissertation on the Good Samaritan, literally stepped over the slumped body as they hurried along.'”

     Who has God placed along your path? Who’s asking for help in your neighborhood, or around your church? The ancient Greeks had a statue depicting opportunity as young, attractive, unclothed, with only a forelock of hair (the back of his head was bald), running swiftly with wings in his feet. The obvious message is, opportunity never grows old, and can only be grasped while it approaches, for it is quickly gone, and once past, remains so. Opportunity may often knock, but it sometimes begs.

 

          

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.

Rattle Those Pots and Pans…………by Robert Beike

“And every day they devoted themselves (to meeting) together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,…” (Acts 2:46 HCSB, parenthesis mine)

The rattle of pots and pans, the clanking of dishes, and the aroma of food, are important ingredients in Christian fellowship. We often joke about eating meetings, and the ever-present fried chicken, but the breaking of bread has a way of binding us together. Moreover, hospitality has a prominent Biblical precedent, and roots deep in the human experience.

The Old Testament records Abraham hosting a trio of heavenly guests who had serious business in Sodom and Gomorrah. Before continuing their mission, they enjoyed the riches of fellowship over a wood-fired steak with all the trimmings. Jesus experienced hospitality as a guest on many occassions, and practiced hospitality with the disciples on the eve of His crucifixion. Upon His resurrection, Jesus revealed His identity to incredulous followers during a meal in Emmaus, and while hosting a fish fry on the beach. Bread and “The Bread of Life” seems to just go together. Its not surprising, then, that the disciples continued the custom of sharing the life of Christ around a meal.

A contagious kind of joy accompanied the gatherings of the first church as “they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” There was no pretense to their joy. They were sincerely glad they had Jesus, the word, each other, and the power of God in their lives.

Hospitality might be the most underutilized gift in the North American church. There are, likely, members in every church, and small group or class, that are wired to be gracious hosts, and/or who would be glad to cook for the kingdom of God. Hospitality is putting grace to work. It’s about giving purpose to the “pot-luck.” Let’s get together and share a little gladness. Rattle those pots and pans.

VITAL ATTRACTION…..by Robert Beike

“…praising God and having favor with all the people. and every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47 HCSB)

In this era of “missional” resurgence, it has become fashionable to discredit “attractional” ministries. Yet, both “come and see” and “go and be” activities made a healthy combo that super-sized the early church. Both are needed, and the gathered church, and the scattered church, must have one vital quality–be attractive! Unless the church is attractive to others, it will be repulsive, or simply ignored. Christians must be good news as well as share good news. Churches that grow have a magnetic personality.

The vital attraction of the Jerusalem Believers went beyond the superficial and cosmetic. Light attracts, love is compelling, joy is contagious, and generosity is beautiful. Its no surprise they were “having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.” In their daily lives they displayed an unexplainable power, demonstrated an undeniable purity, declared an unmistakable message, dispensed an unconditional love, and were devoted to a Savior that is unequalled. Recognizing that the gospel is always filtered through flawed human beings (the Jerusalem Church was no exception), and the offensive nature of the cross, nevertheless, there was a winsomeness to their preaching and witnessing that God blessed, and added to their number.

On a wall near the main entrance to the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas is a portrait with this inscription:

“James Butler Bonham–no picture of him exists. This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle. It is placed here by his family that people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom.”

While no literal portrait of Jesus exists, His likeness has been placed in the world for all to see, in the lives of His followers. The church is only attractive when it looks like Christ.

VELCRO CHURCH……………………..by Robert Beike

“Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as everyone had a need.”

ACTS 2:44-45 (HCSB)

Many churches seem to have a Teflon-like non-stick coating. First time guests don’t stick around and members seem to slip out the back door without much notice. Not so the first church of Jerusalem. Their fellowship was more like Velcro.

The word Velcro is a combination of the two French words velours and crochet, meaning “velvet” and “hook.” This hook-and-loop fastener was invented in 1948 by the Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral. It consists of two components: lineal fabric strips that feature tiny hooks on one side, and even smaller loops on the other. When pressed together the hooks catch in the loops and the two pieces form a tight bond. Separating the two Velcro strips creates a distinctive “ripping” sound. (Wikipedia.org, “Velcro”)

These new believers in Jerusalem formed a Velcro kind of connection as available resources hooked to pressing needs. It was the kind of uncommon connection that “had everything in common.” This was not a “communistic” effort to redistribute wealth, and create an artificial equality, by taking from the “haves” to give to the “have-nots.” Instead, it was a genuine Christian community, caring for one another, and fleshing out the life of Christ in real servanthood. This was a family of believers putting others’ needs ahead of their own. They not only shared the word of God, but also, their worldly goods. They practiced what was preached.

Velcro churches are easy to spot. They stand out like cities on a hill. Authentic friendships replace superficial “friendliness.” Members carry ropes to rescue and not rocks to condemn. Meeting physical and spiritual needs is normal behavior for all members. Loving relationships create a kind of warm incubator conducive to safety and spiritual health. Connections in Velcro churches are so tight that if they are separated, for whatever reason, its as if they are being “ripped” apart.

Ways Your Church Can Help Finance a New Church Plant….by Robert Beike

The four critical elements of any successful new church start are God (spiritual energy), a certain amount of know-how, lots of energy, and money. The first three are not optional, and at some point money will become an issue. Here are 20 ways your church can help finance a new church plant.

1. Provide regular (monthly if possible) financial support for the new church.

2. Donate items such as a lawn mower, microwave, oven, paint, etc.

3. Provide equipment and supplies, such as sound equipment, computer, printer, software, books, etc.

4. Pay for a specific utility such as gas, electric, water, etc.

5. Provide a specified amount for church planter’s mileage.

6. Provide gift cards from local eateries.

7. Purchase Bibles, tracts, or other material for the new work.

8. Pay for an occassional getaway for planter and wife.

9. Pay for church planter to attend training opportunities.

10. Put the new church in your mission budget and designate a percentage of undesignated offerings toward the new work (2-3% is a suggestion).

11. Provide a set amount each month (i.e. $100, $200, $500, etc.).

12. Allow the church planter to speak once a quarter and take up a special offering.

13. Take a special offering each month.

14. Sell off church assets and send proceeds to the new church.

15. Build a 48 week budget for your church and once a quarter (5th Sundays) give entire weeks offfering to new church.

16. Encourage the 5/52 plan where individuals or families give $5 a week for 52 weeks to the new church.

17. Sunday School classes or women’s mission organizations could adopt the new work, and find creative ways to help finance it.

18. Establish an ongoing fund for church planting similar to a building fund, etc.

19. Provide a baby church shower for the new church’s facility. Fill their wish list.

20. Give regularly and generously to the Cooperative program of the Southern Baptist Convention, to your association’s church planting fund, or your denominational church planting efforts.

 

 

 

 

Make The Most Of A New Day….by Robert Beike

“After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3…HCSB).

My father-in-law often remarks that some people “wake up in a new world everyday.” He doesn’t mean it as a compliment. Yet, at a certain, significant level that description is true for all of us. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. It has ushered in a new day; an age of grace, Christianity, and the church. It began a revolution. Because Jesus lives, we wake up in a new world everyday; a world that offers life in the kingdom of God and potential power over sin and death.

The resurrection of Jesus certainly changed the disciples. They had witnessed Jesus die on a cross and be buried in a tomb. They were convinced of His death. But, now after Jesus appeared to them on numerous occasions over a period of 40 days, demonstrating unmistakably that He was alive, they were convinced of His resurrection. It was a new day freighted with promise and hope, and Jesus was about to provide them with the means to make the most of it. In Jesus they had a savior to believe in. They were certain that Jesus was not only alive, but that He was almighty, and all He taught them was true. In advancing the kingdom of God they also had a cause to invest in. They would spend the rest of their lives laboring in faith to bring about the reign of God in the hearts of men. They would strive to see the kingdom manifested in the world, anticipating its ultimate culmination at the end of the age that was inaugerated by the resurrection of Jesus.

Today, its critical that we wake up and make the most of this new day. Paul admonished the Ephesians to, “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk–not as unwise people but as wise–making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of God is” (Ephesians 5:15-17..HCSB). Each day God graciously deposits in our life account 86,400 ticks of the clock that must be spent before tomorrow. Let’s make the most of it.

LET MY PEOPLE GO!….by Robert Beike

You have probably experienced riding along in your automobile, making good time, visions of your destination dancing in your head, when you begin to see the ominous red glare of tail lights, and traffic soon rolls to a stop. You inch forward, hoping for a breakout, but none comes. So, you sit, and steam, and grow frustrated, until in desperation, you begin to look for an available exit. This is not what you anticipated. It’s not what you planned for when you turned those ignition keys and began your journey.

Such experiences on our highways might be a necessary nuisance, but similar scenarios in our churches can become unnecessary tragedies. Sadly, many churches suffer from people gridlock. God is calling people to a high-octane adventure, a journey of spiritual growth, service, and mission. Yet, far too many are stymied by ecclesiastical bottlenecks leading to spiritual stagnation. Believers find themselves sitting, steaming, and frustrated. Consequently, they are taking exit ramps in alarming numbers, traveling alternate routes that lead into spiritual cul de sacs.

Most churches, unwittingly, are structured to hinder, rather than harness the power of God’s people. Instead of systems and strategies to help people discover and deploy their God-giftedness and purpose, church structures have become strictures that tether people to the church building, and Sunday/Wednesday activities. Their “mission” is to serve as vendors for the consumers who show up to partake of the programs offered. Worse, they may be relegated to the role of consumer themselves, tuned in to that popular station w.i.i.f.m. (what’s in it for me).

God may be saying to His church, as he did to Pharoah, “Let My People Go!” Pastors chronically lament a worker shortage, and that 20% of the membership does 80% of the work. But, that could be good news. Maybe doing “church” as is only requires 20% of  the workforce. That leaves 80% to be released into God’s harvest field to be the church.

What process does your church have to transform its membership into missionaries? Is there an intentional equipping of people to study the word for themselves, pray effectively, share their faith, and utilize their giftedness and skill sets? Let God’s people go to where they live, work, play, and go to schoo,l to demonstrate the love of God. Encourage them to be the church wherever they go, to be good news to whoever they meet, and to engage their world in ways that makes God smile, and makes a world of difference.

Obedience to Christ mandates every believer fleshing out the great commission with their God-given gifts and resources. Reaching our neighborhoods and the next towns will remain forever elusive unless the church releases the ordinary Christians God is calling to do the extraordinary task of loving their neighbors to Christ.

The 10 Most Important People in Your Church on Sunday…by Robert Beike

1. Guests — Are newcomers treated as visitors who may come and go, or as guests who are expected, planned for, and made to feel welcome?

2. Greeters and Ushers — Smiles are the most cost effective outreach tools a church can employ. The first 4 minutes a guest is on your property are the most critical. What kind of impression are you making? Is your attitude saying, “stay away,” or “come and stay?”

3. Custodial Workers — Is your facility clean and uncluttered, especially in the ladies restroom and nursery?

4. Nursery and Children’s Workers — Are parents confident their children are well cared for and safe?

5. Sunday School/Small Group Workers — Are all attendees valued and made to feel welcome? Is God’s word being taught for transformation and not just information?

6. People who sit next to new people — Are new people ignored or included? Are they introduced to others and their comfort considered?

7. Worship Leader(s) — Is there warmth and enthusiasm? Are the people engaged in authentic worship, escorted into the presence of God?

8. People who sing — This includes the congregation as well as singers of special music. Are they smiling? is there joy? Genuineness?

9. Pastor — It’s no mistake that the pastor is so far down on the list. Unless the first eight are positive influences the pastor’s role is extremely difficult. Still, the pastor can make a huge difference. Is he engaging and people friendly? Does he handle God’s word with integrity? Does he communicate God’s truth clearly?

10. Follow-up Person(s) — Is appreciation for guests’ attendance expressed? Is an invitation for further involvement extended? Are questions adequately answered? The first 48 hours following the service is critical in securing their further participation.

 

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