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Thursday, December 17, 2009

2010 and Stone Church part two

Well, this is part two of a two part blog on "2010 and the Stone Church".

What are our goals for 2010?

As a Pentecostal church, we would like to grow in the way the church did in the book of Acts.

It was explosive growth – from about 120 to possibly as many 100,000 in 25 years. Who wouldn’t want that?

Let's review: We saw yesterday four principles:

1. We must minister in the Holy Spirit's power.
2. We must maintain a warm fellowship.
3. We must multiply small groups.
4. We must continue to be faithful in giving.

Three more:

5. We must magnify our vision of God.

In Acts 4:24, the apostles had been taken prisoner and questioned before the Sanhedrin. Then they came back and prayed. Notice the prayer: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.”

In the midst of a time of crisis, the apostles acknowledged that God was ruler over everything and ultimately in control.

We know the church is on the winning side. We’ve read the last chapter. We know how it’s going to end. If someone asks why we don’t get discouraged, we can answer: “We know who is going to win. We’re part of a mission that can’t fail.”

That’s why we must continually find ourselves on the offensive.

The Bible says in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”

Are gates an offensive weapon or a defensive weapon? They’re defensive. You build gates to keep people from getting to you.

So that means Satan isn’t attacking us. We’re attacking him! We’re trying to snatch people out of his grasp. A lot of churches want to play it safe and avoid being tainted. But I believe in a big God who doesn’t want us to hide from the great evils of this world.

Let's not be afraid to rock the boat if Jesus Christ is the captain. We’re on the winning side. When we focus on God, circumstances will seem inconsequential to his greatness. He’s got all the resources we need.

6. We must maximize the power of prayer.

Our annual week of prayer will be January 11-15, 2010.

I am looking forward to this time of fasting and having conversations with God.

If you look through the book of Acts, you’ll see the phrase “they prayed” 48 times. We will have power like the church in Acts when we pray like the church in Acts. Think about it. There was a first-century apostle, James, whom they called “camel knees” because he prayed so much!

The early church was engaged in a spiritual battle. So are we. Spiritual warfare requires the use of spiritual weapons. That’s why we must maximize the power of prayer if we’re going to be like the church of Jerusalem. Jesus said that his house would be “a house of prayer.” Is our church a house of prayer?

7. We must all participate in ministry

People didn't sit on the sidelines in the early church. The church mobilized everyone for ministry. Acts 6 shows this. The church was growing so fast the apostles couldn’t keep up with all the ministry needs, so they mobilized others to meet those needs.

We need you in 2010! We need everyone involved in ministry! We are a team - "Together Experiencing A Ministry".

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2010 and Stone Church

2010 is going to bring to us all kinds of opportunities and challenges as a church family.

I am excited about what's going to take place in our church in 2010, and I sense that you are also.

God has some great things in store for us!

One of our goals is grow spiritually and numerically.

We don't focus on numbers for numbers sake - I always say, "we are not here to fill up empty pews with people, we are here to fill up empty lives with Jesus Christ," - but when people are being touched by God - they come.

So what is to be our model in the coming year? What is to be our focus?

The early church in the book of Acts gives us a great model for a growing church.

Dr. Luke writes in Acts 2:47, “The Lord added to their number daily.” That means at least 365 new people every year! Some have estimated that the early church in Jerusalem had 100,000 members – half the size of the city.

We can learn from the New Testament Church.

Here are four quick principles and goals that we have for the coming year:

1. We must minister in the Holy Spirit’s power.

We must rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to minister through us each day. No ministry paradigm, strategy, or dynamic staff can replace the power of God’s Spirit.

Jesus says in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

To have the kind of church they had in the New Testament, we need the kind of members they had in the New Testament: Spirit-controlled members.

That’s anyone who’s making Jesus Lord of his or her life. To make Jesus Lord is to let the Spirit take control of your life.

That's taking advantage of the tools that God has given us by His Holy Spirit: Using our prayer language, ministering in the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

A lot of people try to minister without the Holy Spirit, and it doesn’t work.

Not only does it NOT work, but we end up exhausted, never having enough energy to minister in the way that we want to.

But if we lean on the Holy Spirit, we’ll have all we need.

Jesus knew all that was before the apostles. He knew they couldn't’ do it without the Spirit, so he said, “Don’t leave Jerusalem without the Holy Spirit.” That’s where all ministry begins.

2. We must maintain a warm fellowship.

The New Testament church gives us a great example of warm fellowship.

In Acts 2:42-44, Dr. Luke writes, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.”

Notice that when Luke wrote this account of the early church, he didn’t write, “See what great buildings they built.”

He said, “See how they love one another.”

That’s a crucial mark of a world-changing church. A church that makes a difference in its community is one that truly loves one another.

When God has a bunch of baby Christians and soon-to-be baby Christians, he looks for the warmest incubator he can find. God blesses a warm church with new believers because he doesn’t want them in the church of the Frigid-Air. He wants them in a warm environment where they can grow.

Ten times in the first five chapters of Acts, the Bible says the early church was unified.

Luke uses phrases like, “They were of one accord…one heart…one purpose…one spirit...all united in thought.” God can overlook a lack of facilities, a lack of programs, and a lack of leadership. But he won’t overlook disharmony in the church.

3. We must multiply small groups.

Acts 2:46,47 says, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

You see two gathering places for the church in this passage: “house to house” and “temple courts.” Both types of meeting places were used by the early church.

Why use small groups?

They are infinitely expandable. No matter what size of a building that we are building, at some point we are going to max it out. We will have to start more services to continue to grow (take that any way you desire - either as a prophecy or the natural progression of what will be when we move out to 183rd street).

In small groups, we can grow through homes.

Why life groups in homes?

They promote fellowship. Put a guy in a classroom on Sunday morning in a suit and tie for Bible Study, and he won’t say a word.

But you put him in a Bible study in a home on a sofa on a Friday night with a cup of coffee in his hand, and he’ll talk his head off. Why? That home environment is relaxing.

They are unlimited geographically. If we have people attending services that live far away, they can’t be all that involved in our church.

But they can be a part of a small group in their neighborhood. We can have small groups across a wide spectrum of geography.

4. We must continue to be faithful in our giving.

Again, we go to Acts 2, which tells us in verse 45, "Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."

Let's don't miss the point of that verse. No one is asking anyone to sell their possession and goods. But let's all continue to be faithful with our tithes, our giving to missions and giving to the building fund.

As our national economy continues to struggle, we know that God can work miracles in the coming year! I encourage all of us to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us in this area. Thank you for your faithfulness!

We need you!

I could say a lot more - but for today - this is enough.

May God bless us as we endeavor to build His Kingdom!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A White Elephant Christmas

Every year at our deacon/elder/staff Christmas dinner we have a "white elephant" gift exchange.

It is always a lot of fun - this year's exceptionally so.

One disclaimer: I walked away with two, real, authentic, "raggedy Ann" dolls, which I will promptly give to my granddaughter when I see her.

I came across something today that is challenging, especially during this Christmas season.

The bottom line: We must continue to put Christ first this Christmas.

By now, if you are like me, you have reach that stage of "Holiday Exhaustion" that leaves you sitting in a dimly lit room with drool running down the side of your face," mumbling, "when is it ever going to end, when is it ever going to end."

I exaggerate (for those of you who need that disclaimer) to make a point.

No matter how hard I try to focus on Christ, it is easy to get distracted.

Let me give you this quote from Pastor John Huffman:

"One year we hosted the annual church staff Christmas luncheon at our home. We exchanged "white elephant" gifts, laughing until something stopped all of our fun.

The tenth or so person to pick a gift lifted from a gift bag a little baby Jesus in a manger. My wife, Anne, was stunned when she saw it. It looked just like the central figure in the nativity scene that was on our living room table.

She left the room to check our nativity set, and sure enough, the baby Jesus figurine was missing. Somehow it had fallen off the table and into the gift bag on top of the tissue paper in which the real gift was wrapped. We all had a good laugh and returned Jesus to the nativity scene.

The more I thought about it, though, this little incident was quite telling. So often Jesus is swept off center stage in all of our Christmas festivities, relegated to a kind of "white elephant" status. How sad, when he is so central!"

Just a thought for a Tuesday....

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

I was very grateful and pleased at the response of our youth leaders yesterday, as we met and dialogued about next year.

Each one is "stepping up" to the plate to help us out.

Making sure that ministry continues to our youth group is a top priority of mine - I am in continual prayer for their spiritual, emotional and relational well-being.

I am also pleased to announce that Mike and Christine Trevino will be our "fill in" youth pastors until God leads us to another one.

Mike and Christine come to us with rich background of ministry experience, having served the last few years as the head of "Youth Alive" for the district.

They are just a great couple, full of love for God and for people. They have one son, Elijah, who is almost a year old.

I thought it was interesting the way that the Lord moved at the end of the second service yesterday.

We were worshipping God - and all of a sudden I felt led to lead us in a moment of quietness before God. God gave us a word - "Everything is going to be okay."

It was a "Be still and know that I am God" type moment.

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus decides to visit the home of a woman named Martha. When he arrives, he finds Martha distracted by all the tasks that come with being the host.

Despite her harried efforts, it is the posture of her sister, Mary, that Jesus praises. With little concern for a successful social event, Mary chooses to sit at the feet of Jesus as he teaches those who have gathered for the meal.

As the story comes to a close, Jesus says it is Mary who "has chosen what is better."

Though at first glance this doesn't appear to be a story we should look at during the Advent and Christmas seasons, but writer Mayo Mathers thinks otherwise.

In an article for, an on-line resource for Christian women, she confesses that hosting parties, cooking up delicious buffets, and shopping for gifts brings out the "Martha" in her.

She had never given this much thought until she attended her church's annual Christmas pageant.

She writes of her breakthrough moment:

As I sat in the candlelit sanctuary absentmindedly listening to the peaceful strains of "Silent Night," I wrestled mentally with a list of things to be done. When the congregation stood to sing carols, my lips moved unconsciously to the words while my brain mulled over various menus for our annual Christmas Eve buffet.

As in every Christmas pageant, the usual parade of bathrobe-draped children marched down the center aisle. A pseudo-weary Mary and Joseph shook their heads in dismay as the innkeeper turned them away. Having watched so many similar renditions of the Christmas story, it had become commonplace to me.

Realizing this, I felt a stab of guilt and bowed my head. Father, I prayed, let me see the story through your eyes tonight.

The young girl portraying Mary began to sing a lullaby to the child in her arms. Her voice was so pure, so full of love and awe, that I stared at her, transfixed, my distracted musings forgotten.

Suddenly, it was as if the congregation had disappeared as if I had been transported back in time to the actual stable in Bethlehem.

As I listened to her song, wonder and immense gratitude settled upon me. Into my heart God whispered, If ever there was a time to worship me, it's now! This season is about me only, but each year you crowd me out with the inconsequential!

Mathers closes her article with these words: "Beautiful, delicious dinners are nice. 'Just right' gifts are delightful. But I'm learning that only one thing really matters: while I tend to be more like Martha, at Christmas, 'tis the season to be 'Mary!'"

What a great Word in the midst of all of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season.

I love our church. I love the people in our church. And...I am thankful for the way that god is beginning to move in our services.

Debbie did a great job last night in putting up our Christmas decorations in our house. They look magnificent. George comes home tomorrow evening, Becky on Christmas Eve. Andrew, Christie and Georgia are spending Christmas this year with Andrew's parents.

The Dallas Cowboys..what can I say. They lost again in December. I am beginning to believe that they can't win when "crunch time" comes.

I think that teams take on the personality of their coach, and it is showing as there seems to be a lack of a will to win when the game is "on the line."

And now, the New Orleans Saints are next. They are undefeated, and Dallas will be playing them in New Orleans.

Not good.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Waiting at Christmas

This Sunday, my message is entitled, "Waiting for Christ at Christmas." It's going to be fun looking at the subject of waiting.

I would submit to you that no one, I mean no one, like to wait. And waiting is difficult for us, particularly at this time of the year. You go to the supermarket and the lines are longer than normal, and you have to wait. You go to the mall and the stores are filled and you have to wait.

Then there is Christmas morning (or Christmas Eve depending upon your tradition) where the kids are waiting for their gifts. Yet it is not just kids that are impatient, how many adults sneak over in the days before Christmas, pick up their gift and shake it a little bit?

I am not a patient person. I guess I have come to terms with that and am comfortable enough with myself to say that.

I don't like to wait.

Have you ever felt that a driver was really slow in pulling out of a parking space for which you were waiting? It turns out your imagination may not be playing tricks on you. A recent study of 400 drivers in a shopping mall found that drivers took longer to pull out of a space if someone was waiting than if nobody was waiting there to claim the space.

On average, if nobody was waiting for the space, drivers took 32.2 seconds to pull out of a spot after opening a car door. If someone was waiting, drivers took about 39 seconds. And woe to the person who honks to hurry a driver: drivers took 43 seconds to pull out of a space when the waiting driver honked!

I like the true story (told by Paul Harvey) of a woman in Hershey, Pennsylvania who had been patiently waiting for a parking space to open up (she was driving a Mercedes). The shopping mall was crowded.

The woman in the Mercedes zigzagged between rows - then up ahead she saw a man with a load of packages heading for his car.

She drove up, parked behind him and waited while he opened his trunk and loaded it with packages.

Finally, he got into his car and backed out of the parking space.

But before the woman in the Mercedes could drive into the parking space, a young man in a shiny new Corvette zipped past and around her and he pulled into the empty space, got out and started walking away.

"Hey!" shouted the woman in the Mercedes, "I've been waiting for that parking place!"

The young man replied, "Sorry, lady; that's how it is when you're young and quick."

At that instant she put her Mercedes in gear, floor-boarded it, crashed into and crushed the right rear fender and corner panel of the flashy new Corvette.

Now the young guy is dumping up and down shouting, "You can't do that!"

The lady in the Mercedes said, "That's how it is when you are old and rich!"

Here is what I know: "Waiting is not just the thing we have to do until we get what we hope for. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what we hope for."

God is doing something in us while we wait!

As a church family, we are waiting on our building to be finished.

We are now waiting on a new youth pastor.

But just as important as seeing the end result of moving out to 183rd street and bringing on a new pastoral staff member is what God wants to do in us while we wait.

Let's use this time to grow!

Let's use this time to draw closer to God!

And let me tell you - as we grow - it will be worth the wait.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Growing in the midst of impossible situations

There's a story told about Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first person (along with Tenzing Norgay) to reach the top of Mount Everest.

It happened on his third try. On Hillary's previous attempt he not only failed to reach the summit, but his team also lost one of its members.

After their failed attempt, Hillary spoke to an audience about the experience. Behind him on the platform was a huge photograph of Everest. Hillary turned toward the photograph and said, "Mount Everest, you have defeated us. But I will return. And I will defeat you. Because you cannot get any bigger ... and I can."

That's a great story. As the old cliche goes, "whatever doesn't kill you helps you to grow."

What impossible mountain are you facing today?

I have several.

All I can do is to trust in God (and have faith) and know that He is in control.

And when I do that - I grow.

When it comes to facing mountains, do you know how we 'get bigger'?

It starts with faith. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20)

Edmund Hillary became "bigger than Everest" through better planning, more detailed research, greater teamwork, and tenacious perseverance. And it started with faith -- the faith that this mountain could be conquered.

No doubt you're facing a mountain or two today: a mountain of debt, a mountain of fear, a mountain of uncertainty. Mountains don't move without determined effort, thoughtful planning, or courageous perseverance.

And these things all begin with faith. It is faith that gives you the ability to attempt something bigger than yourself. Not faith in ourselves, but faith in the God for whom nothing is impossible.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Looking at Christmas from God's persepctive

I have often wondered what God thought the day that Jesus was born. How did he feel, what emotions did he experience in sending his only son to walk this earth in a fleshly body.

What kind of "concerns" did God have?

It's an interesting question.

I came across this story today (and I quote):

"In a short devotional for Christmas, writer Paul Williams reflects on why he still remembers one particular Christmas pageant from 1981. It all starts with a strep-stricken son. He writes:

The dull eyes tipped me off before he could open his mouth. Jonathan had strep throat. It seemed the children in our family picked up strep two or three times a year, and someone always had it during the holidays.

Jonathan had been excited about the nursery school Christmas play for a couple of weeks. He would be Joseph. Mary would be played by a Jewish girl from down the block. Yes, her parents had given permission for her to be in the Christmas pageant.

With neck glands swollen and his voice a nasally whine, Jonathan begged to go to the festivities. Against our better judgment, we acquiesced.

Bundling our son in his warmest coat, we drove the five short miles to the Central Islip Church of Christ. By the time all the parents had squeezed into the small auditorium, Jonathan was as white as the pillowcase he was wearing as a head covering. He looked fragile and diminutive.

Cathy and I sat on the front row. Jonathan came down the aisle hand in hand with Mary, and the two sat down on the second step below the manger, recently retrieved from its usual home in the boiler room.

Jonathan was looking paler still, all the light out of his big blue eyes. He looked at us and managed a weak smile.

As soon as the play was over we hauled Jonathan off to the doctor's office. Since our family doctor was a friend, we sneaked in and out in no time. Filled with penicillin, our son was feeling better the next morning. I do not remember much about the rest of that Christmas season, though I am sure it was utterly delightful, as all Christmas celebrations are.

I have often pondered why that is my only remembrance of that Christmas, in December of 1981. Of all the memories of all our family Christmas experiences, what makes that one event stand out?

I know the reason.

Christmas is truly about frail vulnerability, freely chosen. With heart in throat God watched his infant Son cry and squirm in the cold manger, where there was no penicillin.

I know how I felt watching my son with his head resting in those small hands, wanting to be brave, but weak and unsteady. I can only imagine what my heavenly Father thought, seeing his infant Son in the hands of a frightened young girl."

Have you ever thought about what God thought about Christmas?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Well, a busy weekend...

Friday, Debbie and I went to visit Cecil Swanson (and Jeanette was there as well) at Christ hospital. We had a great visit and prayed together.

Cecil is having a heart catherisation today with a possible stint.

We then went to the Royal Ranger banquet and had a great time - I'm grateful for all of our leaders and their hard work and faithfulness!

Saturday was busy as well with the Saturday morning prayer time - it was great to hear Rick's testimony that after being laid off - God gave him a new job, created just for him - in 22 days (in this down economy that is a miracle).

Saturday evening, Debbie and I snuck away and saw "The Blind Side", a movie about a family in Memphis taking in a homeless high school young man, who is now in the pros playing football.

It is a wonderful movie (even though I am not a big Sandra Bullock fan) with a storyline of redemption, compassion and reaching out to those in need.

I love being surprised in movies that I go into with low expectations.

The movie showed that there is good in the world, there are people who desire to reach out and that it is a good thing to help those who are disavantaged.

Sunday powerful move of God's spirit.

It's been eight years since I have felt God's presence as I did while praying for people after my sermon. Truly powerful.

And we continued to worship well into the second service as well.

I am grateful for God's moving. May he continue to move in our services?

Last night at life group - we had a wonderful time of prayer for needs, as well as eating Tom Janel's chili (thanks Tom, delicious stuff). We also brought canned good to give to our church food pantry and gave monies to give to needy families in our church.

Debbie and I love going to our life group - it's not only a lot of fun - but it is encouraging and helpful to us as well in our own lives.

Busy, busy, time!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

how to handle change

Coping with change

Change is difficult. Especially when it involves someone we love.

We are all going to miss Pastor Erik and Bethany as they leave to fulfill God's new calling upon their lives.

I know that in the new few weeks, you will want to join me in expressing your love to and for them.

Let's talk about how to handle change.

There are now over 2000 classified fears in the medical encyclopedia.

Many of them are well known but some you’ve probably never heard of. For instance: butterphobia – the fear of peanut butter sticking to the top of your mouth. That is a legitimate fear for some people. Or, Photophobia – the fear that you don’t ever look good in pictures.

Some fears we’re very familiar with and some are more obscure.

For instance, we all know about agoraphobia – which is the fear of open places. But, some of you don’t know about angoraphobia – which is the fear of soft, fuzzy sweaters. We all know about zoophobia, which is the fear of animals. But have you heard about Furbyphobia – the fear of weird talkative toys that are impossible to turn off? And how about the fear that you are going to spend too much on Christmas – that’s called ho-ho-ho-phobia.

Just kidding.

But all of us have this fear – and it’s a big one – the fear of change.

There are some changes that we love.

But when we lose a loved one, or get fired from a job, or experience some changes in other areas of our lives, we cry foul. There are so many changes that come into our lives that we don’t like.

We resent change: We don't like it; but we don't do anything about it. We just get upset. We seek for someone to blame. I mean, "How can Erik and Bethany leave us, surely something must be wrong." "Surely someone is to blame."

Well, if we are to blame anyone, it would be "God" for leading Erik and Bethany into another form of ministry.

We resist change: we fight it and oppose it.

We run from change: We go in the opposite direction.

What are the positive results of change?

1. It causes us to grow.
2. It takes us places we would never go.
3. Change gets us out of a rut
4. Change gives us a new sense of God's direction

Experts tell us that the most successful people (churches) are the ones who learn how to cope with change.

Change can cause frustration in our lives. Stress. Pressure

Change can cause fear in our lives. We wonder where we are going and that's scary.

Change can cause fatigue in our lives.

How do you deal with the fear of change?

Disclaimer: Most of the rest of my blog is a lengthy quote.

"There are at least three changes taking place in America that are causing a great deal of anxiety and tension today. Let's try to identify them and then look at what God has to say about some antidotes to help us cope with change.

1. Everything is moving faster.

The pace of life is speeding up. Progress, in general, always causes things to go faster.

If there is one one that defines our modern, technocratic age, it is acceleration.

We’ve become a quick-reflexed, channel-flipping, fast-forwarding people.

It's like the story of a man who was out in his front yard mowing his grass when he saw his neighbor come out of the house and head straight to the mailbox. He opened it, then slammed it shut, and stormed back into the house. A little later he came back out of the house and again went to the mailbox, opened it, and slammed it shut again.

A couple minutes later, he came out again, marched to the mailbox, opened it, and slammed it harder than ever. The neighbor was puzzled, so he went over to the man and said, “Is there something wrong?” To which he replied, “There certainly is. My stupid computer keeps saying, “You’ve got mail!”

Things are changing, aren’t they?

I read this week that King George of England wrote in his diary on July 4, 1776, “Nothing much happened today,” because it took weeks for him to discover that the colonies were in rebellion and there was a full fledged American revolution going on.

Today, King George would hear it instantly on CNN and be flooded by emails and "twits".

And everybody else would be aware of it, too.

Things are moving faster.

Everything is moving faster.

2. Every decision is getting complicated.

Even simple decisions are very complicated in our lives. There are a couple reasons for this.

One is that technology has connected everything. The world has gotten smaller. Things that happen on the other side of the world affect my life today.
But more than that, the real reason life has become complicated, is that we are being inundated with multiple choices.

Do you know that there are twelve different varieties of Edge shaving cream? There’s Normal Skin, Fragrance Free, Tough Beard, Regular, Skin Conditioning, Sensitive Skin, Menthol, Medicated, Extra Moisturizing, Extra Protection, Extra Refreshing, and Extra Soothing.

And, do you know what? No matter which one I buy, I still cut myself, get razor burn and miss whiskers when I shave!

There’s a third thing we’re seeing that’s causing great stress.

Not only is everything moving faster, and every decision getting more complicated, but also every value is being challenged.

3. Every value is being challenged.

We see this everywhere. Right is being called wrong. Wrong is being called right. There are people today that don’t even believe there is such a thing as right and wrong. Every value we have had in America is being challenged by some group in some way today. Political correctness has created all kinds of crazy ideas. We now live in a society where everything is plausible and nothing is certain.

Did you hear about the new web site where you can bid on which model you would like to be the mother of your children?

For an opening bid of $50,000 you can arrange things so that your child will hopefully look like a beautiful model when he or she grows up. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d want the personality and character traits of some of Hollywood’s finest to be evident in my children.

How are we supposed to live in this kind of environment? When things are getting faster and life is getting more frantic, when things are getting more complicated, and when all the values that have held families and society together are now thrown out the window, how in the world are we supposed to live?

Alvin Toffler, who wrote the best-selling book Future Shock says that when people go through rapid times of change they need what he calls, “islands of stability”. Those are things that do not change in your life.

God made human beings to be very adaptable and flexible. But, when everything is flying off the wall, coming unglued, and the hurricanes of change are blowing through our lives, we need to have something that does not change. As we face the 21st century and the new millennium, we’ve got to be able to say, “I know a lot of things are going to change around me, but I know these things for sure. I can count on this and this and this.”

Is there anything like that in the world? Are there any islands of stability? My guess is there are probably some things in your life that you thought were unchangeable two or three years ago but have already changed. And they weren’t reliable. Is there anything that never, ever changes?

The Bible says that there are three things that won’t change.


In Malachi 3:6, God says, “I, the Lord, do not change.” There’s a theological term for that called the immutability of God. That means He’s always been the same, He is the same right now, and He will always be the same. Why does God never change? Is it that He can’t? Is it that He doesn’t want to? Is it that He’s stuck in His ways? Why does God never change?

It’s because He’s perfect. And because God is perfect, He can’t get any better – and He can’t get any worse. If you’re perfect there is no reason to change, because you are perfect. So God says, “I never change.”

In Jeremiah 31:3, He says this “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” You were created as an object of God’s love. You were made to be loved by God. You want to know why you’re here on this earth? You were created to be loved by God. His love is continuous. It is everlasting. It is consistent. The Bible says that God is always unchanging in His love toward us.

That is such good news. Because while God is consistent, I an incredibly inconsistent. The Bible teaches that God loves me just as much on my good days as He does on my bad days. He loves me when I feel it and He loves me when I don’t feel it. He loves me when I think I’m close to Him and doing the right thing and He loves me when I’m not close to Him and I’m not doing the right thing. His love is not based on my performance. His love is based on His character.

It is consistent. It is continual. It is everlasting.

No matter what happens to you in the year 2000, or even tomorrow, there is one thing you can be sure of: God is not going to stop loving you. No matter what you go through, nothing is going to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 119:159 proclaims, “Your love never changes.” You can count on God no matter what happens in the new millennium, or even tomorrow, because God is never going to stop loving you.

The point is this: We always get into trouble when we doubt God’s love. Always. I never need to doubt His love for me. There are a lot of things I could worry about but I don’t have to worry about that one. No matter how I feel, no matter what I’ve done, or what I’ve thought, God’s love is based on His character.

Romans 8:38 is a marvelous verse. Listen to it in the Message translation: “Nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, thinkable or unthinkable -- absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love.”

That means you can go to bed tonight, confident of the fact that tomorrow morning when you get up God is not going to have changed His mind about you. You will never be loved by God any more than you are at this very moment. You will never be loved by God any less than you are at this very moment. God’s love never changes. That is something I can anchor my life to.


In Isaiah 40:8 God says, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of our God shall stand forever.” It’s timeless, enduring, and eternal. It never withers; it’s always fresh. It doesn’t get stale. God’s Word is never out of date.

We believe God’s Word is eternal – it will guide us today and it will lead us into the new millennium.

Psalm 119:152 says, “Long ago I learned from Your statues that You established them to last forever.”

God’s Word will last forever because it is eternal. Jesus said it like this: “Heaven and earth will pass away but My word will never pass away.”

Did you catch the cover of a recent U.S. News and World Report? Alongside a dramatic painting of Adam and Eve, the title of the cover story asks, “Is the Bible True?” Based upon some new archaeological evidence, the article answers the question with a confident, “Yes!” Brothers and sisters, we have nothing to fear from scientific inquiry into the Bible. We should welcome it. Why? Because the Word of God is true and will never change.

When the American astronaut Alan Shepherd was getting ready to go up into space for the very first time, a reporter asked him “What are you depending on in this flight?” His answer is classic: “I’m depending upon the fact that God’s laws will not change.” Great answer.

These laws do not change because God’s Word does not change. What would happen if gravity worked every other day? Would that put a crimp in your lifestyle?

In the same way, God has established some moral and spiritual laws for the universe. God gives these parameters for our good. When we ignore these spiritual laws, we don’t break them – they break us. We get hurt. Every time I ignore God’s laws, I hurt myself. They’re there for my benefit. When I go against what God says, it causes stress. It causes worry. It causes guilt. It causes anger. It causes conflict in relationships.

God says to you and He says to me, “I want you to listen to My word.” Do you know what the most basic fundamental temptation is? It’s the temptation that Adam and Eve had and it’s the same one you have every single day of your life: the temptation to doubt God’s word. We hear it like this: “Did God really say, don’t do that?”

If Satan can get you to question God’s Word, you’re going to fall for anything.
Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 5:24: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice, is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Jesus is saying if you want to have a stable home, you’ve got to build it on an unchanging foundation. You’ve got to build on a rock.

The same is true for your life. If you want to build your life in a way that is solid and significant and handles the stress and the changes of the 21st century, you’d better build it on the truth of God’s Word, because it is bedrock. It is not going to change. Popular opinion is going to change, psychology books are going to change, what the talk radio hosts talk about is going to change. Everything else changes. But God’s Word does not. So if you want stability, build your life on God’s unchanging truth.

Here’s a secret stabilizer from personal experience: if you want to lower the stress and raise the confidence in your life, memorize scripture. That is probably the most significant habit that I can encourage you to develop in the 21st century. As you read the Bible and you find a verse that really speaks to you, take out a pen, write it down on a three by five card and memorize it.

Some of you say, “I can’t memorize.” Actually, we memorize what we’re interested in. I know guys who say they can’t memorize but they remember every baseball statistic for the last ten years.


That’s the third thing I can understand and know confidently. God’s purpose for my life will never change. 1 Samuel 15:29 teaches that: “God is not a man. He doesn’t change His mind.”

I’m really glad for that verse. Long before you were born, God planned you. And that plan has never changed. He created you for a purpose. You were made for a reason. If you are alive today, God has a purpose for your life.

Have you noticed that your plans often get changed? Why? There are at least two reasons: One, you can’t see the future. You don’t have foresight. You don’t have the perspective. None of us can know what’s going to happen tomorrow, much less ten years from now.

The other reason your plans often get changed is you don’t always have the means to pull them off. You may have a great plan, but you don’t have the time or you don’t have the money, or you don’t have the energy or intelligence or the opportunity or the power to pull it all off.

Contrast that with God. God never has to change His plans. Never. Why? Because God is all knowing – He’s omniscient. And God is all-powerful – He’s omnipotent. So God never has to change His plans. He already knows everything that’s going to happen and He already has the power to do anything He wants to do. So He doesn’t ever have to change His plans. His plan for you has never changed – and it never will.
Since God says, “I made you for a purpose and that plan doesn’t change,” that brings up three very important questions:

1. Can I miss God’s purpose for my life? Absolutely. Of course you can miss it. Millions and millions of people miss God’s purpose for their life all the time. You can miss it by neglect. You can miss God’s purpose for your life by arrogance – by doing your plan and not God’s (we learned about that last week). You can miss it by disobedience, by rebellion, and by laziness. You can live your entire life and never fulfill the reason you were actually put on this earth. That’s a tragedy, but God never forces His purpose on us. It’s a choice where you say, “Jesus Christ, I want You to be my Lord. I want to follow Your plan and purpose for my life.”

2. Can I get back on track after wasting years of my life? Absolutely. Psalm 33:11: “His plans endure forever. His purposes last eternally.” That means that no matter what has happened in your life to date, God’s purpose for your life has not changed because He’s unchanging. His purposes never change. Some of you may say, “But you don’t know about that moral blowout I had three years ago or ten years ago. You don’t know about that sin, that stupid decision I made where I took the wrong turn in life and wasted ten or twenty years or more. You don’t know.” I say this: Regardless of what has happened in your life up to this point – God has not given up on you. And He never will. No matter what’s happened.

Let the truth of Proverbs 19:21 penetrate your life: “You can make many plans but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.”

That brings up the third question:

3. What about all those dumb things I’ve done? What about all those stupid decisions and bad choices? Those things that I regret and wish had never happened and I’d like to go back and do over?

Romans 8:28: "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose.” We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. It doesn’t say in some things. It doesn’t say in the good things. It says in all things.

It does not say that all things are good. No, not all things are good. There is a lot of evil and heartache in the world. I’ve experienced some of it and so have you. It says in all things God works for good. He can take evil and tragedies and turn them around and bring good out of them. He loves to turn crucifixions into resurrections.

The Bible says, in all things God works for the good. For everyone? No, this is not a promise for everybody in the whole world. It is a promise for those who love Him, those who are called according to His purpose. Only when you say, “Jesus Christ, I want to be Yours. I want to take all the pieces of my life and let You give me Your peace for my pieces. I want to give You all this.”

Think about the biggest disappointment or hurt you’ve ever had. Or think about the thing you regret most in your life. Think about the dumbest thing you’ve ever done, your most unwise choice. Think about the most hurtful thing somebody else has done to you.

God saw it all before it ever happened. And He has found a way to weave it into His plan and purpose for your good, for your growth, and for His glory. What a God! He is good – all the time. No matter what you’ve gone through, whether it was your fault or somebody else’s. God can use it for good if you give Him the pieces.
What are you afraid of? When you think about the future, what’s your stomach in a knot about? When you think about the changes that are coming in your life, what is it that causes your back muscles and neck to tense up, or your face to feel flushed, or your mouth to go dry, because you wonder, “I don’t know if I can handle this or not.”

Regardless of what it is that’s got you stressed out this morning, why don’t you do what David did in Psalm 56:11: “I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?” Why should I be afraid? I trust in God. Then he says this, “God is our refuge and strength, a tested help [He’s proven reliable] in times of trouble. And so we need not fear even if the world blows up [or Y2K causes some problems] and the mountains crumble into the sea.” The truth is I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what the next millennium holds and either do you.

But I do know three things. And I know if I build my life on these three unchangeable facts, on these three islands of stability, I can handle enormous stress and change in my life.

I know this:

• God will never stop loving me, even when I feel unlovable.
• God’s Word is always true. It may not make sense. It may seem unreasonable and unpopular, but it is always the truth.
• God’s purposes are greater than my problems.

Any time I start doubting these things – these three grand truths – I get myself in trouble. When I start doubting God’s love, I start disobeying Him. When I start doubting God’s Word, I tend to do my own thing. When I begin doubting that God has a purpose, I start saying “Why are all these problems happening to me? Why me? What’s going on?” And I start doubting that God really is in control.

So if you want to face the future confidently and cope victoriously with change, all you need to do is respond. You see, it’s not automatic. God offers us stability, but we must respond in order to activate His power in our lives.

3 Responses:
• Accept God’s love
• Believe God’s Word
• Commit to God’s purpose

Can you pray with me, "Dear God, I realize there are many things in my life that are beyond my control. You know that sometimes I have a difficult time adjusting to all the difficult changes around me. I need Your stability in my life, Jesus. I want to start focusing on the things that will never change. Thank You that You will never stop loving me. Thank You so much. Today I accept Your love through Jesus Christ. Thank You for Your unchanging word. Help me to learn it and live by it. Thank You for making me for a purpose. In this next year, I want to get to know You better and Your plan for my life. I ask You to forgive me for the years that I’ve wasted, but I want to get back on track today. I open up my life to You, dear Lord. Come in and take control."

Good stuff

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Speaking (and singing) to demons

A while back, a friend and brother asked me, "should we be singing, 'Satan the blood of Jesus is against you' (A song from the Brooklyn Tabernacle choir). Should we be addressing Satan in song?

Great question.

A broader rephrasing of the question would be: Why do people speak directly to demons today and command them to leave, rather than just praying and asking God to drive the demons away. Isn't it safer just to pray to God about this?

Let's use this parallel.

In a way, this is similar to asking why Christians should share the gospel with another person rather than simply praying and asking God to reveal the Gospel to that person directly.

Or why should we speak words of encouragement to a Christian who is discouraged rather than just praying and asking God Himself to encourage that person directly?

Why should we speak a word of rebuke or gentle admonition to a Christian, whom we see involved in some kind of sin, rather than just praying and asking God to take care of the sin in that person's life?

The answer to all of these question is that in the kind of world God has created, He has given us an active role in carrying out His plans, especially His plans of advancing the Kingdom and building up the Church.

In all of these cases, our direct involvement and activity is important in addition to our prayers.

And so it seems to be in our dealing with demonic forces as well.

Take for instance one of your kids. They get into an argument at their school on the playground.

A wise father doesn't step in right away and settle all of their disputes. He let's them try to settle the disputes themselves.

In the same way God encourages us to enter directly into conflict with demonic forces, in the name of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The New Testament pattern seems to be that God routinely expects us, as followers of Christ, to speak directly to the unclean spirits.

Jesus did this, as did his 70 disciples.

The 70 said, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name?" (Luke 10:17)

Paul did this in speaking to the demon in the soothsaying girl at Philippi, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her." And the spirit left.

True, Satan is not to be the centerpiece of our worship, nor of our prayers. I completely concur.

But there are times when we are in the midst of a spiritual battle, and spiritual weapons must be used - to bring victory in His name.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I went with my son, George, and my son-in-law, Andrew to see the movie 2012.

The special effects were phenomenal. At times, you literally sat on the edge of your seat as people were trying to survive disaster after disaster - that was bringing on the end of the world.

(A disclaimer here: the rest of the movie was fairly horrendous. The acting was poor, the plot basically non-existent, outside of trying to survive. They tried to combine character development with a disaster flic theme. Tough to do.)

The movie is based on the premise that the end of the world will come on December 21, 2012 - which comes from the Mayan calendar predictions of years ago.

I sense a little uneasiness in our culture with this. Whether or not it is true or not (which I don't believe it is - many things have to happen according to biblical prophecy for it to happen that quickly) it is causing some to think about the end, about life and about death.

So much so that (and I quote):

"The studio (that made the movie 2012) also launched a viral marketing website operated by the fictional Institute for Human Continuity, where film goers could register for a lottery number to be part of a small population that would be rescued from the global destruction.

The fictitious website lists the Nibiru collision, a galactic alignment, and increased solar activity among its possible doomsday scenarios. David Morrison of NASA has received over 1000 inquiries from people who thought the website was genuine and has condemned it, saying "I've even had cases of teenagers writing to me saying they are contemplating suicide because they don't want to see the world end. I think when you lie on the Internet and scare children in order to make a buck, that is ethically wrong."

People have always been particularly entranced by end-of-the-world scenarios - especially we Americans!

Perhaps that is because our own national history is so relatively short - or, perhaps it is because our roots are less deeply planted, making uprooting less intimidating - witness the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming, a Protestant religious society commonly known as the Shakers; the Ebenezer Society, a group of seven (7) villages known as the "Amana Colonies" - consisting of radical German pietists who settled in the state of Iowa - also known as the "Community of True Inspiration;" and, the Millerites - followers of the American Baptist preacher, William Miller (1782 - 1849), credited with beginning the Advent Movement in North America, who publicly shared his belief that Jesus, the Christ, would return in 1843 - all of whom lived their entire lives preparing for the end!

Those individuals that jumped on the apocalyptic bandwagon were those who had the least to lose in the event of a widespread materialistic meltdown!

Recent immigrants, already uprooted, sometimes decided to send their hopes heavenward instead of seeking roots earthward! The poorest, the disenfranchised, those individuals pushed to the edges and margins of life because of their race, their education, their disabilities; or, just plain poverty have always been rich soil for the germination of apocalyptic angst - the feeling of anxiety, especially that accompanied by unhappiness!

From the ancient Mayans to the late Michel de Nostradame (1503 - 1566), better known as Nostradamus, to "Y2K" and now "2012," there has never been any shortage of end-of-the-world scenarios!

The predictions of a "nuclear winter" have been replaced by "global warming;" and, there is still a debate over whether the devastating climate changes will bring drought or floods to vast regions of the earth - however, the general agreement among all of these scenarios is "it’s gonna be bad!"

The grimness of our environmental condition is relentlessly apocalyptic! Technological breakthroughs - unaccompanied by spiritual breakthroughs - can be apologetic - however, their is no such thing as a happy ending apocalyptically speaking!

Apocalypticism is all about attitudes - and, it’s a bad attitude! That was the message from the "Sermon on the Mount," that Jesus, the Christ, preached - don’t dwell on the unknowable - don’t dwell on the uncontrollable - don’t dwell on the unfathomable!

As a follower of Jesus Christ, these kinds of predictions don't disconcert me at all.

I believe in life after death. Eternal life. Whenever I die, I live with God - forever.

I believe in the Bible. I believe that before the end of the world comes that Jesus Christ will come back for his church in what is called the "rapture."

As Christians, we will be caught up to be with the Lord - and then the end will come. 7 years of tribulation. Armageddon. The Second Coming.

Jesus himself said in Matthew 24:36, “But of that day and hour knows no man, neither angels of Heaven nor the Son, but my Father.”

No one knows when the "end of the world" will come.

December 21, 2012 will definitely be an interesting day...and so will December 22, 2012 when the sun will rise and sat - just as it has being doing for over six billion years - give or take a few centuries.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Whew....busy, busy, day. Our church staff has not entirely been together for a couple of weeks. Lots to catch up on.

The weekend was wonderful. Christie and Andrew came from Michigan (with Georgia), Becky flew in from New York and George drove in from Springfield.

We didn't do a whole lot except eat (and eat and eat and eat) and kind of chill out together.

Georgia is walking now, and I can't wait until she starts talking. I could tell that the words were just about ready to come out.

I am extremely proud of all of my children. And I love them all very much.

Yesterday Sunday morning service....what can I say....powerful...God's spirit moved in a powerful way.

The subject: worship. The way we worship. Why we worship like we do. And then...we spent time around the altar enjoying God's presence.

I was so pleased that our church fmaily responded like they did - wanting to be with God, hungering for more of His Spirit.

One woman was baptized in the Holy Spirit and began to use her prayer language.

One thought from my sermon that I want to emphasize.

Jesus tells us in John 4:24, that we are to worship Him in "Spirit" and in "Truth."

We are to worship God in spirit.

I applied that to the fact that many times we experince God in a certain period or season of our lives, perhpas even in a revival.

During this season, or during this times of revival, certain tunes are sung that bring you into the presence of God.

Upon leaving that season, there can be a reliance upon the emotions that you felt while you experincing God with a certain song(s) rather than seeking God's spirit.

For instance, when a song is being played from the 1970's on the radio, it brings back certain memories and feelings. I can almost (and many times exactly) tell you where I was and who I was with when I heard the song.

When Debbie and I were dating, certain songs were labeled, "our songs," because we heard them together and they are very meaningful to us. It brings back certain emotions.

You see, if we are not careful we can begin to long for certain choruses or hymns from the past that just naturally bring about certain emotions and rely upon those emotions and think that we are in the present of God.

Not so. We must constantly seek for God's spirit (with new or with older tunes) as we sing and as we seek to be in his presence.

Don't mistake human emotions for spiritual ones, spiritual emotions brought about by a spiritual encounter with God.

Anyway, just some thoughts for a Monday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


When I was in Cuba, I got into a great discussion with some missionaries there about revival.

Huge word. Major word.

A word that carries with it lots of opinions, thoughts and emotions - most of it colored by thoughts from our past experiences rather than any kind of theological basis.

It's the kind of word that is hard to describe (like love) but once you experience it - you know that it is there.

I have been in the Assemblies of God since I was born, third generation. I grew up in an Assemblies of God church, graduated from an Assemblies of God college, received my masters degree from an Assemblies of God theological seminary and have pastored Assemblies of God churches down throughout the years.

Yet, within our circles, we often have different perspectives on the subject.

Let me clarify some of the misconceptions that I see out there:

1. That we should not ask for "more" of God.

While is it true that God has already given us everything we need when He gave us Jesus and adopted us as his children (including eternity with Him), and that our focus should be giving more of ourselves to Him, there is a basic theological misconception when it comes to this prayer - "More of God"

God is omnipresent, he is always in our midst. Christ lives in me. But it is a fundamental misunderstanding of God's glory, his shekinah glory when we say that we can't have "more" of Him.

Moses cries out in Exodus 33:18 (while in the presence of God), "Now show me your glory."

Our Pentecostal theological doctrine states that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a second experience, an "endowment of power." A filling of our lives to overflowing. What is that but asking for "more" of God's spirit?

Sometimes, God does need to "show up" in the sense of his glory, his ministering presence. And when we do experience that presence, we will be changed.

I think of Smith Wigglesworth who at one time in New Zealand was so full of God's glory that the other ministers in the room where he was praying had to leave - it was too much.

2. That the focus should not be on the physical, verbal and emotional manifestations that being in the presence of the Holy Spirit can bring.

I agree with the thought that we should not use emotional manifestations to "work up" some kind of response that smacks of manipulation or massaging a service to bring a group of people to the point of experiencing God.

However, again, there is a fundamental misconception of the sequence and order of events in experiencing manifestations.

Worship is about God. It's not about pleasing me. It's not about pleasing you - worship is about God.

However, when God's spirit touches my spirit - there will be some kind of response. A response not just for response's sake but a response that naturally flows out of being touched by God.

Dwight L. Moody, in his 1899 sermon "Revivals" said, "I am not so afraid of excitement as some people. The moment there comes a breath of interest, some people cry, "Sensationalism, Sensationalism!" But, I tell you what, I would rather have sensationalism than stagnation any time. There is nothing a seaman fears so much as fog; he does not fear a storm nearly as much. We have too much fog in the church; let us get out of it. Get any preacher befogged, and he will say, "I cannot draw the crowds, but then, thank God, I am not a sensationalist!"

Let him write a book so dry that it will almost catch fire, and no one thinks of reading it. But he thanks God he is not a sensationalist!"

Moody went on to say, "There is no excitement or sensationalism in a graveyard - a man lies where they put him; but I think there will be a stir on the resurrection morning. Where there is life, there will always be a commotion."

As in the story of David and Michal in the Old Testament - David danced before the Lord, Michal "despised him in her heart."

She said, (Her voice, dripping with sarcasm), "How the King of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!"

When you are experiencing the spirit of God there will always be people who will criticize. When people criticize, it makes me uncomfortable and sad.

3. that the focus should be eternal, not temporary.

I agree with the thought that a true revival speaks of people being changed. I recall the story of one man during the Welsh revival who said that God "turned his beer into furniture," meaning that his life was so changed he no longer craved alcohol and thereby was able to spend his money on more meaningful things.

I also agree with the thought that a true indicator of a person being changed is when there lives are changed "outside the four walls of the church."

However, we do live in temporary bodies, with temporary emotions and lives. Sometimes we do need to have longer worship and extended times at the altar, not necessarily to be changed, but to simply spend time in the presence of the Lord - for relationships sake.

Sometimes I need to spend time in the presence of God, not necessarily to be "changed" "or to achieve some kind of "spiritual goal" but just to BE with God.

To use perhaps a limited analogy, I don't always spend time with my wife, Debbie, to be "changed" or to "achieve further growth in our relationship" but just to be with her.

However, once I am in her presence, I do draw closer to her.

And once I am in the presence of God I do draw closer to him - and I do change and my relationship with Him is strengthened.

To think so otherwise is to misunderstand what a relationship with God is all about. Long extended worship does not have to be a means to an end - but an end in itself in that I can spend time in God's presence.

4. That the Word of God is not longer the focus.

I agree with the thought that God's Word must always be the focus of our experience with Him corporately. And...I agree with the thought that the statement, "that church was so good today, we didn't even get to the preaching," is incorrect.

God's Word must be supreme. However, the intent of such a statement is not a degrading of God's Word but a longing of His Spirit behind the Word. We must never substitute God's Spirit for God's Word.

But there must be a balance here for as Paul writes, "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Corinthians 3:6)

We must never forsake the Word of God, that's true. But let's not forsake the Spirit of God as well.

The bottom line? I find that most Pentecostal churches are trying to become more Evangelical. And...most Evangelical churches are trying to become more Pentecostal.

And...isn't it more than ironic that those of us who have grown up in the faith can be those who are philosophically leaving behind the very foundation of what brought our denomination into being?

Read Azuza Street history. Read of the revivals that have taken place around the world (including Cuba where I just was). You will read of true revival - which is a combination of God's presence and spirit (and yes, manifestations) and people being "saved" and lives being changed so that they live a more godly life.

What I am saying is this - Revival is not just "one thing" but a combination of events and results that draws us closer to him.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Open up the doors

Just having returned from Cuba, I came away with some rather strong opinions and feelings about our foreign policy toward the Cuban government and country.

For many, many years, we have denied trade with Cuba, in an effort to show that we are not in sync with Fidel Castro's dictatorial communism.

I understand that.

Yet that policy has run its course, indeed it is now a failure.

The only thing it is achieving, at this point, is the continuation of poverty and hardship in this country of 11 million people.

Villages in the countryside have sewer water running through their streets, beef is forbidden, except if you are eating a meal with a foreigner - there are all kinds of goofy policies, created and given at the whim of the Castro brothers.

Professional people are making 30 dollars a month.

What's the cure? Open up trade. Begin to allow American tourists in the country. Within a few short years, it would not only give the country an economic boost, but would dampen any kind of "enthusiasm" for the pragmatic communism that they are experiencing.

I can't tell you how many people there I met who have family in the United States.

So what's the hangup? A few Cuban leaders in Miami who control the political landscape.

Here's the sequence:

Hard line Cuban leaders in Dade County (Miami) control the political vote of over 1 million Cubans. As Dade County goes, politically, so goes the state of Florida, which is a swing state in any national election for president. order to be elected president, the one running has to pander to these Cuban leaders. While I know that his is a gross oversimplification of what is going on - I believe its time that our leaders in government, open up trade and "let our people" go into this country.

At the same time, I am grateful that God is moving in a powerful way. There are over 500,000 Pentecostal believers. Signs and wonders are taking place.

Let's all continue to pray that God's Spirit will continue to move there.

Monday, November 23, 2009

thoughts from the weekend

It was a busy, busy weekend.....

Friday evening, Debbie and I visited Tom Janel Sr. at Christ Hospital. He seemed to be doing better.

Yesterday, we received a call that he had taken a turn for the worst, and went back after the Sunday morning services to pray with the family. It turned out that he had to have emergency surgery yesterday morning.

It was life and death kind of stuff. Then, last night at around 6:00 P.M. we received a call that Tom had passed away.

Hard to believe. Sudden. Quick.

I know that you will be praying for the family. The memorial service will be here at Stone Church at 11:00 A.M. on Friday, with a lunch to follow.

We live, we die, but as Christians we know that this life is but a beginning of eternal life with God.

Sandwiched in between all of that was a great Sunday morning, with a tremendous sense of God's presence.

I had a wonderful time of ministry in Havana, Cuba last week. It was inspiration to me personally to be around Christians who are hungry for God.

I was overwhelmed as I saw Christians sitting with their Bibles open, taking notes, famished for more of God's Word.

During the Sunday morning service, and after the preliminaries, the people attending all of a sudden - stood up and lifted up their plastic chair and looked underneath. One woman found a Bible marker, lifted it up, and then went forward to receive a new Bible.

She was weeping as she did so. I was touched.

Here in America, we have all the Bibles we need (and then some), we take the Word for granted - not so in Cuba.

Bob Russell writes, "It is a rare person who, when his cup frequently runs over, can thank God instead of complaining about the limited size of his mug!"

This Thanksgiving season, let's focus in on what we do have and not on what we don't have.

We a Christian family who loves us. We have food on the table. We have our own personal family. We have God. We have life.

Carol Kent writes,"When despair tries to take me under…I choose life.

When I wonder what God could possibly be thinking…I choose trust.

When I desperately want relief from unrelenting reality…I choose perseverance.

When I feel oppressed by my disappointment and sorrow…I choose gratitude.

When I want to keep my feelings to myself…I choose vulnerability.

When nothing goes according to my plan…I choose relinquishment.

When I want to point the finger…I choose forgiveness.

When I want to give up…I choose purposeful action."

What attitude are you choosing today?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Christmas in August

Don't think me a scrooge or anything, but it's becoming more and more difficult for me to get into the "spirit of Christmas".

Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about the meaning of Christmas, or the fact that my best friend, my savior, the forgiver of my sins, the one who gives me eternal life, the one whom I have dedicated my life to, came that day, became as one of us, Immanuel, God with us.

That I am really in sync with. seems like the "spirit of Christmas" (meaning sales, songs, and spirits to some) gets earlier and earlier every year. It seems like, more and more, our culture is "cashing in" on the season.

We end up the evening of December 25th, exhausted, tired and worn out from all of the festivities.

I told Debbie last week (tongue in cheek) that soon we'll be hearing about Christmas on my birthday in August. Christmas in August.

Today, I am driving down 159th and see Christmas signs on the light posts.

It is November 12th.

Again, a disclaimer. I do like Christmas. I like being with my family. I love giving gifts. I love the warm feelings I get as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

But, am I right that we have tagged on so much, that it is beginning to lose it's meaning and purpose for our lives?

I'm reminded of the story of a woman was doing her last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall. She was tired of fighting the crowds. She was tired of standing in lines. She was tired of fighting her way down long aisles looking for a gift that had sold out days before.

Her arms were full of bulky packages when an elevator door opened. It was full. The occupants of the elevator grudgingly tightened ranks to allow a small space for her and her load.

As the doors closed, she blurted out, "Whoever is responsible for this whole Christmas thing ought to be arrested, strung up, and shot!"

A few others nodded theirs heads or grunted in agreement.

Then, from somewhere in the back of the elevator, came a single voice that said: "Don't worry. They already crucified him."

Let me give you a story that might help in reestablishing the true meaning. How that plays out in your own individual life and family - I can't help you with - but perhaps this story might jump start you to jumping into the arena of a true "Christmas spirit."

"It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.

It all began because my husband, Mike, hated Christmas—oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it: overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute, the gifts given in desperation.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties…. I reached for something special just for Mike.

Our son Kevin was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church.

These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear.

It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. We ended up walloping them. As each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat.

Mike shook his head sadly. "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them." That's when the idea for his present came.

That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed an envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me.

His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas. Each Christmas, I followed the tradition—one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year giving a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas.

The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas.

It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn't end there. We lost Mike due to cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was so wrapped up in grief that I barely got the tree up. But on Christmas Eve I placed an envelope on the tree, and in the morning it was joined by three more.

Each of our children had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelopes.

Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us."

May you be blessed in the next 42 days, with the true spirit of Christmas....

With much love,


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To be thankful or not to be thankful

The good and the bad, victories and defeats, highs and lows, they come to all of us. Jesus said that it "rains on the just and the unjust," (Matthew 5:45) meaning that good times and bad times comes to those who are faithful to God and those who are not.

I've been sick for the past couple of days. I am not a good sick person. I don't like being sick, not just because I don't feel well, but because I can't keep going, keep working, keep pressing on to do what God has called me to do.

Note: I am feeling much better, and will be "good to go" for my missions trip to Cuba on Friday.

What is our response when "bad times" come?

We are to be thankful.

That's tough.

Not thankful for the "bad" that has come our way, but thankful "in the midst of" the bad things that come our way.

Again - difficult. Hard. Sometimes, almost impossible without God.

Henri Nouwen writes, "To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives—the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections—that requires hard spiritual work.

Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say "thank you" to all that has brought us to the present moment.

As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for.

Let's not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God."

Here's my prayer:

"I am trying, Lord, to be thankful as Henri Nouwen has written. Help me Father!"

Here's a story that might encourage all of us:

"German pastor Martin Rinkart served in the walled town of Eilenburg during the horrors of the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648. Eilenburg became an overcrowded refuge for the surrounding area. The fugitives suffered from epidemic and famine.

At the beginning of 1637, the year of the Great Pestilence, there were four ministers in Eilenburg. But one abandoned his post for healthier areas and could not be persuaded to return.

Pastor Rinkhart officiated at the funerals of the other two. As the only pastor left, he often conducted services for as many as 40 to 50 persons a day—some 4,480 in all.

In May of that year, his own wife died. By the end of the year, the refugees had to be buried in trenches without services.

Yet living in a world dominated by death, Pastor Rinkart wrote the following prayer for his children to offer to the Lord:

Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother's arms,
Hath led us on our way,
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today."

May that be our prayer today.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Had a wonderful weekend with my parents. They are great people.

I don't know if I have ever been around anyone like them: committed to seeing the gospel spread - no matter what the cost.

Committed to loving their family. Showing compassion and concern on a continual basis.

Committed to their God.

Dad stands us there preaching, 73 years old, crying as if it were his first missions service, sharing his burden and calling

Hanging out with them reminds me of the story of William Borden.

In 1904 William Borden graduated from a Chicago high school.

As heir to the Borden Dairy estate, he was already a millionaire.

For his high school graduation present, his parents gave him a trip around the world. As the young man traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he felt a growing burden for the world's hurting people.

Finally, Borden wrote home to say, "I'm going to give my life to prepare for the mission field." At the same time, he wrote two words in the back of his Bible: "No reserves."

Indeed, Borden held nothing back. During his college years at Yale University, he became a pillar in the Christian community. One entry in his personal journal that defined the source of his spiritual strength simply said: "Say no to self and yes to Jesus every time."

During his first semester at Yale, Borden started a small prayer group that would transform campus life. This little group gave birth to a movement that spread across the campus. By the end of his first year, 150 freshmen were meeting for weekly Bible study and prayer. By the time Bill Borden was a senior, 1,000 of Yale's 1,300 students were meeting in such groups.

Borden also strategized with his fellow Christians to make sure every student on campus heard the gospel, and he was often seen ministering to the downtrodden in the streets of New Haven. But his real passion was missions. Once he narrowed his missionary call to the Kansu people in China, Borden never wavered.

Upon graduation from Yale, Borden wrote two more words in the back of his Bible: "No retreats."

In keeping with that commitment, Borden turned down several high-paying job offers, enrolling in seminary instead. After graduating, he immediately went to Egypt to learn Arabic because of his intent to work with Muslims in China.

While in Egypt, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead.

Prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in his Bible. Underneath the words "No reserves" and "No retreats," he had written: "No regrets."

I like to work with, serve with, and hang with those kind of people.

This Friday, Dad and I go to Cuba. I would ask that you would be praying for us - and great things are happening there - revival is taking place, signs and wonders are in abundance.

I look forward to sharing with you a great report.

Be blessed this day, my friends, and may we all be committed to the faith.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Dreaming daily

One of my assignments as a lead pastor (self assigned) is to constantly dream and cast vision concerning where our church should and could be headed.

We are constantly striving to go on to the next level (whatever that is - now there's a blog all in and of itself).

Here's my thought today. We should not only dream and cast vision about our work, our church, but also our own individual lives.

Albert Einstein said, "Once a day, allow yourself the freedom to dream."

Let me ask you this question today. What is your dream? And if you are dreaming, what would you dream about?

A better family life?
A closer walk with God?
A promotion at work?
A more secure financial situation?

What are your dreams?

As we dream, we give ourselves an opportunity to glance beyond what we are experiencing in the here and now. We explore the possibilities of what could happen, how things might become.

William Carey was a dreamer.

Some people thought he was a nut.

He was just a shoemaker, after all, and an average one at that.

But in the evenings, after work, he studied Greek, Hebrew, and a variety of modern languages. He devoured Captain Cook's Voyages to expand his horizons, which, because of his poverty, kept him bound to a small, forgotten English village.

Some people said his time would have been better spent getting a second job to support his growing family.

But the young man's passion wasn't a curious, self-satisfying hobby. Early in life he had become concerned about the millions of unbelievers outside of Europe, and he was trying to figure out what could be done to bring them the gospel.

With God's help, he slowly figured it out.

He had a dream.

He ended up going to India to serve as the first Protestant missionary in the modern era. His passion inspired a generation of men and women—the likes of Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, and David Livingstone (among others)—to take up the cause of missions as well.

Because one impoverished shoemaker named William Carey followed his God-given dream, his God given passion, large parts of the world that had little or no access to the gospel have large populations of people today who confess Christ as Lord.

Now your dream will not probably be that dramatic, but maybe God is giving you a dream of reaching your neighborhood, or moms in your church, or people at your work. Maybe your dream is to raise healthy children, be a godly person, or succeed at your business.

Whatever your dream is - take a big stop and allow God to help you fulfill that dream.

Jesus said in Matthew 17:20,21, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

Mustard-seed faith -- which is actually mountain moving faith -- starts with a dream, an idea of what could be.

And it starts with an impossible dream.

You see, every great miracle in the Bible began with an impossibility.

Here's what I know: You don't have to stay stuck in a rut forever.

Allow yourself to dream.

Once a day (at least once a day), take some time to get alone with God, think about your life, your ministry, your family, your health, your happiness, and allow yourself to imagine how things could be.

And let God be God.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A "miracle" and a prayer

I experienced a "miracle" today. Maybe you don't think it is one - but if you have the same commute I do - you would be in agreement with me that it was nothing short of extraordinary.

On my way to work this morning, I hit every green light from 183rd, all the way to the church. Every one. Even the one at 123rd and Ridgeland.

I guess God knew I needed something like that to kick start my day.

I am thankful for the "little things" like that - that can brighten up our day.

Now then, on the a prayer.

I am thankful that God hears our prayers no matter what.

One time in our previous church as pastor, I was teaching on the subject of worship and correct ways of conversing with our Father God.

I must have left out a key component of prayer, for a friend of mine refused to pray in front of me. She was too intimidated, saying, "I don't know if I can pray in the right way."

Let me jump in here right now and say that ultimately, the Father takes and even relishes our prayers - just as they are.

There is no "Grade A" or "Grade B" or Grade "C" in our prayers with God. Nor does God grade our prayers on a curve. In fact, He doesn't grade them at all. He accepts our conversations with Him as they are.

Timothy Jones writes in the book, "The Art Of Prayer":

"We don't like to stand speechless or stammering before God, but that doesn't mean God holds it against us when we do.

I remember a vacation with my parents in France when I was in high school. I had just completed two years of French, hardly enough to make me fluent. Still, there we were, tourists wanting to make the most of our time.

So when we needed a bathroom, when we wanted to find a café, or when I lost my eyeglasses on the steps of the L'Eglise du Sacré-Cœur, I falteringly used my butchered French. I was trying—to the politely suppressed laughter of others—to speak the language.

But I remember more than the townspeople's bemusement. I remember how they warmly received my efforts. They strained to hear past my fractured sentences. They honored me by responding.

Is God any less generous?"

I like that. I don't have to impress God or make him think that I am something I am not. I simply pray. And converse. And share. And God responds.

God hears everything that comes out of my heart and my mouth.

My regrets
My complaints
My thanksgivings
My praise

Because of his grace, and not my eloquence, I can pray.

Even if it is not impressive.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Reality shows - good or bad?

I have decided not to watch reality shows (although I must confess that I watch American Idol from time to time - but even that is getting a little bit tedious).


Not for any real spiritual reason (in other words you are not more or less of a Christian if you watch them), but because maybe, just maybe, it is part of the process of changing the fabric and make-up of our society and culture - in the negative sense.

I believe the "reality show" thing all started with the show "Survivors". Hollywood has this well known code, that if something works, copy it over and over again.

I mean, how many "Rocky" movies have been made? How many "Law and Order" spin offs? And now we are receiving "CSI" spin offs - all draining the success of something to make sure more money is made.

I found an article today from Time magazine that talks about the effect of the reality show phenomena on our culture.

Here it is - James Poniewozik writes (if you get a chance please respond - agree or disagree):

"In the lexicon of cliches to describe characters accused of a despicable act, "He was once on a reality show" is the new "Neighbors say he was quiet and kept to himself."

Today the idea of a mad loner silently avoiding attention seems like a quaint throwback. In August, a VH1 dating-show contestant was charged with the murder of his ex-wife, then committed suicide.

And on Oct. 15, America spent an afternoon being literally distracted by a shiny object, watching news choppers chase a silver balloon that we were told carried a presumably terrified 6-year-old boy.

When we learned during the coverage that Falcon Heene's family had twice appeared on ABC's Wife Swap, who didn't have the same thought?

That if Falcon's parents would open their family life for a reality show, then they might also have planned ... but they wouldn't have, right?

Would and did, says the sheriff of Larimer County, Colorado. Richard Heene, a self-styled scientist obsessed with tornadoes, aliens and getting a reality show, allegedly spun a plan to fake his son's Icarus-meets-Up ascent and become famous.

But fame bit Heene when, on Larry King Live, Falcon heard a question directed to him by his father and made the mistake of answering honestly: "You guys said that we did this for the show."

"We did this for the show": if some 21st century Betsy Ross were designing a new American flag, she could slap that baby on a ribbon in an eagle's talons and call it a day.

Whether it's conceiving octuplets and shopping a TV deal or screaming "You lie!" at the President and reaping millions of dollars in campaign contributions, the equation is the same: Act out = get paid.

Modern media did not invent greed, eccentricity or lust for attention. What they did was monetize them. There have long been odd families and obscure men pursuing bizarre theories and cobbling together flying machines in their backyards.

But only in the reality-TV era has unstable behavior become a valid career choice.

Only now are questionable parenting decisions the stuff of a lucrative family business. Say whatever you want about Jon and Kate Gosselin, their divorce proceedings entail numbers with a lot more zeroes than your typical young Pennsylvania family encounters.

Whatever the legal process uncovers, the story of Richard Heene — incessantly pitching producers across Hollywood his show about a wacky storm-chasing family, parading Falcon on morning shows though the boy was sick, twice, on air — is like an updated Mosquito Coast but with the eccentric dad dragging his family into the floodlights of reality TV instead of away from civilization.

And who can blame him, really? When the Heenes went on Wife Swap (in which two families trade mothers, who agree to live by the other family's rules) in 2008, Richard was such a belligerent jerk that, naturally, the Heenes were invited back for the show's 100th episode. America wanted more! And boy, did we get it.

Nor were TV's dysfunctional families Heene's only model. Even in professional careers, mere competence and craftsmanship is no substitute for a gimmick. You can be a brilliant chef and struggle to keep a restaurant afloat, or you can be a screaming chef — or, as on Oxygen's new reality show, a "naughty" chef — and be a media star. Real estate agents, tattoo artists, cake decorators — the only thing standing between them and fortune is the willingness to blow a gasket once a week on cable.

And science? Pfft. You might get a few minutes on Nova if you're serious and successful. But trick out your science, real or pseudo, with stunts and a catchy moniker — Legend Zappers! Storm Hunters! Ghost Blasters! — and get ready to sign. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Heene's proposed show (Jon & Kate meets MythBusters) is that it hadn't already been sold.

But as fame becomes cheaper and more common, you have to ante up more in order to stand out. Heene put up his family.

None of us can really know the dynamic of the Heenes or how eager Richard's wife and children were to serve his scientainment ambitions. The kids seemed to take to their Wife Swap appearance with foulmouthed gusto.

But that doesn't make turning their lives into TV a better idea or make exploiting them in a publicity scheme any less odious. If your kid is puking on the Today show while you keep talking to Meredith Vieira, it's a good sign you've screwed up.

With the Heenes, like the Gosselins before them, we're seeing a new kind of show-biz family, a sort of reality-era von Trapps, for whom living in public is a given and privacy negotiable. We can expect to see only more of this in the future. People have got to make a living, after all, and families pull together. They do it for one another. They do it for the show."

What do you think?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Most of the great memories of life do not come from some major event in our lives but from a series, a succession of smaller events, that when put together, bring forth warm feelings of love and gratitude.

That's what happened this weekend.

All weekend long, I experienced a wonderful sense of love and unity in our church.

None of them, in and of themselves, are worthy of historical notation, but when you put them all together - powerful stuff.

When I walked into the church Saturday evening (I was a judge at the Chili cook off) there was a genuine buzz and excitement. Kids were yelling and screaming in delight, adults were chowing down on the chili, and both children and adults were dressed in costumes in celebration of our "Harvest Festival".

I also met several new folks - that makes that type of event even more meaningful.

All of the chilies were good - some were better than others....Frank Wolf won the competition.

During the Sunday morning prayer time, our church family prayed for we as pastors.

I deeply appreciate the prayers of God's people. But I also sensed their love and appreciation as well.

It is nice (and meaningful) to be appreciated everyone in a while.

But then, the worship time after the teaching - It's hard to describe in written form. I would worship, sometimes walking, sometimes standing, sometimes on my knees, and each time I would look out into the audience, hands were raised, people were lifting their voices in song and praise...there was a desire to wait on God.


We desire the "fire of God" to fall on us and we intercede, as we "hunger and thirst" for more of Him.

May it be so, dear Father in heaven. May you so fill us with an intensity to seek after you - that we connect with you - and see unchurched people connect with you as well.

It's beginning to "rain" as the song goes. Rain, Holy Spirit, Rain!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The power of unity

I have been receiving emails all day today acknowledging the success of our Annual Business Meeting last night.

In 40 minutes we heard reports, elected 3 deacons and passed a resolution.

One of the pillars of our church, Ruth Sennese, commented (in a very positive sense) that it was the "fastest business meeting she had ever attended."

But what struck (and encouraged) me the most were the comments I have received concerning the unity that everyone felt last night.

The cost of the paper to print out the ballots and reports (ask Bob Konrath about that) - I don't know.

The cost of setting up the chairs and having the lights on (ditto - ask Bob)- I don't know.

The cost of unity in our church - priceless.

I am grateful to God for that unity.

Last week I once again caught most of the movie, "Gladiator", one of my favorite movies of all time.

In the movie, the hero, General Maximus (played by Russell Crowe) comes to Rome dirty and shackled. This is not the way it's supposed to be.

Where's Rome's legendary pageantry to greet one of her war heroes—the heraldry, the burnished armor, the laurel crown? Where's the honor due him?

Maximus comes as a slave.

That's the premise of the movie Gladiator.

Through a maze of events, Maximus goes from celebrated warrior, favorite of one emperor, to despised traitor, nemesis of another. He becomes a fugitive, then caged slave, then unvanquished gladiator.

His growing fame in the arena brings him to the sport's pinnacle: Rome's magnificent Coliseum to face her elite warriors.

The games open with a re-enactment of the battle of Carthage. The gladiators, all foot soldiers, are cast as the hapless Carthaginians. It is a stage for slaughter.

They are marched out a dark passageway into brilliant sunlight and met with a roar of bloodlust.

Maximus, their leader, shouts to his men: "Stay together."

He assembles them in a tight circle in the center of the arena: back-to-back, shields aloft, spears outward. Again he shouts, "Whatever comes out that gate, stay together."

What comes out that gate is swift and sleek and full of terror. Chariot upon chariot thunder forth. War horses pull, with deadly agility and earthshaking strength, wagons driven by master charioteers.

Amazonian warrior princesses ride behind and with deadly precision hurl spears and volley arrows. One gladiator strays from the circle, ignoring Maximus's order, and is cut down. Maximus shouts once more: "Stay together!"

The instinct to scatter is strong. But Maximus exerts his authority, and they resist that impulse. The chariots circle, closer, closer, closer. Spears and arrows rain down on the men's wood shields. The chariots are about to cinch the knot. Right then Maximus shouts, "Now!"

The gladiators attack, and decimate the Romans. Commodus, the evil emperor, caustically remarks to the games organizer: "My memory of Roman history is rusty, but didn't we beat Carthage the first time?"

Whatever comes out that gate, stay together.

That echoes what Jesus prayed for us: "May they be brought to complete unity" (John 17:23). And he promises that the gates of hell will not overcome his church.

We've been talking about spiritual warfare.

I would suggest that as long as we "stay together" in unity, the fiery darts of the devil cannot touch us or harm us.

I would suggest that as long as we "stay together" we can fulfill the God-given vision that He has given us.

And...I would suggest that as long as we "stay together" we will experience a Holy Spirit revival of worship and power.

May be continue to be blessed with unity this day, this week, this year, and in the years to come.