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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Church attendance and success

I recently heard of a couple who take the attendance of their church so seriously, that they put the number of people who are coming each week on their refrigerator.  They track the numbers.

I appreciate their wanting their church to grow.  I trust that it is for all the right reasons.

However, is church attendance the barometer of success in the church?

I would say, "yes" and "no".

"Yes", to the extent that more people coming signifies that more people are being ministered too (and hopefully becoming followers of Christ).  And...more than anything else, we desire people connecting to Christ and a relationship with Him!

But "no", to the extent that people can come to a local church and not be growing in their faith.  I know of several large churches where coming to church (for an hour) is part of a person's "to do list" for the week.  A church service is treated like a rotary meeting or a little league game.  Little commitment is asked for and little spiritual growth is experienced.

Neil Cole has written:

"Church attendance is not the barometer of how Christianity is doing. Ultimately, transformation is the product of the Gospel. It is not enough to fill our churches; we must transform our world. Society and culture should change if the church has been truly effective. Is the church reaching out and seeing lives changed by the Good News of the Kingdom of God? Surely the numbers of Christians will increase once this happens, but filling seats one day a week is not what the Kingdom is all about. We do Jesus an injustice by reducing His life and ministry to such a sad story as church attendance and membership roles. The measure of the church’s influence is found in society—on the streets, not in the pews.”

Good stuff.

Let me put it this way with an analogy that I just read. 

How do doctors measure success?

By how nice their offices are?

By how many patients they see?

By how much money they are making?  How many homes they have?  How many cars they have?

I would suggest that the real "measurement" of a doctor's success can be found in the little things:  lab results, lost weight, improved health, and most of all, are his patients getting well?

I would also suggest that if our church reaches 12,000 people (and that is our goal, 12,000 with Stone Church campuses across the Southland of Chicago), and they aren't "getting well - spiritually", than we have failed to be on mission with Christ.


And if they are spiritually healthy, and they are reproducing followers of Christ and living the life they are to live - then the numbers will come.

Right now, at Stone Church, our focus is on creating disciples.  Letting God do a new thing in our church, spiritually.  I talk to people on a daily basis who share with me that God is doing a new thing in their lives.

God is moving around the altars.  Reports of people being healed are shared.  People growing in God.

You see, our walk with God (both individually and corporately) is seasonal.  Right now we are in a definite season of spiritual growth.  Prayer on Wednesdays.  Attending a small group.  Learning how to relate to one another.  Coming on Sunday mornings and worshipping God.

My dear friends, the numbers will come (and we want our church to grow numerically), but let's continue to focus in on what God is doing in us.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend

If you weren't in one of our services yesterday, let me share with you a story from our visit to Andrew, Christie's and Georgia's.

Georgia is 2 1/2.  She is the sweetest little girl I have ever met.  I mean that.  I know that sounds like Grandpa talking, but let me tell you, I have never met a little girl like her.

Saturday morning I was fumbling around, trying to put on her sandals.  She looked up at me and in the sweetest voice said, "you can do it, you can do it."

Even now that experience causes me to chuckle.

It fit in perfectly with my teaching on the gift of prophecy.  One of the definitions of the gift is that it is a spoken word of encouragement, strength or comfort to other believers in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:3). 

Words such as, "God is with you.  You can make it.  You're going to overcome that temptation." granddaughter, under this definition is a prophet!  (Prophetess).

Great stuff.

Christie is just about ready to have our second granddaugther. 

I am proud of all of my kids.  I love my family. 

Thanks to all of my children for contacting me for father's day.  The love you showed me yesterday is reciprocal.

Becky is doing well as director of volunteerism at her church.

Loved worship yesterday.  We have a great worship team.

Thanks, Stone Church, for participating in worship.  It thrills me and warms my heart.

God is good.

Our future (at Stone Church) is limitless.

Lots of respect for Rory Mcllory, who won the U.S. Open yesterday in record fashion, after blowing a big lead at the Master's.  That is the perfect example of:  Failure is never final unless we let it be. 

Great time with our men at our annual Grillin' and Chillin'.

Mark Clements is a great cook.  He should start a catering business.  His pulled pork is some of the best I have ever eaten.

Let's all be in prayer for RFKC coming up.

Bob and Carolyn Ferrari are doing a great job leading the ministry this year.

Summer is upon us.  I encourage all of us to be faithful in coming to church, whether it be at Stone Church or anywhere you are at on vacation.

God doesn't take the summer off.

Good things can happen in our church during the summer.

Debbie and I love you a lot!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Feeling lonely in the midst of a crowd

One of the ironies of life is that people can feel extremely lonely, even (or especially) in the midst of a crowd.

When God created the world, he was most proud of His best work - people.  Everything was good except for one thing - He tells us in Genesis 2:18, "It is not good for the man to be alone."

God has created us to need one another. 

If that is true, and it is, than why do we feel so lonely all of the time.

As a pastor, I am constantly around people.  My whole ministry life is consumed with two things:  God and people.  Yet I can stand in a crowded foyer and feel alone.  I can have people around me but not close to me.

I've seen many people, over the years, who are the "life of the party" but they are relationally bankrupt.

All of us, at times, have thoughts of "no one understands me.  Does anyone genuinely care about me.  If I died would it really matter?  No one knows the real me...and even if they did, they probably wouldn't like me."

You've had those thoughts, haven't you?

So what do many people do?  They withdraw even further, until by the time they reach "old age" they are miserable, cranky and critical.

A a younger minister, I expected Christians to act like Christ.  As one author writes, "in case you haven't noticed, they often act more like the Antichrist".

I was naive and at times overly sensitive (and to a certain extent - still am).

For whatever reasons, I found that frequently I would be hurt by people I thought I could trust the most.

You have too.  And then the "great withdrawal" begins.

Here are some thoughts from Craig Groeschel on the reasons why we withdraw:

1.  We think we have to perform for other people.

If you don't perform,  you might not last.  Do a good job.  Don't offend people.  Say the right thing.  Help the church grow, but not too much or too fast.  Don't rock the boat.  Bring new people in, but above all else, make sure they focus in and learn about the past.

2.  We think that to survive in life, we can't trust anyone.

We build up walls, thinking, I will never be hurt again.  People are NEVER what they seem, so I must protect myself.  Don't trust them or you will get burned.  Don't let anyone get inside.

3.  We begin to think that people don't care about us.

Have you ever felt that way?  I go through seasons where I do.  Unappreciated.  Not valued.  We can begin to think that people only want what is good for them.  That my well-being is meaningless to everyone else. 

People tell you they love you or that they are praying for you, but it's all show.  People don't really care.

Are you a performer?  And in your performing, do you find yourself lonely?

Paul writes in Galatians 1:10, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  IF I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ."

Who are you trying to please?  Whose acceptance are you trying to get? 

God?  Other people?  Yourself? 

Here's what I know:  through Christ, God has already accepted me.

I am not who others say I am.  I am who God says I am.  I can stop performing for others.  God's opinion of me is the only one that ultimately matters.  God created me.  God knows me.  God loves me.  My life belongs to him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Being checked at the airport and the Holy Spirit

I never say anything when I go through the security, metal checks at the airport.

Not one word.

Here's an axiom that you might find useful:  the smaller the airport, the more rigorous the security check will be.  I'm not quite sure why, but that's the way it is.

Depending upon the time frame, and my mood, the security check can run the gamut from being a mild irritation to a huge frustration. 

Yet here is the deal:  The security checks at the airport are necessary.  For our safety.  As a precaution against physical harm from bad people.

We are told in Ephesians 4:30 not to "grieve" the Spirit by our sin - and in the context of Ephesians 4 - the sins of the tongue.

The Holy Spirit is grieved by our sinful speech, and let us know it because He lives within us.

(BTW, the number one sin in the body of Christ is not smoking or chewing or going with girls who do, but the ungodly use of our mouths through gossip, backbiting and slander) (Sometimes, as a pastor, I feel like the little boy with his thumb in the dike).

Your body is the Spirit's temple, and when your temple starts going places it ought not go and doing things it ought not do, and saying things that it shouldn't say, the Holy Spirit, like a metal detector in an airport (or now the body scanners) goes off when He detects something illegitimate.

When that happens, the only way you can stop the beeping is either to unplug the system or get rid of the stuff alarming the heavenly sin Detector.  If you don't want to get rid of the junk, you have to stay away from the things of God.  Because if you hang out where that Detector is, He will go off every time.

Just some thoughts for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What can we learn from the Argentine revival?

Having just been in Argentina, where revival has been taking place for many, many years, what can we learn from their experiences with God?

Revival takes place as the non-connected to Christ, connect, and the connected grow in God through powerful experiences of His presence, whether through worship, bible study, or times around the altar.

Let me summarize what Brad Waltz (Missionary to Argentina) has written concerning this - and hopefully we can learn (those of us at Stone Church) from it as well.

Brad writes:

"Can the American church learn anything from the Argentine awakening?  I believe it can:

1.  The Argentine awakening is neither meticulous nor tidy.  Americans like everything to be well organized and fully anticipated.  Do we wish to put aside our programs and let God move?  When the glory of God descends on the churches, it interrupts normal activities.  Can we set aside our need to anticipate everything?

2.  We cannot live in the past.  The stories of what happened in Azusa Street will not satisfy the present generation.  This generation wants to experience a moving of God today.

3.  We cannot allow physical manifestation that we do not understand, or that displease us, to distract us from what God is doing.  Sometimes we are surprised because experiences we witness do not fit in with our traditions.  Our Pentecostal forefathers were called "holy rollers" because they did not hold passive worship services that were neither quiet nor orderly.

Would you not agree with me that we need a fresh touch from God in our church?

Come Holy Spirit we need you!  Come sweet spirit I pray!

One more thing:  I encourage you to hang around other Christians who are walking in the path of the Holy Spirit and who desire more of His Spirit.

If you only hang around people who feel defeated and pessimistic, you will become confused and disturbed. 

We are who we hang around!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Great food at the two graduation parties we went to on Saturday!

Loved especially the whole pig that was slow roasted.  Tender and juicy.

Filipinos have great food!

Amanda, David and Demarcus did a wonderful job on Friday night at our Honduras youth benefit.  Excellent "MC's" of the event.  David dropped a couple of shots at me during the evening (I loved it).  "Paybacks" are tough - plus I do have the mike every Sunday.

Thanks and congratulations to all of the kids who participated in singing and drama.

Thanks to everyone who came out in support of our kids.

We have a talented youth group.

Spelling words backwards (a game at the youth event) is harder than you think.

I beat Evan Clements in ping pong.  Bad.  21-10.

I beat Evan Clements in ping pong, bad, and he still was talking "trash".  I love that.

Congratulations to the girls who were crowned as honor stars last night.  It was a beautiful ceremony.

Thanks to all of our Impact leaders and a special shout out to Leisa as the Impact ministry leader!

God's anointing and power were in both services yesterday.

God is a healer - and he still heals today.

I loved walking into our senior's Sunday School class yesterday, and hearing them worship (after the first service).  I stopped and worshipped with them.

Take that - Miami Heat!  Dallas Mavs rule!

Lebron choked.  There is no other way to say it. 

Dirk is one of the best basketball players in the world.

Why didn't Miami pressure the ball toward the end of the game?

Frank and Bea's mom passed away - our condolences to the family.  We are praying for them.

God is on the move!

My continual prayer is that our church family will be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit.

I love what I do.  It is not easy, but I do love what I do.

My wife is a great cook.

It's great having Stephanie and Eric with us now, helping us in leading worship.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Stress and being absent minded

Whenever I get stressed out - I get absent minded.  I start "kind of" blanking out.  You might notice it every so often in the foyer when you talk with me.  If you do, you know that there is a lot going on.

Today I went to see Nancy Healy in the hospital.  It was a series of comedic errors.

I went to the wrong hospital (she is at St. James in Olympia Fields - I went to Chicago Ridge). 

On the way there, I plowed through water on Route 30 at certain intersections that were underwater.

I was told, upon arriving at the hospital (Chicago Ridge) that Nancy was at Olympia Fields.  So, I tried to find my way to St. James in Olympia Fields without directions.  Got lost.

Finally, I found the hospital (it is actually easy to find) and went in and prayed with Nancy (I had "set my face like flint - as Isaiah says - to find it - I was determined).

She gets out of the hospital tomorrow.

On my way back to the office, I went north on 57 and forgot to turn off on 80 west.

Proceeded to go as far as 159th before I realized I was not going the right way.  Turned around and thankfully remembered to go on 80 west.

I felt like I was in an episode of the old "Lucy" show.  Stuffing chocolates in my mouth - do you remember that one episode?

It is at those times that I need to slow down, take a deep breath, and recommit my day to God.

Finding peace at the moment can be difficult to do, but with the Holy Spirit, all things are possible.

That's something I encourage you to do as well today.

Slow down for just a moment, get your bearings, take a deep breath, and have a conversation with God. 

Our walk with God is moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. 

I'm thankful that God is always there, always ready to have a conversation with me - and relieve some of the stress that I am feeling.

How about you?

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

This Sunday and healing

This coming Sunday I am playing an audio recording of an actual miracle that took place on a man's vocal chords as he was teaching his Sunday School class - and we will be praying for those who need healing in their bodies.

I encourage you to invite anyone and everyone to come - the recording is a wonderful story and testimony of God's power to heal.

I continue the series on the spiritual gifts - and look at the gifts of faith, healing and miracles this Sunday.

We continue to receive reports of people being healed in our life groups!

Praise God!

God is Jehovah Rapha.  God is our healer.

I'm thankful that He still heals today.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

What to do when hurting people hurt you

Years ago, in a teaching given by John Maxwell, I learned that "hurting people hurt people."

It's an axiom of life.  When I am hurting, I hurt easily.

It's like having an sore on your arm.  You don't really feel the pain unless something bumps up against it.  Hurting people hurt people.  Hurting people hurt easily.

A lot of times when hurting people are hurting, they will use that as an opportunity to drain their emotions about other hurts that they are feeling toward you or me as well.

Submerged feelings, denied feelings, feelings that normally wouldn't come out - come out like a flood in the middle of a storm.

Unfortunately, that person who is hurting who go into "attack mode", nuking everything and anyone around them.

I see it all the time.  I experience this all the time.

As a pastor, I am a caregiver.  I give words of solace, comfort and hopefully peace in the lives of those who are hurting.

But a lot of times, those words are bypassed and used by the hurting person to attack everyone else around them (including me) with what has been bothering them from the past.

What do I do?  What do you do when you experience this?

Don't take things personally.

Hurting people will try to make it personal, they will create offenses when none have been committed.  Realize that ultimately, they are hurting about life and not just you.

Look beyond the person for the problem.

Always remember that hurting people overreact, over-exaggerate, and overprotect. When a person's reaction is out of line or larger than the issue at hand, the response is almost always about something else.

Look beyond the situation

Rise above the emotional turmoil that other people may create.

Do not add to their hurt

Forgive and move on. Be kind and gentle. Although from experience, most of them can't stand this kind of response.

Now then, while all that I have written is well and good, when someone who is hurting, hurts me - it hurts!

My responsibility is to stop the hurt from continuing on to other people.

Just some thoughts for a Tuesday.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Jonathan Sites (Debbie's nephew) is a great guy.  Solid as a rock.  Loves God.  He was at our home visiting this weekend.

Our church is "hungry" for God's presence.

God is beginning to do a great, spiritual "thing" in our lives.

Let's all be open to what God wants to do!

Seeing people around the altar seeking God's wisdom and knowledge - priceless.

Visited Bozena Wolf Saturday.  She is not doing well, physically.  Let's all be in prayer for her and the family.

I had one of those weeks, last week, where I had to recommit myself to the words of Mother Teresa below.  I would suggest you read them every so often.

Mother Teresa wrote, ""People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway."

Sometimes we just need to pray, "Father, people are acting in a really goofy, carnal way.  Lord mine is not to change that person but to love that person.  Help me to do so, Lord.  Help me to act and react in a manner that would glorify the name of Jesus Christ."

There is nothing like a John Wayne western. 

The end of of the movie "Chisum" is wonderful.  John Wayne sitting on a horse over looking a valley.

Frank Wolf is one of the kindest, most godly men I have ever met.

I am thankful for the great, godly, loving, relational staff that we have here at Stone Church.  They are fun to work with.

I love my wife.  She is WONDERFUL!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Yes and No and starting fires

The God we serve is always a "yes" God.

2 Corinthians 1:20 states, "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "yes" in Christ.  And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God."

The promise of God are "yes" in Christ.  We simply need to be in agreement with them in prayer.

I am thankful that our God is a "yes" God.  Oh, I know that sometimes he tells us "no", but it is always for our benefit.  God is not a negative, unhappy, "always saying no" type God.

At least the God I serve is not.

People can be "yes" or "no" depending upon their personalities.

None of us can be all "yes", all the time.  There are certain situations that demand that we say no for the good of a person, a child, an employee, an organization or a church.

But none of should be all "no" all the time either.

It is very frustrating for me to hang around or work with someone who says, "no" all the time.

Let's use this analogy.

Some people are firelighters.  When you are around them their attitude is great (as we talked about yesterday), they leave you with a smile on your facing ready to live an extraordinary life for God.

They are "yes" people.  It takes a lot for them to say "no" to an idea, a new venture, or a new direction that God is leading his people to take.

I love firelighters.  I love people who live by faith.  I love people who are willing to risk.  I love people whose first inclination is to say "yes."  I love people who light a fire, not only in me, but in the people around them.

I leave their presence passionate for God, passionate for His people, passionate to attempt great things for our Lord.

Some people are firefighters. 

They smother the fire that is within your heart and soul. 

My word to you today is:  "Watch out"!

Watch out for fire fighters.  A firefighter is anyone who tries to put out your fire or your organizations.

Listen to the firefighting statements:

"It's not in the budget".  "It's not practical".  "Yeah, but".  "We've tried that before".  "That's not the way we do things around here."  "Who will do the extra work"?  "Why change?  Things are working the way they are".  "It will never work".  "That would be a good idea somewhere else."

Let me give you some facts about firefighters:

Firefighters focus on what's wrong with the idea rather than on what's right.  They find a problem in every solution.

Firefighters possess a questioning spirit.  Asking question is good for any group.  We all need feedback.  A questioning spirit is bad for any organization.

Firefighters hate change.

Firefighters accept everything before the "but" as baloney.  "Yeah, but what about this."

Firefighters keep many people with great potential (including churches) from going to the top.

Jesus dealt with a group of firefighters called the scribes and Pharisees.  He said they "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel."  And "they appear beautiful outward but are within full of dead men's bones."  (Matthew 23:24,27.

Instead of having "fire in their bones" they had "death in the bones." 

Or as someone once said, "it is hard to soar with the eagles when you are flying with turkeys."

So, I encourage you today to hang around firelighters.

I encourage you to attend firelighting events.

I encourage you today to attempt firelighting deeds for God.....and don't let the "no" people get you down.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Let your attitude (positive) show!

As I was walking into the fitness club today, I stopped to talked to two of the folks who work there.  Being that it is a beautiful day in Chicago, I asked them the question, "if every day were like today, would people still gripe and complain?"

While we all agreed that there wasn't anything to complain about, we also agreed that people somewhere at some place, would have a crummy attitude about the day.

Here's what I know:  attitude is everything.

Paul writes in Philippians 4:8 that we are to think about, "whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things."

Good words.  Challenging words.

John Maxwell puts it this way, "we can lift people up or take people down in our relationships."

I would add to that, "a church can grow and prosper and be relationally healthy through our attitudes."

Being the lead pastor of our church, one of my responsibilities is to deal with criticism, complaining and negative attitudes.

Some days I feel on top of that - other days (like yesterday and today) I ask God in my conversations with Him, "is there anyone who has a positive attitude"?

Some people add something to life, don't they and we enjoy being around them. 

Some people subtract something from life and we tolerate them.

Some people multiply something in life and we value them.

Some people divide something in life and we avoid them.

I want to be a "lifter" in life.  I want people, when they leave my presence to be encouraged. 

I want them to leave with a healthier positive attitude than when when we met.

Charles Swindoll writes:

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on Life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, or say or do. Attitude is more important than appearances, giftedness, or skill. Attitude will make or break a company --- a church --- a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude that we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past, we cannot change the fact that people act a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude --- I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it."

I believe that one of the reasons why we hear so much negativity in the world today is that negative people are vocal, loud, always sharing what they don't like.

Positive people tend to hold back and be silent, soft and keeping to themselves what they do like.

I am saying, this day, this week, this month, this year, let your positive attitude show.  Be vocal about what you do like.  Let people know when they are doing right.  Be positive with people when you don't quite agree with them.

We choose our attitudes.  It's a choice.  And we choice whether or not to let that attitude show.

Let your positive attitude show!