Relief is coming

This morning, I continued my reading through Nehemiah and one thing that stuck out to me was his complete dependence on prayer. When he dared to approach the king of Persia, he prayed. When people tried to discourage him, he sent up a short prayer. When he saw injustices by the nobles towards the people of Jerusalem, he prayed a simple prayer that he is righteous with God and not self righteous. And when he called the people out on their sinfulness, he prayed a long prayer of confession and repentance. Nehemiah was one of the most successful leaders of his time and his prayers to the Lord are consistently recorded. The prayers were often nothing fancy, but they were usually simple, direct, and meaningful to his situation on a daily basis.

Even more, we can see how much he depended on God’s leading through his time in prayer. Praying for him was like breathing. As he prayed, God led, and as God led, he followed in prayerful obedience. As others attacked verbally and politically, he stayed focused and firm on the calling God had burdened on his heart. His principled leadership was only going to move in a different direction IF God moved him. Nothing more, nothing less. Either way, he knew that as he followed God, relief was coming to him in some way, shape, or form.

photo-1448550603489-a7e43b0da4d2Today, we have church leaders all over who are facing attacks. Some attacks have come from persecution and through threats. Others have come from some of the supposed sheep of the flocks they shepherd. I too have experienced this sort of man-centered garbage, yet I know that any response less than biblical is amounting to repaying evil with evil. Pastor, leader, deacon, friend, don’t respond with evil, respond to evil with good. Relief is coming, and it’s coming through the workings of the Lord.

You have a calling that God has burdened on your heart. Stay focused, stay firm, and stay prayerful constantly. The greatest tool you have is not your own words of wisdom or cunning man-centered politics, but your dependence on the One who fights your battles for you. Relief is coming, relief to continue your calling as you fight the battle for the souls of men. Stay encouraged, my friend!

Fran

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What Does God Even Want??

As I have enjoyed moving from winter to spring, I have been thinking a whole lot lately about the way that God has revealed Himself to us over the time line from His Creation to His New Heaven and New Earth. One question comes to mind: as we know God, what does He want from us? Let me explain…

He began with His general revelation, that is, the heavens and the earth. He spoke to and through the patriarchs, gave the Torah to Moses, and corrected the people of God through the Prophets. Finally, God spoke through Himself incarnate in the person of Jesus, followed by His Spirit-breathed Words from the Apostles and the early church. And what is remarkable is that every time He spoke, He spoke of the gospel, that grace from Him that is available to us all. The world and the Word reveals the glory of God! What a wonderful thought!

So what does this mean for you and me? Again, what does God want? Well, it means this:

  • Even though we cannot see Him fully, God desires our obedience.
  • Even though we may not understand Him fully, God desires our obedience.
  • Even though we are unable to live life Christ fully, God desires our obedience.

Get the picture? The key is that God wants us to operate on what we know. Jesus said,

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected” (Luke 12:48).

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We grow, and we obey even more with that in mind. We grow more, and we are expected to do more. It’s called sanctification, and this is an important part of being a follower of Jesus.

So grow. Grow in the Word, in prayer, in serving, and in sharing your faith in a real way.  And remember, as you go into worship this weekend, take what you hear and see and follow Him even more. Let His light shine from you to others as a sweet sacrifice of praise to Him. And as you do that, He will get all the glory!

Have a great Sunday!

Fran

 

4 Lifehacks to Form Good Habits

I never got it. I tried and tried and tried to learn how to juggle, but I. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. photo-1502144696405-e84600828d73

For those of you who are able to do it, well good for you. But me, I just can’t seem to juggle anything- whether handkerchiefs, pins, or (gulp!) swords.  I’m told that to juggle, that it’s all about muscle control and concentration. Easier said than done, I guess.

I write this because there’s a spiritual application here. For example, I think that we all want to be healthy, effective, and God-glorifying in our lives. And to do that, we need to develop godly habits to help us to grow and stretch in our walk in Christ. Yet, I know, sometimes it’s like juggling, or spinning plates, or herding cats. It’s just hard.

But it’s not impossible. This is the time of year when New Year resolutions (remember those?) have long since been gone and guilt or denial has set in because we often missed the mark. It might have been goals spiritually, physically, socially, or something else, but it didn’t happen.

Now, I’m not writing this as a guilt trip but as an encouragement. You see, large goals cannot be done unless small, short term changes are made. I would even submit that this begins with your relationship with God, that it is to be growing and flourishing. Therefore, your time with God comes first, then the other areas can follow. When we are thankful for Christ and His goodness, then other things help work together as a way to worship him. Paul the Apostle wrote, for example, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:18).

So be thankful, and as you approach life with that in mind, consider these four lifehacks you might want to use to form good habits on a daily basis:

  1. Start with a quiet time. I know that this is difficult to maintain for some, but this is an essential to your day. There are some great resources available to you from LifeWay where you can go deep in your study. I even recommend using electronic resources such as the YouVersion Bible app, where you and a group of friends can go through short devotions together.
  2. Schedule exercise and log food. Your physical health is key to a happier, effective day. Put exercise in your calendar and stick to it, and log your meals on an app like Noom, MyFitnessPal, or another program. And by the way, some exercise (even 15-20 minutes) is better than no exercise.
  3. Keep track of your spending. Yep. That discipline is also important. I live by the 80-10-10 rule. I save 10 percent, give 10 percent (or more), and live on the 80 percent. I use apps to help me keep track of my spending and I try to watch where I am on an ongoing basis.
  4. Reevaluate your long term goals. You need to have goals in your life to remain on task. Whatever your goals are, write them down and revisit them every month on the same day. It’s a good thing to check your progress that your short term habits are going in the direction you want to go.

Most of all, have fun. Fun should come in whatever you do. When you have fun, you’ll be more relaxed, effective, and God glorifying. It doesn’t have to be a stressful set of tasks and it’s not impossible (like juggling is to me!). Try these and see what they can do for you. And if you have any other ideas, share them here.

In Christ,

Fran

Want to be Close to God?

Let me start by saying that we have rebellious hearts that make closeness with the Creator of the Universe just flat out hard to do. Oh sure, I know that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, that we’re not coming to the Father except through the Son. Our prayers mean nothing until we know Him. I get that, and if you don’t know Christ in a personal relationship, you need to.

The closeness I am wanting to discuss is the way that a Christian interacts with the Father on a constant basis. I mean, is your intimacy with God a consistent, growing walk, or is it at an arms length, cold almost as, say a Facebook friend or work acquaintance? God did not intend for you to say “yes” to Him yet wave at Him from afar. To use some biblical metaphors, God wants the seedling faith He gave you to grow to be a tree planted by the water, with roots deep in the ground and fruit being produced.

And this happens through an intentional, intimate relationship with Him. So how? How can this be done?

To start, get close to Him through His Word and prayer. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. In fact, you can stop what you are doing (like reading this) and take a moment and pray. It’s okay, this blog post will still be here. 🙂

Let me also mention this: Prayer is to be based on the Truth, the knowledge of Christ. We cannot have intimacy with the Father if we are not in His Word. Our prayers would be based on ignorant ramblings of a sinful, fallen heart rather than focused petitions of the Spirit. Therefore, start reading the Bible. Again, nothing fancy- read a Psalm a day as a start, then work up to a chapter or two of a gospel, or a reading plan available online. Start small, work to more intake and prayer.

Let me encourage you: Know Him, love Him, talk to Him, and interact with Him. Fruit will come of that. Your mind, heart, and spirit will be changed in Him daily and the wisdom of God will convict and change you. I am with Paul in the encouragement that you are strengthened in Him:

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation about Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God to advance the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles —  to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ — to him be the glory forever! Amen. Rom 16:25‭-‬27 CSB

Even not knowing who would read this, I prayed for you before I posted this. My prayer was simply that you will be closer to God today than you were yesterday. Let’s start there and see what He can do. To God be the glory!

Fran

The Breakfast of Champions

I had a friend who loved to say years ago that “feedback is the breakfast of champions.” He was and is right- but to get good feedback is to become very, very vulnerable. In fact, it takes a good deal of humility to receive honest critiques of the state of things all around you, even about you. It’s common and natural, in fact, to be defensive when hearing some things that might even be less than desirable. This is because pride, ego, and even fear keeps us from hearing the sometimes painful truth. We shut it down because we don’t want to be brought down. 

However, Dr. Eric Geiger put it well when he wrote,

“Feedback fuels your leadership development. It helps you adjust what needs to be adjusted, builds confidence, and confirms areas of strength. Without feedback, your growth as a leader is stunted” (https://ericgeiger.com/2017/04/take-responsibility-for-your-own-feedback/).

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Basically put, you need feedback, and in fact, this only makes you better. Take one example from a sport that I love, baseball. A pitcher cannot possibly develop by only relying on his raw talent. He must be coached, analyzed, pushed, guided, and pushed even more. Those who respond to critiques from pitching coaches and more experienced players have a better chance of success. The best pitchers are the best listeners. Good feedback is how champions are built. 

Paul wrote in 1 Cor 9:24“Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize” (CSB). Strive to be better, run the race with all you got, and keep your eyes on Jesus. If it’s all about Him, then feedback from someone you trust only makes you better for an eternal purpose.

Until He comes,

Fran

The Harvest

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2, NIV).

harvestJesus saw what we are now seeing- that the fields are ripe for harvest. Millions of people are coming to faith in Christ annually and the mission fields of places like central Africa are now fully reached with the gospel. In fact, estimates show that almost half of all Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa by the year 2060. Needless to say, the gospel is exploding around the world!

What does this mean for you? First, you can see your life differently. What you are doing can be a part of the Kingdom work! Whether you are a shoemaker or a carpenter or a doctor or a manager of a sales team, it doesn’t matter. What matters is your willingness to claim it for the gospel.

Second, get involved through your local church. Your Kingdom work should be done through the Bride of Christ. Pray for your pastor and for more workers. Be active in your church, serve others, and look to do things not for your own benefit, but for the benefit of His gospel.

My friend, you can be a part of the harvest. You are a part of the work of Christ. Now, take ownership of that and use whatever you do, for the glory of God.

Fran

Five Simple Tools For Planning Disciple Making in Your Church

I spend a lot of time talking and interacting with pastors. One of the most common issues that I run into is that pastors often are so busy with so many things, they often overlook one of the most important and fundamental aspects of what they do: making disciples of all people. I get it. There’s a ton of things to do on the front burner, and planning a comprehensive discipleship process takes time, work, and energy. However, there’s no more important thing a Church leader could do than to establish a strategy disciple making. I’m always available to visit Church in the Midwest, but here’s some great tools from LifeWay that can be useful for you as you plan your discipleship strategy for the fall and beyond:

  1. maxresdefaultThe Balanced Discipleship Wheel: this is a free tool that can help make sure that you are covering a wide variety of discipleship studies during the course of a year. Just click on one part of the wheel and it will take you to some of the studies that might be of interest. Best of all, it’s free!  www.lifeway.com/balanceddiscipleship
  2. Gospel Foundations: this brand new study is a foundational one year chronological exploration of the Bible for all ages. It comes with short, five to eight minute videos and is perfect for small groups or any other setting. It has 42 sessions during the course of the year to allow for off days and fellowship days. Released June 2018.  www.lifeway.com/GospelFoundations
  3. Disciples Path The Journey: ever want to take a new believer through the basics of the Christian faith, help train them in the essential doctrines, and then help them to become a fruit bearing disciple of Christ? Of course you have! This resource is designed to take a believer or a small group of believers on a journey through what it means to follow Jesus in a significant way. They’ll learn about the essentials, go through some doctrines found in Scripture, and then study about what it means to be on Mission. It’s a very inexpensive resource that could be used in a variety of settings. Here’s the link: https://www.lifeway.com/en/product-family/disciples-path/the-journey
  4. MinistryGrid.com: newly redesigned, this video training tool is for anyone who serves in a church. There are excellent courses designed for teachers, deacons, team leaders, greeters and more! There are plenty of free videos, including the training video on each week Sunday school lesson. Best of all, it’s mobile-friendly! If you are not using Ministry Grid, you’re missing out on a really good tool for your church. www.ministrygrid.com
  5. Smallgroup.com: ever wanted to study a particular text of Scripture or a topic for your small group? Then smallgroup.com is perfect for you! You can type in a text or a topic and one or more customizable Bible studies will show. The studies will include some exposition as well as a full teaching plan. Some of the studies even have video. This is not a “push play” shallow type bible study, but is a full study by a trusted resource that can take small groups to a new level of customization. It’s also perfect for churches that want to do a church-wide campaign on a particular  topic or text. There’s a free trial with it and the cost is very inexpensive on a monthly basis. www.smallgroup.com

Hope this is helpful. Again, if you live in the Midwest and want me to help consult with you on developing A discipleship strategy for your church, just let me know. I’m here to serve the church in her mission of making disciples!

Fran

3 Principles Learned from Nehemiah Today

I love the book of Nehemiah, not just for the leadership applications, but also for the chance to see how transforming God is in almost impossible situations.

During one of my devotions, I came across Nehemiah chapters 9 and 10 and saw some really spectacular things. In it, the people of God had been convicted about the fact that they had not walked according to the Word of God. They repented, and in so doing they emphatically proclaimed a change of heart:

“Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners, and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their places, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day and spent another fourth of the day in confession and worship of the Lord their God” (Neh 9:2-3).

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Basically put, their repentance was passionate, persistent, and on point. So what did Nehemiah have them do next? He made them write it down. They solidified their heart with their head and hands here. Here are some of the things that they agreed to:

  • Not to marry outside of Israel.
  • Not to do business on the Sabbath, even with outsiders.
  • Support the Levites.
  • Support the Temple sacrifices.
  • Give to the work of the Lord.

This is some amazing steps! Of course, we know that the people miss the mark on keeping their obligations, and some eventually get to the point of avid legalism. However, this is without a doubt a turning point for Israel.

So what can we learn from this? I see three things that we don’t want to miss:

  1. In God, your past has passed. While there is often the temptation to dwell in the past and stay focused on the sins which entangled you, the truth is that God is a forgiving, compassionate God. When you truly come to repentance, He has promised to forgive and cleanse, and never to leave nor forsake you.
  2. In God, your present can be a time of worship. Every moment with God is a moment that you can spend in worship to Him. Your new life in Him needs to start and end with an intimacy because of who He is as the amazing, wonderful Savior. Don’t forget that He is with you, even now.
  3. In God, your future is written. He has always known your tendencies, your motives, and your heart. God is the God of second chances, and He is the God who has planned your future. Be in prayer to see how He has impressed your heart, follow His leading, and enjoy a life in Him.

Israel spent generation after generation in disobedience to God’s commands and call to holiness. Yet, when they came to Him, He forgave and healed. It doesn’t matter how long you have rebelled and how bad it was, He can forgive you too! Take some time to seek Him as you commit to live a new life in Christ!

Fran

What God Loves…

I’ve been in ministry for over 23 years now, and I can say that I have never been more encouraged to see God’s work than ever before. I have seen first hand several churches explode in worship attendance, in their disciple-making, and in ministry to the world around them. And there is a clear pattern: regardless of style, flavor, or culture, the churches which have a high view of the Word, challenge one another to holiness, and focus on discipling others in the Word are the ones that are healthy, stable, and growing. It’s amazing that I see very few exceptions to this rule. Yet these thriving churches exist all around as the light of Christ to the Midwest. This is so encouraging because it is clearly what God loves!

Of course, I also see the opposite, and yes, when I see this, I do grieve. Obviously, God doesn’t want unhealthy and declining churches. And unfortunately, just like I see a pattern in healthy, growing churches, I also see a pattern for unhealthy ones. In these churches, there are misguided people who focus not on the Word but on procedures, legalism, and even politicking. They place unceasing attention to the crisis of the day. They draw attention to the negatives and create divisions. They stir up trouble in the shadows of the hallways. And disciple making is reduced to an afterthought. The Gospel is secondary. The Word becomes a manipulative tool to attack others versus a revelation from God to live by.

And as we see in this text from Proverbs, God despises this practice:

“The Lord hates six things; in fact, seven are detestable to him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness who gives false testimony, and one who stirs up trouble among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16‭-‬19 CSB

These are tough words,yet this is a truth we need to be sober about: God doesn’t want discord or strife from within. He doesn’t want His Bride disgraced, destroyed, and disgusted. He doesn’t want the Family of God to be distracted, from the Great Commission and the work of making disciples. He doesn’t want hateful strife and stressful hate. He wants none of that. For those in the church that practice this, it’s kind of hard to differentiate them from those outside the church. And this certainly grieves God the Holy Spirit as it should grieve His godly saints. And if it isn’t grieving you right now, then, well then that’s just messed up. Sorry, but that’s true.

The good news is that there’s always a better way, a much better way. That way is a way of grace, truth, and love. Since the Bride of Christ is not to be a place that is focused on power, a focus should be on Christ, because, after all, power should be completely in the hands of the Lord who we worship.

And we as members of one another should do what is opposite of our fleshly inclination: a practice of full and complete submission in love. This means to follow the biblical pattern to lift up one another, to love one another, to believe the best in one another, and to build up one another. That is a way of grace. That is the way of Christ.

Want to see others come to Christ, grow in Christ, serve Christ, and share Christ in a way like never before? Then repent, get out of His way, submit to His leading, live for Him and help others to do the same as an act of worship. Love, and love some more. And then love again. Yes, even those who are hard to love. No ands, ifs, or buts.

Because that, my friend, is what God loves.

Fran

The God of the Possible

The fruit and potential of the land was amazing:

When they came to the Valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes, which was carried on a pole by two men. They also took some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshcol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut there.” Numbers 13:23‭-‬24 CSB

Now think about it: The vine of grapes was so big, two men had to carry it! The land was beautiful, rich, and flowing. The Lord had promised it, and He came through big! All they had to do was follow God and do His will. No enemy, no inhabitant would stop God’s will for His people. They simply had to take a step. A step of faith.

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But they didn’t. They forgot the God of the possible, and instead created a god of the impossible. They ignored His miraculous work of the past and looked at the obstacles before them. But seeking to save themselves, they lost it all. They made a horrible, deadly choice and in a business meeting, individual by individual voted a resounding, faithless “no.”

Their “no” would change some of them forever. All if that generation would never see the promises of God fulfilled. Death would follow them when they could have had life and loss abounded when they could have seen gain. Most of all, the chance for God to be glorified by all Israel would be delayed for 40 years.

Have you been voting “no” to God’s work in your life? Has God challenged you to step out in faith? A year ago, I did something that made no sense to people (still doesn’t) and God has amazed me as I have seen Him working in many places I visit. He gets the glory!

And so, let me encourage you to do the same, to walk by faith, to fear nothing, to step out…and let God get the glory!

Fran

Helping God's church make disciples

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