Category Archives: Jesus

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

Advertisements

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 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

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

Pastor, Are You Chasing the Wind?

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…” Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV

I get to travel quite a bit to talk with church leaders across the Upper Midwest. I’ve spent time in all sizes of churches, from the smallest of urban or rural churches to the upscale megachurch with multiple sites and services. Although there’s been some great research done on growing churches, I can tell you for my own observation that there’s a difference between leaders who are growing on a foundation of Christ and those who are just “chasing the wind” through their own efforts. In fact, I have seen a few commonalities in healthy, growing churches regardless of the context or size. Let me give you a quick list with no order of importance:
  1. A commitment to expository preaching. I’ve seen some really good expository preaching in which the pastor will take a passage and allow the structure of the passage to be the basis of the message. He takes time to explain the passage and the context, both at the time that it was written and the application for today. This is sorely needed in our culture today.
  2. A clear path for discipleship. I am amazed at how many church leaders have no real idea on how to disciple believers on an ongoing, systematic basis. The healthy churches that I have seen know exactly how to take a new believer in Christ through a process of growth to become more like Jesus. Find a process and work it.
  3. An authentic love. One of my favorite pastors does not buy into the CEO mentality as he ministers to his congregation. He spends time with his people, he fervently prays for them, and he also takes time to study so that he can pour into them in his pulpit ministry. He has boundaries, but his people know that he loves them. By the way, he ministers to about 1,500 people in his congregation each week.
  4. A priority on missions and evangelism. Church members focused on going and telling usually don’t major on the minors in the inner workings of the church. They know that their leaders are Godly, praying, loving men of the word and they trust them. They are much less likely to micromanage day-to-day affairs in the church. They also see their leaders right next to them as they do some of the grunt work, as they go out on mission trips and as they share the gospel.

That’s what I’ve noticed. Note that I never talked about hype, worship style, or any “cool factors” related to ministry. That’s because these are secondary issues that usually don’t matter over the long run. In other words, I’ve seen healthy, growing traditional churches in the middle of a cornfield as well as healthy, growing, super contemporary, polished churches in a suburb. The point is that the church will change the method but not at a price.

And this brings me to the possibly convicting news. I’ve noticed plenty of unhealthy disasters where the leadership has tried to “chase the hype,” even going as far as compromising the message (intentionally or not) in order to somehow try to stay relevant with the culture. This includes turning to shallow material that a member can pop into their living room like a Netflix movie and call it discipleship. Or making major cultural changes in the church arbitrarily and without communication. Or discarding the basic foundations of teaching for children and replacing it with moralistic, hypercool content with a verse of scripture slapped on it) that focuses on fun instead of the Gospel. Fun is, well, fun, but let’s not abandon the treasure of the Gospel just to entertain people.

My message to you: stop chasing the hype. You’re not going to grow disciples by trying to be cool. Look at what you’re doing and allowing to be taught by word and by deed. Spiritual growth is a slow, steady, ongoing and patient process, so take your time with others just as God worked in you to make you more like Jesus. Yes, you can have content to help you in the process of growing disciples while still being relevant to the culture of your community. Yes, you can do some awesome and creative things outside of the box to reach people where they are. But don’t forget the fundamentals, okay? Remember, when the leadership is focused on the word, discipleship, love, and missions, God will use His Spirit to produce a great deal of fruit.

Otherwise, you’re chasing after the wind.

Fran

Your Struggle Is Worth It

Are you having a tough time as of late? Join the club! Scripture is pretty clear that we have to struggle in life. And it doesn’t help when someone says something like, “Oh, God is trying to teach you something!” It’s almost like, “God, please teach me less then!” I get it, life can hurt and hurt a whole lot on this side of glory.

But let’s look at the benefits of the struggle. Like a butterfly flapping rapidly to pump blood into its new but shriveled wings once it exits the cocoon, growth can be tough, tiring, and even terrifying. Yet good things can come of it! Even more, when we are in God’s Word and applying God’s Word to our lives, allaof a sudden, our struggles make a bit more sense. It’s a process that God the Holy Spirit uses: We struggle, we pray, we read, we apply, we repent, we worship, we grow.

Here’s another example, the growth of Moses through the time line of the Scripture: Moses was a bumbling, stumbling fool, given to impulsiveness and stupidity which affected him for years. He killed a man and was forced to leave Egypt. He saw a burning bush and went up to see it (and was this a good idea?). When God first gave him the command to save His people, Moses balked and made excuses. But as he matured in the Lord, he went from being a man of “slow lips” (and needing Aaron to speak) to becoming a man who would speak out to Israel with his own God-empowered lips. It was a slow, steady growth in his discipleship, so much that when Aaron performed his own acts of stupidity, Moses was able to rebuke him, too.

And he was humble, so much that he was called the most humble man that ever was. This Moses, this proud, impulsive, even possibly arrogant Moses, became a man that God could use, a man who loved God’s people and rescued them from their enslavement. He struggled, yet God took him through it and did incredible things that glorified God and prepared the way for the Promised Land.

How about you? Are you struggling? I know it’s hard to hear, but God really might be teaching you something. He wants you to be wise in Him, to glorify His Son, and to serve Him to make His name known to all the earth. Get in His Word, worship Him in a community of believers, and let God work His will in you. ☺️

We struggle, we pray, we read, we apply, we repent, we worship, we grow.

Fran

The Gospel According to Jacob

This morning as I continued to read through scripture, I found a little gem in the midst of all of the goings-on between Joseph and his brothers. It is the blessings and curses that Jacob gave to his sons. This is more than a dying man’s words, these words are the words of life. Here’s what he said:

“The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until he whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him. He ties his donkey to a vine, and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine and his robes in the blood of grapes” (Genesis 49:10‭-‬11 CSB).

These words are clearly a prediction of the Christ! Look at it again: the scepter will not depart from Jesus, there’s a prophecy of the donkey and the colt. Even more, we have the sacrifice of Christ as seen by the washing of his clothes in wine, language that suggests the coming atonement. What a blessing to see that this prediction would be fulfilled almost 2000 years later and still applies to us today!

What’s the point? We can remember that God is the same yesterday today and tomorrow. His promises of yesterday are true today, and they are true for your future.

This is the gospel according to Jacob, a gospel more fully revealed as we get closer to the cross. Most of all, however, this is the gospel of Jesus Christ that can change your life.

Thank you, Lord, for your wisdom in Your one big story of the Bible. ☺️

Pastor Fran

Family Reunions Are the Best

I got to see some of my family last night. Oh, we might not look the same. And, yes, we grew up in different households at different times, but we’re still related. It was great to see them.

My family has a deep and special bond. It’s a bond that only comes through the blood soaked nails of Christ. It’s a common unity in the suffering of the Savior. It’s a common participation in the sweet sacrifice of a God-Man, made 2,000 years ago. We love Him because He first loved us, and we love each other because of that relationship. We are family and His love compels us.

Family bonds should not be easily broken. We might move on, but that blood bond remains. We might forget or lose touch with some, but one day we’ll remember and be remembered again. We might be apart, but we are still united, some way, some how. We are family, after all, and He will give us a great reunion one day.

The love of Christ brings all ages, all ethnicities, all sinners together as one. Love, the love of Christ, lasts forever as we become a family in Him. And by the way, if you don’t know your family, you need to. It’s not that hard, you just have to be a little uncomfortable and put yourself out there. But I can tell you that it’s worth the risk. 🙂

Thank you, Lord, for a little family reunion, for the reminder, for the taste of heaven, for the glimpse of the Banquet of the Lamb. Thank you, Lord.

Pastor Fran

Not of the past, of the future

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding. He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he purposed in Christ as a plan for the right time—to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him.” –Eph 1:7-10, CSB

There is a very clear trend today for people to somehow, someway, try to make themselves feel special. They get overly and outrageously dramatic, they get excessively emotional, abandoning logic, reason, and most importantly, the counsel of the Word of God. They attempt to be “snowflakes” of their own making, the centers of their own universe, where self and egotism reign and manipulation ensues. It’s the “me” generation on steroids, instantly publicized by social media.

Tough words, right? Well, then hear this: You are special. You are unique. However, you are NOT to be individuals of your own making but you are called His workmanship made for His glory (Eph 2:10). You might blow it, mess it up, and willingly sin, yet God knew this, loved the mess that you are, and set your feet on the rock. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, not to be a player on the stage of life in some drama, but to be a part of the great story that God brings to humanity. And when you get selfish and self centered for a moment, remember that Christ forgives the past, redeems the present, and promises a future in Him.

It’s time to take action, stop following the culture of the day and turn to Christ instead. Let His Word in, let His wisdom ring true, and let Christ change you to live not for yourself and your own life, but for the Almighty Creator and His will. He has always been at work, will you join Him?

Fran

Five Ways to Follow Up on VBS

Over the years, I have seen incredible, vibrant Vacation Bible Schools, complete with colored-balls-1878378_640biblical teaching, gospel responses, and life altering experiences. I mean, it’s just awesome to see families, workers, and leaders with nothing but smiles as the week is finished and Sunday worship approaches. Now, if we can only find ways to connect the people from the past week with Sunday morning, right? Well, sure, we all want that!

There are many, many creative and enjoyable ways to reach those who have experienced one of the greatest efforts that you and your church family have made all year. Here are a few ideas, in no particular order:

  • Host a post-VBS Family Day. Several churches that I have visited have done this. In some cases, they have a Sunday morning worship featuring the children, followed by a church-wide picnic. Personally, I have seen whole families come to Christ through this sort of personal touch.
  • Visit with a thank you gift. To connect your Vacation Bible School with your Sunday School/Small Group, how about a thank you gift, delivered to their home? I know, it sounds old fashioned, but you wouldn’t believe the great reception people give when you show up and have a conversation at a doorstep! Some ideas: bring a small gift, a plate of cookies, a flyer advertising the classes for the child, and even a Sunday School Personal Study Guide for the parents.
  • Send a thank you card or letter. Children love getting mail, and a card to a child would make their day as well as show parents that you care. Consider sending a card or letter once in a while advertising the next big event and the regular activities.
  • Start an email newsletter. This doesn’t have to be hard. Remember this: MailChimp is your friend, MailChimp is your friend. It’s free, it’s fun, and it’s easy. Build a good address list and email them great info in a newsletter monthly. It’s a great way to build familiarity with the parents. And don’t forget to include stories of changed lives in your newsletter!
  • Call to set up a follow up on decisions made. This is the single most important task that you need to do. It’s a command and a pleasure to have a discussion on the gospel. Be sure to make an appointment and clarify the key points of the gospel story with child and adult alike.

All of these ideas are for one purpose alone: to be a catalyst to conversations so people can know Christ personally. After all, isn’t this what we want to do with this giant outreach? Please share if you have used other ideas that have worked.

Fran